Writing Proposals

I recently had reason to draft a proposal for something out of the norm for my line of work. I was asked by a family member to assist in writing a formal proposal for an after-school program, with the added twist that the program had already been approved in principal, pending the formal proposal. Not really familiar with how such documents are written and structured, I spent some time reading through templates and examples, and finally assisted her in writing her proposal.

What I discovered along the way is actually pretty simple. There are two parts to a proposal – content, and context.

The content of the proposal is intended to answer a few basic questions regarding what is being proposed. It usually starts with a general summary, followed with some details regarding the proposal itself, some discussion about the benefits to both sides. There will be a section with supporting documentation, and another about the merits of working with this particular provider, along with a summary of the qualifications of the provider.

The content alone is not sufficient to win a proposal, though. The context is also important.

The context is how you present the material. It doesn’t need to be fancy, or presented in a particular style. It does, however, have to impart additional qualifications about the author. A graphic artist would make sure it’s in a style that showcases their skills as an artist. A financial planner might include some portfolio summaries. In all cases, there will be a single page that can be used by all readers of the proposal to find the information they need to make a decision.

One of the suggestions I made regarding the writing of the proposal was to keep the sentences short and the paragraphs simple. There should be frequent headings, and the entire document, in this case, should not exceed 3 pages (not including the cover). The reason is basic – the document became easy to read, thereby increasing the chances that it would, in fact, be read in its entirety. The frequency of headings resulted in the document being easy to navigate – and negated the need for a table of contents.

Do you have any tips for writing good proposals that you want to share?

  • http://www.adrianswinscoe.com/blog/ Adrian Swinscoe

    Hi Elie,
    Great post. Writing proposals is one of the things that business owners find difficult. One way that that I have found that works very well comes from a book called the Pyramid Principle. This says that a proposal should be organised around three main sections 1. The situation (ie background and what you understand the problem to be) 2. The complication (ie what makes this problem less than straightforward and what needs to be kept in mind when proposing a solution) and 3. The analysis (this is where you propose what you would do solve this problem and why your solution would work well).

    Are you familiar with this approach?


  • http://blog.optimalupgrades.ca Elie

    Hi Adrian,

    I wasn’t familiar with the documented system, though I have used components of it in the past. This is much like writing an essay in school – first sketch out the pieces of the essay, then put in all the details. The difference here seems to be that the first round of organizing the paper is already done for you.

    I like the sections it breaks out for you, though I would suggest that adding one more – what sets you apart – would be of significant value.

    Thanks for your feedback!