Professional and Technical Writing/Proposals
Preparing Business Proposals
A business proposal is a statement that is meant to persuade the reader.
In a proposal, you make an offer in attempt to persuade the reader to accept it. In exchange for money, time, or some other consideration, you will give the reader something they want, create something they desire, or do something they wish to have done.
Business proposals have two objectives: To persuade and to protect.
- Persuasion comes from the wording of the proposal. By definition, a proposal is an offer that needs to be accepted by the reader in order to succeed. If the proposal is not persuasive, you will not get what you want. * Refer to Chapter 2, Section 6 on Persuading the Reader to learn more
- Proposals serve metaphorically and often legally as a contract, so they need to protect you. If they are worded vaguely or they exaggerate promises, clients can take legal action if you do not perform the expectations stated. You also need to make sure you comply with any state laws when writing a proposal.
Expertise in writing proposals requires two things: you must be able to present your offer in the most appealing way possible, while carefully defining the limits of your offer so that no one thinks you are promising more than you can offer.
Making a proposal appealing without promising more than you can offer can be difficult, since you need to set limits on your persuasiveness.
There are many different kinds of proposal situations.
- You may need to write for a reader who is employed in your own organization.
- Your proposal may be your own idea, or the idea of your reader.
- Your proposal may stand alone or compete with other proposals.
- Your company/group may have to proofread and approve of your proposal before you submit it to your readers, or you may have to send it directly to them.
- Your proposal may be heavily regulated for content and structure, or you may have free range on what you think it should sound like.
- Finally, the proposal can be evaluated in a plethora of ways.
When you write a proposal, you are representing yourself, your idea, and your company. You are asking your readers to invest something (time, money, other resources), because you can not provide it yourself. The readers will review the proposal with caution because they may have limited supplies and if your idea does not seem well thought out or effective, they will not consider it. If your business proposal is competing against others, the readers will need to consider each one in order to pick the best.
Point: If your business proposal is not convincing, respectful, or well-written, it will not be considered.
Writing a Business Proposal
Business proposals need to be organized. There are many different ways to write a business proposal. Asking the reader to make a decision whether to invest in you or not is a very important aspect and should be incorporated in every business proposal. For the reader, investing in you takes their limited resources and puts them in your hands. Therefore, business proposals should be precise and address many different issues the reader might have such as money, time, space, etc.
Frequently Asked Questions
Most of the time, readers want to know three things when they consider a proposal: Problem, solution, and cost.
The problem, need, or goal of your proposal should be clearly addressed in order to let the reader know why the proposal was written and why they should be interested in it. A properly written problem/need/goal will add clarity to your proposal.
If you provide a problem, be sure to describe what actions you plan on taking to solve the problem. The reader wants to make sure that your solution will work effectively and if it is worth investing in.
Cost is also important. The reader will consider the problem and solution and determine their answer on what their financial situation is. A good business proposal can flounder because the cost may be too high.
Capability can be considered as well, if you agree to perform some work. If you are being paid, readers want to make sure that you will work hard.
Strategy of Conventions
A business proposal needs to have a framework. Usually, there are ten topics that need to be addressed. However, all proposals need to have the following:
Introduction, Problem, Solution, and Cost
The following is a detailed description of the ideal sequence of thought you should lead your reader through:
• In the introduction, the reader should learn what you want to do.
• You should present a problem, need, or goal to the reader. This should persuade the reader that the problem is important to them.
• The plan of action to solve the problem, meet the need, or achieve the goal should give objectives and solutions in order to persuade the reader that the plan of action is effective.
• Giving methods, providing a schedule, showing resources, and describing qualifications should persuade the reader that you are capable of planning, managing, and completing the proposed solution.
• Explaining how the benefit exceeds the cost will persuade the reader that the proposed action is reasonable.
By including at least these four sections, you are leading the reader through a persuasive argument on why your proposal deserves to be considered. If you divide the proposal up into several sections, it is more efficient for the reader to concentrate on the sections that are more important and skim through the other sections, instead of having to read the whole thing and look for key points.
The superstructure provides a framework for writers to organize their proposal. Writers can use it as a guideline, but note that it is not mandatory for writers to include every single element listed below in their proposal. Sections can be combined or even briefly stated in other sections.
In the introduction, you want to focus on what you are announcing. Although you may want to reveal the full description in the beginning, it may be better to make the introduction brief and allow the full description to be revealed throughout the letter. This way, readers can get a glimpse of what you will be talking about without you explaining it several times (in the beginning and later on).
After the introduction, you should present your readers with a problem, need, or goal that is significant to them. It is important to summarize the problem from the readers' point of view, otherwise they may think that it doesn't affect them and become disinterested. Stating a problem can take some research. Sometimes, readers may provide a problem for you (like when a firm writes your company a letter explaining a problem and how you should solve it). Other times, readers may still give you a problem, but be vague. Other times, you may have to define the problem yourself, based on your own frustration or helplessness. Before you consider something to be a problem, try to talk about it with a potential reader to see if it is worth writing a business proposal about. If the feedback is positive, you will know you have more means for continuing the proposal.
After you describe your problem and before you state your solution, tell your reader what the goals of the solution are. The objectives help to connect the problem and solution together. Objectives should be brief or listed, and should tell how the action of the solution solves the problem.
How do you want to achieve the objectives that you have listed? Your solution should answer this question. To do this, you must address each objective and persuade your readers that your solution is the best way to achieve the objectives. These statements are only necessary when they are not obvious to the readers. This can be the case when your readers are coworkers and are aware of problems around the workplace.
The solution's description can be tricky because you may find that you are promising more than you can deliver. The best way to counter that is to be very specific (i.e., what are the limits of the program, what are the capabilities, etc.) Make sure that everything you are not sure you can perform is clearly noted as a possibility, not a promise.
After you propose a solution to the problem, readers will want to know the steps you will take to make sure the solution is carried out. How will you produce the result? These are the aspects that most readers will look for:
- Your schedule
- Your qualifications
- A plan for managing the proposed project
Sometimes, explaining the method is superfluous. If everyone is already familiar with your methods, you do not have to give a detailed explanation. However, make sure your readers know what you are talking about before you assume that they will know everything about your project.
If your plan requires equipment, facilities, or other resources this section should be included. Tell your readers what you need and why it is needed. If no special resources are required, you do not need to include this section in your proposal.
Schedules help provide readers with three things. First, they give readers a deadline so they know when to expect a final result. Second, schedules can be critiqued by readers to make sure they are feasible. Third, a schedule is a good way to keep track of how a project is proceeding.
In addition to project deadlines, schedules should also include due dates for drafts, resources, and other information that is needed to assist you with your project goal.
A qualifications section is a good place to explain the talent and experience of yourself and your team members. Depending on your readers, this section may be small or large. As with all business documents, you need to be honest when you write your qualifications. If you think that you need to learn new programs, remember that the time and money spent gaining experience can take away from the project's completion.
A project's success depends on its management team, and readers are impressed if you can describe your project management structure in your proposal. By identifying each person on your team and explaining what their tasks and responsibilities are, you can coordinate your work efficiently. It is very helpful for each person to know what they will be doing beforehand so there won't be many problems concerning leadership and time management further into the project.
Since your readers are investing their money and time into your project, it helps to know how much it will cost. A budget statement is good for organizing your expenses, but you should also think about the amount of time you and your team members will spend on the project. You may also include how much money your project will save the readers to make it seem more appealing.
Believe it or not, design DOES matter when writing a business proposal. You want to make the proposal appealing to the readers. If the reader is looking at two proposals and one has graphics and color on the front cover and one has just text, which one do you think they will want to read first?
Now that you know what information is required, you can prepare a checklist to make sure that everything is covered and you are not missing something that may be essential.
- Does it state the purpose clearly?
- Does it provide sufficient background information?
- Does it foreshadow the rest of the proposal to help guide the reader?
- Does it explain the proposed action's need or goal?
- Does it persuade the reader that the problem is important to them?
- Do your objectives relate directly to the problem?
- Can you present them without going into the solution?
- Is it understandable when it is being described?
- Is it persuasive in saying that it will achieve the objectives?
- Does it effectively show that it is the most desirable way to achieve the objectives?
- Does it offer protection to you and your team members/employer by only promising things that you can deliver?
- Are the steps in the method described clearly?
- Is it persuasive enough for your readers to be convinced that it will work?
- Can you persuade the readers that you have them or can attain them?
- Can you clearly identify all of the resources you can supply, protecting you and your employer?
- Does it say when the project will be completed?
- Has your work been reasonably scheduled?
- Does the schedule clearly state what you must do to meet your deadlines, protecting you and your employer?
- Have you included a schedule chart (if it makes your proposal more persuasive?)
- Can you persuade your readers that you can complete the project successfully?
- Can you persuade your readers that your team is organized effectively?
- Have you included an organizational chart that illustrates the hierarchy of your team members and their responsibilities?
- Have you presented all of them?
- Are they reasonable?
- Are all of your costs included, protecting you and your employer?
- Do you have a budget table?
- Are all of your key points summarized?
- Have you ended on a positive note?