How to Write a Proposal

Learning how to write a proposal is crucial when trying to persuade individuals or organizations to take a course of action. A proposal is a formal request that a specific action be taken in response to a stated problem. Proposals are used across academia, business, and government; however, the basic structure of a proposal remains the same.

Identify Your Target Audience

To write a strong proposal, clearly identify who your target audience will be. Typically, the target audience is a person or a group who has the authority to implement the desired course of action. The target audience could be a manager, a chief executive officer, a board of directors, etc. Once you have identified your target audience, decide how you would like to communicate with them. Consider the following questions:

  1. Can you set-up an in-person meeting or will you only be able to send a written proposal?
  2. How much time will they dedicate to reviewing your proposal?
  3. Is your target audience directly affected by the problem that you would like to address?
  4. If not, is your target audience aware of the problem?

Based on your answers to the above questions, you can tailor your proposal to your audience. In particular, you can adjust the length, level of detail, and type of action requested based on the availability and the amount of familiarity that your target audience has with the problem.

Conduct Research

Study the problem that you would like to address in detail and investigate several potential solutions. Identify whether there have been previous attempts to solve the problem and determine why they may or may not have been successful. If possible, try to implement a small-scale solution to the problem and evaluate whether the small-scale solution was effective and could be scaled up. In addition, interview others associated with or affected by the problem to get valuable perspectives.

Drafting Your Proposal

Begin your proposal with an introduction. Ideally, you want to grab your reader's attention from the outset. For example, you could open the proposal with a statistic that illustrates quantitatively the seriousness of the problem that you would like to address. In addition, you should also include some background information that provides your reader with necessary details necessary to understand the problem and the proposed solution.

Next, present a concise problem statement. The problem statement should not only identify what is wrong with the current situation, but also identify the scope and the importance of the problem. Always tie the problem statement to the core mission of the organization. How is the identified problem hindering the organization's ability to accomplish its mission? Include some of your research findings to support your argument.

Once you've clearly identified the problem, use the following format to explain your solution:

  1. Describe the best case scenario
  2. Identify how the best case scenario would enable the organization to more effectively accomplish its mission
  3. Identify a small number of core objectives that, if achieved, could bring the organization closer to the best case scenario
  4. Explain how your solution could enable the organization to achieve one or more of these objectives

Clearly detail the cost, resource requirements, and timeline associated with implementing your solution. Also provide an expected improvement that your solution will enable. Always tie your solution to the core goals of the organization, to the results of your research, and to the best case scenario that you outlined above.

Consider describing one or more alternatives and describe why your proposed solution is better than any of the alternatives. Similarly, discuss possible objections to your proposed solution and suggest ways to mitigate these objections.

If your solution includes a personal or business service that you would like to offer the organization, clearly indicate the services that you can provide and the services that you cannot provide. Otherwise, you could be liable for problems originating from areas of the organization that are beyond the scope of your proposal.

Finally, succinctly conclude your proposal with a recitation of the problem, the advantages that your solution will provide, and consequences that not adopting your solution might bring. You should also include a call to action, such as scheduling an in-person meeting or engaging your business to provide the recommended service.

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