Chapter 14: Preparing Business Proposals

Now that we have gone over the basic information for research, it’s time to start thinking about how to prepare a proposal. A business proposal is a statement that is meant to persuade the reader to consider a new work related concept or a change in a work procedure. Your final assignment for this competency will require you to create a proposal memo and a presentation of your proposal. Lumen’s textbook Technical Writing introduces the key elements that are included in a proposal.


Glass Marbles
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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.

  1. 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 receive the support you are seeking.
  2. 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 skills: 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. To make a proposal appealing without promising more than you can offer may prove difficult because you need to set limits on your persuasiveness.


There are many different kinds of proposal situations.

  1. You may need to write for a reader who is employed in your own organization.
  2. Your proposal may be your own idea, or the idea of your reader.
  3. Your proposal may stand alone or compete with other proposals.
  4. 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.
  5. Your proposal may be heavily regulated for content and structure, or you may have free range on what you think it should sound like.
  6. Finally, the proposal can be evaluated in a plethora of ways.
The Key Forms of Business Writing: Proposals The Key Forms of Business Writing: Proposals – UpWritePress Published on Mar 5, 2009.


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.

Writing a Business Proposal

Business proposals need to be organized. There are many different ways to write a business proposal. The actual task of asking the reader to decide whether to invest in you or not is an important aspect of this process 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

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Most of the time, readers want to know four types of information when they consider a proposal: Problem, solution, cost, and capability.

  • 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 the solution you are proposing; explain 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.


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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 document. This way, readers can obtain a glimpse of what you will be focusing on 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 uninterested. 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 who 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 you do not overstate your capabilities, and inform the reader which objectives are possibilities rather than certainties.


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:

  1. Facilities
  2. Equipment
  3. Your schedule
  4. Your qualifications
  5. 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, you should include this section. 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 important 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 is necessary to know how much you expect the project to 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? Spend the necessary time to organize the information in an easy-to-review way; follow the guidelines introduced earlier to create an easy-to-scan heading system; and reduce any excess wordiness throughout the document to ensure the key information is accessible.


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Parts of a Business Proposal

A proposal has many parts, and the front matter is an extremely important element to writing any report, whether it is for specific company research or for other personal reports. Specifics such as the size of the font, font type, formatting, and organization also need to be taken into consideration when creating the front matter of your report.

The first few pages of a report are essential. An abbreviated abstract will assist the reader in finding what the main points of the report will be about. These elements are often referred to as “Book Elements”, as they are commonly found in larger works.

It is important to examine how your publication will be used. To increase usability, you should consider how your readers will be using the report, and what they will be looking for, and focus on making this easy to find.


How to Write a Business Proposal? 7 Minutes Step-by-Step Guide


A cover page is a simple, precise, and brief way to introduce your report to the reader. This part of the proposal should contain:

  • A large specific title
  • Company name
  • Name of the author(s)
  • Date of the report
  • Relevant picture

The use of a relevant picture or two can help reinforce the subject of the report. One goal of the cover page is to be informative and scalable because once it is filed, it will need to be easy to pick out of a stack of other reports. A second goal is to make the report stand out. If the report cover looks bleak and dull, the reader will start reading with a negative outlook. Think of the cover page of a report like attire worn to a job interview. The cover page is the first image that is seen, and it will be the foundation for first impressions, for better or worse. One easy way to make the report stand out is to use a theme for the report that your audience can connect to. For example, if a report is written to McDonald’s, the cover page will be in yellow and red with the golden arches as a picture. It is important that the reader believes that he or she is the most important aspect of the report.

Title Page

A title page will be similar to your front cover and it repeats the information on the cover, but adds more important details. This may include a report number, date, title, the names and addresses of authors, specific contract information, the name and address of the supervisor, and the name and address of the organization who supported the report (Technical Communications, p.312).

The title page is an opportunity to provide specific, detailed information about the document and its authors to its intended audience.

Sample Draft

(Document number) 10-1 (Date) March 7, 2010 (Title) The Madden Project

By (Author) John Manning Brett Peterson 1234 Touch Down Lane Miami, Fl 57897 Madden Inc


(Place to Contact) Madden Inc. No. 54321

Project officer

(Who’s in charge) Ari Washington Manager of Exploratory Research 6667 Prime Time Court Mendota Heights, MN 55178

(Who paid for the project) Football Cooperation The Department of Research and Development 1812 Legacy Drive Columbus, OH 99121

Executive Summary or Abstract

Abstracts are an important element in the business world. This will help a manager learn the main points of your document, and help the reader determine if the entire report is relevant to what they are looking for. Charts and graphs that show factual data are helpful visuals that can be implemented into this section of the document.

Major topics should be mentioned, but not the main points of each. This will be where most of the keywords of your report are used, and will be a preview of the information to be covered. Often, summaries are used when representing a report in a database, so illustrating the main topics of your report in this segment can be useful.

The abstract should always be a page or less, especially in informative situations. Typically an abstract should not be more than 15 percent of the total report.

According to the Lumen Technical Communications text:

  • Identify the intended audience
  • Describe contents
  • Explain how the information is presented within the document

Table of Contents

In any report or analysis, a table of contents is helpful to navigating the report. Some lengthy reports may also include a table of graphs and/or a table of figures. In addition to the summary, this will allow the reader to quickly scan the topics you have covered. This will also help if they are looking for something particular. Use of proper headings and sub-headings gives readers a good overview of all the information contained in your document.

Table of contents are usually extremely generic and similar to each other. This is for ease of navigation to the user. Table of contents can be formatted from Microsoft Word.

EXAMPLE: Chicago Manual of Style: Table of Contents: Formatting

Lists of Figures and Tables

This is a useful section to include because your images or tables are referred to repeatedly throughout your text. Include Figures and Tables lists when your article is over about 15 pages. This also allows for easy comparison between images when they are grouped together.


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Revising a Business Proposal

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.


  1. Does the introduction state the purpose clearly?
  2. Does it provide sufficient background information?
  3. Does it foreshadow the rest of the proposal to help guide the reader?


  1. Does the problem explain the proposed action’s need or goal?
  2. Does it persuade the reader that the problem is important to them?


  1. Do your objectives relate directly to the problem?
  2. Can you present them without going into the solution?


  1. Is the solution clearly described?
  2. Is the solution persuasive upon claiming it will achieve the objectives?
  3. Does the solution effectively show it is the most desirable way to achieve the objectives?
  4. Does the solution offer protection to you and your team members/employer by only promising things that you can deliver?


  1. Are the steps in the method described clearly?
  2. Is the method persuasive enough for your readers to be convinced that it will work?


  1. Can you persuade the readers that you have resources or can attain them?
  2. Can you clearly identify all of the resources you can supply, protecting you and your employer?


  1. Does the schedule say when the project will be completed?
  2. Has your work been reasonably scheduled?
  3. Does the schedule clearly state what you must do to meet your deadlines, protecting you and your employer?
  4. Have you included a schedule chart (if it makes your proposal more persuasive?)


  1. Can you persuade your readers that you can complete the project successfully?


  1. Can you persuade your readers that your team is organized effectively?
  2. Have you included an organizational chart that illustrates the hierarchy of your team members and their responsibilities?


  1. Have you presented all costs?
  2. Are they reasonable?
  3. Are all of your costs included, protecting you and your employer?
  4. Do you have a budget table?


  1. Are all of your key points summarized?
  2. Have you ended on a positive note?


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