8.2 Proposals

The Life Cycle of a Project Idea

A great idea does not usually go straight from proposal to implementation. You may think it would be a great idea to construct a green roof on top of the CITE building, but before anyone gives you the go ahead for such an expensive and time-consuming project, they will need to know that you have done research to ensure the idea is cost effective and will actually work.  Figure 8.2.1 breaks down the various stages a project might go through, and identifies some of the typical communication tasks that might be required at each stage.

Most ideas start out as a proposal to determine if the idea is really feasible, or to find out which of several options will be most advantageous. So before you propose the actual green roof, you propose to study whether or not it is a feasible idea. Before you recommend a data storage system, you should propose to study three different systems to find out which is the best one for this particular situation. Your proposal assumes the idea is worth looking into, convinces the reader that it is worth spending the time and resources to look into, and gives detailed information on how you propose to do the “finding out.”

The four phases of a project and associated communications tasks. Image description available.
Figure 8.2.1 Phases of a project and some accompanying communication tasks (Last, 2019). [Lightbulb image]. Source: https://www.iconfinder.com/icons/667355/aha_brilliance_idea_think_thought_icon. Free for commercial use.

Knowledge Check

 

Once a project is in the implementation phase, the people who are responsible for the project will likely want regular status updates and/or progress reports to make sure that the project is proceeding on time and on budget, or to get a clear, rational explanation for why it is not. To learn more about Progress Reports, go to 7.3 Progress Reports.

Proposals

(How to write a Business Proposal in 10 Easy Steps, n.d.)

 

A man holds a woman's hand and offers her flowers
Figure 8.2.2 Not that kind of proposal. Source: https://pixabay.com/en/couple-love-marriage-proposal-47192/. Pixabay License.

Proposals are some of the most common types of reports you will likely find yourself writing in the workplace. A proposal, in the technical sense, is a document that tries to persuade the reader to implement a proposed plan or approve a proposed project. Most companies and organizations rely on effective proposal writing to ensure successful continuation of their business and to get new contracts. With an effective proposal, the writer convinces the reader that the proposed plan or project is worth doing (worth the time, energy, and expense necessary to implement), that the author is the best candidate for implementing the idea, that the proposed plan is realistic and feasible, and that the proposed course of action will result in intangible benefits.

Proposals are often written in response to a Request For Proposals (RFP) by a government agency, organization, or company. The requesting body receives multiple proposals responding to their request, reviews the submitted proposals, and chooses the best one(s) to go forward. Thus, your proposal must persuade the reader that your idea is the one most worth pursuing. Proposals are persuasive documents intended to initiate a project often in response to a challenge and get the reader to authorize a course of action proposed in the document. These might include proposals to

  • perform a task (such as a feasibility study, a research project, etc.)
  • provide a product
  • provide a service

Proposals can have various purposes and thus take many forms; they are usually adapted to the situation at hand. They may include sections such as the following:

  • Introduction and/or background
  • Problem statement
  • Purpose/motivation/goal/objectives
  • Definition of scope and approach
  • Review of the state of the art
  • Technical background
  • Project description
  • Schedule of work/timeline
  • Budget
  • Qualifications
  • Conclusion

 

Figure 8.2.3. a general template for developing a proposal that can be adapted for various proposal types (Ewald, 2017).

Four Kinds of Proposals

(Types of Business Proposals, n.d.)

  • Solicited Proposals: An organization identifies a situation or problem that it wants to improve or solve and issues an RFP (Request for Proposals) asking for proposals on how to address it. The requesting organization will vet proposals and choose the most convincing one, often using a detailed scoring rubric or weighted objectives chart to determine which proposal best responds to the request.
  • Unsolicited Proposals: A writer perceives a problem or an opportunity and takes the initiative to propose a way to solve the problem or take advantage of the opportunity (without being requested to do so). This can often be the most difficult kind of proposal to get approved and so should include a persuasive rationale for the proposed course of action.
  • Internal Proposals:  These are written for someone within the same organization as the writers. Since both the writer and reader share the same workplace context, these proposals are generally shorter than external proposals and usually address some way to improve a work-related situation (productivity, efficiency, profit, etc.). As internal documents, they are often sent as memo reports, or introduced with a memo transmittal document if the proposal is lengthy.
  • External Proposals: These are sent outside of the writer’s organization to a separate entity (usually to solicit business). Since these are external documents, they are usually sent as a formal report (if long) and introduced by a letter of transmittal. External proposals are usually sent in response to a Request for Proposals, but not always.

Knowledge Check

 

EXERCISE 8.2.1 Task Analysis

Identify the kinds of proposals you would be likely to write within the industry you will be joining upon graduation. Place them within the grid below. Given the kinds of proposals you would write, what forms would you use (memo report, letter report, or formal report)?

Solicited Unsolicited
Internal
External

Proposals written in a technical writing course generally do the following:

  1. Identify and define the problem that needs to be solved or the opportunity that could be seized. You must show that you clearly understand the problem/situation if you are to convince the reader that you can solve it.  Rubrics that assess proposals generally place significant weight (~20%) on clarity and accuracy of the problem definition.
  2. Describe your proposed project, clearly defining the scope of what you propose to do. Often, it is best to give a general overview of your idea, and then break it down into more detailed sub-sections.
  3. Indicate how your proposed solution will solve the problem and provide tangible benefits. Specifically, indicate how it will meet the objectives and abide by the constraints outlined in the problem definition. Give specific examples. Show the specific differences between “how things are now” and “how they could be.” Be as empirical as possible, but appeal to all appropriate persuasive strategies. Emphasize the results, benefits, and feasibility of your proposed idea.
    Figure 8.2.4 a example of a Gantt chart used to detail the project schedule and budget. “Create a Gantt Chart in Excel”, n.d., Priority Matrix, https://appfluence.com/productivity/gantt-chart-in-excel/.
  4. Include the practical details: Propose a budget and a timeline for completing your project. Represent these graphically (budget table, and Gantt chart). Your timeline should include the major milestones or deliverables for the project, as well as dates or time frames for the completion of each step.
  5. Conclude with a final pitch that summarizes and emphasizes the benefits of implementing your proposed idea – but without sounding like an advertisement. Ask for authorization to proceed.

Additional Proposal Elements

All proposals must be convincing, logical, and credible, and to do this, they must consider audience, purpose and tone. They are persuasive documents, so all components must be carefully considered as you integrate them into the document. You should also do the following:

  1. Describe your qualifications to take on and/or lead this project; persuade the reader that you have the required skills, experience, and expertise to complete this job.
  2. Include graphics to illustrate your ideas, present data, and enhance your pitch.
  3. Include secondary research to support your claims and to enhance your credibility and the strength of your proposal.
  4. Choose format according to the context; is this a memo report to an internal audience or a formal report to an external audience? Does it require a letter of transmittal?

Sample Proposal Organization

Each proposal will be unique in that it must address a particular audience, in a particular context, for a specific purpose. To read sample proposals, visit David McMurrey’s Online Technical Writing # Proposals for examples. However, the following offers a fairly standard organization for many types of proposals:

Introduction/Background

Clearly and fully defines the problem or opportunity addressed by the proposal, and briefly presents the solution idea; convinces the reader that there is a clear need, and a clear benefit to the proposed idea.

 

Project Description

Detailed description of solution idea and detailed explanation of how the proposed idea will improve the situation:

  1. Confirm the feasibility (is it doable?) How will you find out?

  2. Explain the specific benefits of implementing the idea and the consequences of not doing it

  3. Give a detailed description or explanation of your proposed idea or methodology, and the resources needed to achieve goals.

  4. Address the potential obstacles or objections; concede where appropriate.

Qualifications

Establish the writer’s qualifications and experience to lead this project.

Timeline and Budget

Provide a detailed timeline for completion of project (use a Gantt chart (see Figure 8.2.4) to indicate when each stage of the project will be complete).

Provide an itemized budget for completing the proposed project.

Conclusion

This is your last chance to convince the reader; be persuasive! And ask for authorization to proceed.

References

List your research sources.

Language Considerations

Proposals are fundamentally persuasive documents, so paying attention to the rhetorical situation—position of the reader (upward, lateral, downward or outward communication), the purpose of the proposal, the form, and the tone—is paramount.

  • Clearly define your purpose and audience before you begin to write.
  • Be sure you have done the research so you know what you are talking about.
  • Remain positive and constructive; don’t blame people or dwell on the negative
  • Be solution-oriented; you are seeking to improve a situation.
  • Make your introduction very logical, objective, and empirical; don’t start off sounding like an advertisement or sounding biased; avoid logical fallacies.
  • Use primarily logical and ethical appeals; use emotional appeals sparingly.

As always, adhere to the 7 Cs by making sure that your writing is

  • Clear and Coherent:  Don’t confuse your reader with unclear ideas or an illogical structure.
  • Concise and Courteous:  Don’t annoy your reader with clutter, unnecessary padding, inappropriate tone, or hard-to-read formatting.
  • Concrete and Complete:  Avoid vague generalities; give specifics. Don’t leave out necessary information.
  • Correct:  Don’t undermine your professional credibility by neglecting grammar and spelling, or by including inaccurate information.

Why Project Proposals Might be Rejected

A proposal or recommendation needs research to convince the reader that the idea is worth pursuing or implementing. A project proposal could be rejected for any of the following reasons related to insufficient research:

  • Unclear Problem: The research problem is not clearly defined so the research plan has no clear focus (your ideas are too vague and not well thought out)
  • Unnecessary Project: This issue is already well-known or the problem has already been solved (or is in the process of being solved). For example, proposing that the school cafeteria should replace plastic cutlery with compostable cutlery, when it has already done so, would result in a rejected proposal.
  • Impractical Scope: Access to information, resources, and equipment needed to complete your proposed study may not be available; adequate conclusions cannot be reached in the designated time frame and with resources available. For example, if you propose to do a study that will take two years, but your project is due in two months, the proposal will be rejected.

 

Knowledge Check

Use the clues provided to complete the crossword puzzle.  The answers to all the clues can be found on this page.

 

View this LinkedIn video, Writing Proposals, for step-by-step instructions on proposal writing.

References

Ewald, T. (2017). Writing in the technical fields: A practical guide (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press.

GreegU. (n.d.). Types of business proposals [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTSah0Sf_fU

Irish, R. & Weiss, P. (2013).  Engineering communication: From principle to practice, 2nd Ed. Don Mill, ON:  Oxford UP.

[Lightbulb image].  https://www.iconfinder.com/icons/667355/aha_brilliance_idea_think_thought_icon. Free for commercial use.

McMurrey, David. (1997-2017). Online technical writing: Examples, cases, and models. https://www.prismnet.com/~hcexres/textbook/models.html#proposals  Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

[Proposal image]. [Online]. Available: https://pixabay.com/en/couple-love-marriage-proposal-47192/. Pixabay License.

SMB Guide. (n.d.). How to write a business proposal [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6kTK6HfS4Y

Visme. (2021). How to write a proposal in 10 easy steps [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCwFmrXSnCs

Image descriptions

Figure 7.2.1 image description:

Once there is an idea, a project goes through a design process made up of four stages.

  1. Pre-project planning.
    • Problem Definition – identifying needs, goals, objectives, and constraints.
    • Define context and do research.
    • Identify potential projects.
    • Public engagement projects; Stakeholder consultation.
  2. Project Development.
    • Propose a project (budget, timeline, etc.).
    • Create or respond to a request for proposals, evaluate proposals.
    • Develop or design solution concepts.
    • Project management plan.
    • Feasibility Studies, Recommendation Reports).
  3. Project Implementation.
    • Write contracts and apply for permits for construction and building sites.
    • Progress reports, status updates.
    • Documentation of project.
    • Continued research and design improvements.
  4. Project completion.
    • Final reports and documentation.
    • Close contracts.
    • Ongoing Support: User Guides, Troubleshooting, FAQs.

[Return to Figure 7.2.1]

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Technical Writing Essentials by Suzan Last is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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