3.4 Common sections in proposals

The following provides a review of the sections you will commonly find in proposals. Do not assume that each one of them has to be in the actual proposal you write, nor that they have to be in the order they are presented here.  Refer to the assignment sheet provided by your instructor and consider other kinds of information unique to your topic that should be included in your particular proposal.

Introduction. Plan the introduction to your proposal carefully. Make sure it does all of the following things (but not necessarily in this order) that apply to your particular proposal:

  • Indicate that the content of the memo is a proposal for a specific project.
  • Develop at least one brief motivating statement that will encourage the recipient to read on and to consider approving the project (especially if it is an unsolicited or competitive proposal).
  • Give an overview of the contents of the proposal.

Background on the problem, opportunity, or situation. Often occurring just after the introduction, the background section discusses what has brought about the need for the project—what problem, what opportunity exists for improving things, what the basic situation is. For example, management of a chain of day care centers may need to ensure that all employees know CPR because of new state mandates requiring it, or an owner of pine timber land in eastern Oregon may want to get the land producing saleable timber without destroying the environment.

While the named audience of the proposal may know the problem very well, writing the background section is useful in demonstrating your particular view of the problem. Also, if the the proposal is unsolicited, a background section is almost a requirement—you will probably need to convince the audience that the problem or opportunity exists and that it should be addressed.

Benefits and feasibility of the proposed project. Most proposals briefly discuss the advantages or benefits of completing the proposed project. This acts as a type of argument in favor of approving the project. Also, some proposals discuss the likelihood of the project’s success. In an unsolicited proposal, this section is especially important—you are trying to “sell” the audience on the project.

Description of the proposed work (results of the project). Most proposals must describe the finished product of the proposed project. In a technical writing course, that means describing the written document you propose to write, its audience and purpose; providing an outline; and discussing such things as its length, graphics, binding, and so forth. In the scenario you define, there may be other work such as conducting training seminars or providing an ongoing service. At this early stage, you might not know all that it will take to complete your project, but you should at least have an idea of some of the steps required.

Method, procedure, theory. In some proposals, you will need to explain how you will go about completing the proposed work. This acts as an additional persuasive element; it shows the audience you have a sound, thoughtful approach to the project. Also, it serves to demonstrate that you have the knowledge of the field to complete the project.

Schedule. Most proposals contain a section that shows not only the projected completion date but also key milestones for the project. If you are doing a large project spreading over many months, the timeline would also show dates on which you would deliver progress reports. If you cannot cite specific dates, cite amounts of time for each phase of the project.

Costs, resources required. Most proposals also contain a section detailing the costs of the project, whether internal or external. With external projects, you may need to list your hourly rates, projected hours, costs of equipment and supplies, and so forth, and then calculate the total cost of the complete project. Internal projects, of course, are not free, so you should still list the project costs: hours you will need to complete the project, equipment and supplies you will be using, assistance from other people in the organization, and so on.

Conclusions. The final paragraph or section of the proposal should bring readers back to a focus on the positive aspects of the project. In the final section, you can urge them to contact you to work out the details of the project, remind them of the benefits of doing the project, and maybe make one last argument for you or your organization as the right choice for the project.

Special project-specific sections. Remember that the preceding sections are typical or common in written proposals, not absolute requirements. Always ask yourself what else might your audience need to understand the project, the need for it, the benefits arising from it, your role in it, and your qualifications to do it. What else do they need to see in order to approve the project and to approve you to do it?

Chapter Attribution Information

This chapter was derived by Annemarie Hamlin, Chris Rubio, and Michele DeSilva, Central Oregon Community College, from Online Technical Writing by David McMurrey – CC: BY 4.0

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3.4 Common sections in proposals by Allison Gross, Annemarie Hamlin, Billy Merck, Chris Rubio, Jodi Naas, Megan Savage, and Michele DeSilva is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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