Developing & Organizing a Proposal

Developing the Proposal

Provide Complete Information

The body of the proposal – the statement of problem, possible and proposed solutions, and all other relevant sections – needs to be clear, comprehensive, detailed, and succinct.  Your goal in proposal writing is to make your proposed action “real” to your reader. Provide enough specific information so that your reader can actually envision the results and see the logic and benefits in them. Make a proposed action real by providing sufficient, concrete information in all relevant proposal sections.

Try It: what additional information is needed?

Read the following sample, which is a first draft of possible and proposed solutions.  As you read, think of questions that you have, as a reader and potential decision-maker, that could be addressed with fuller and more concrete, detailed information.  How can the information be made more specific, and thus more persuasive?


Proposal for Creating a County Fire Investigation Team

Possible and Proposed Solutions

Fire investigations could continue to be completed by Sheriff’s Department investigators as is the present practice when the local fire chief does not feel comfortable about labeling a cause for a fire. This option requires at least two Sheriff’s investigators to be involved as an effective fire investigation requires at least two people (as taught in the OFPC Fire Investigation 80-hour course). These two or more Sheriff’s Department personnel must be paid and often times paid overtime. While the effectiveness of investigations by the Sheriff’s Department is not questioned, it is very costly both in the amount of time personnel are taken away from other police work and the cost of paying personnel conducting investigations. With the formation of a county fire investigation team, the investigation of fires determined to be accidental in nature could be completed by volunteer members of the team who at the most would be reimbursed mileage expenses. Operation costs of the fire investigation team would be minimal and equipment is expected to be gathered through donations to a large extent. At such time in an investigation that it becomes likely that a crime may have been committed, the team would, by procedure, secure the scene, contact the police agency, and turn the investigation over to them. Assistance would be provided by the team as requested by the police agency handling the investigation.

A county team can:

  1. Provide a well-trained fire investigative team as a tool for county fire chiefs to use to determine the cause of fires.
  2. Relieve an unnecessary workload from the investigators of the County Sheriff’s Department.
  3. Complete preliminary fire investigations up to the point where the evidence points to the possibility of a crime having been committed. Assist police agencies in an investigation after criminal activity has been determined as a possibility.
  4. Provide a workable link between police agencies and the fire service, improving communication and dissemination of information and evidence between the two.
  5. Provide a more cost-effective manner for investigating fires in the county.

As you read, what questions came to mind?  What additional concrete, detailed information would address those questions?

See the questions one reader asked: download Possible Questions (doc).

Provide Specific, Detailed Information

From the Try It exercise above, you can see the need for detailed information in all parts of a proposal.  A good strategy for developing information is to put yourself into your audience’s place, anticipate any questions they might have, and then make sure to address those questions as you draft and revise your proposal.

View the following video for a review of proposal types and a discussion of how to develop proposal sections in terms of writing process stages.  Applying writing process stages can help you develop details.

The following video, which provides tips for grant proposals, offers a good example of how to specify proposed activities which are part of the proposed solution in tip #2.

The following video offers a different approach to the concept of specificity in the implementation section of a proposal.

Link to the page on Concrete Language in this text for additional examples and a fuller discussion of concrete language.

The main thing to remember about proposal writing is that you need to be as specific and concrete as possible in most sections of the proposal because the more specific you are, the better the reader will understand the reasons behind, and the implementation of, the proposed change.

Consider Types of Evidence

Evidence to back up your proposed action is also key.  You may ask how you can provide evidence if your proposal has not yet been implemented.  Logical evidence (as opposed to emotional appeals) can help your audience see the feasibility and benefits of what you’re proposing, and thus start to agree, so that you work toward persuading them to act.

The following video discusses persuasion in terms of the aspects of logical argument: claim, grounds, warrant (unstated assumption).  Even though the video does not directly apply its information to proposals, it’s very useful to consider as you write a proposal, as you’ll need to anticipate possible objections and provide evidence for your claims.


Another way to organize and explain types of evidence is to consider the logical argument elements of ethos, pathos, and logos:

Ethos refers to credibility, pathos to passion and enthusiasm, and logos to logic or reason. All three elements are integral parts of a proposal that require your attention. Who are you and why should we do business with you? Your credibility may be unknown to the potential client and it is your job to reference previous clients, demonstrate order fulfillment, and clearly show that your product or service is offered by a credible organization. By association, if your organization is credible the product or service is often thought to be more credible.

In the same way, if you are not enthusiastic about the product or service, why should the potential client get excited? How does your solution stand out in the marketplace? Why should they consider you? Why should they continue reading? Passion and enthusiasm are not necessarily communicated through “!” exclamation points. Your thorough understanding, and your demonstration of that understanding, communicates dedication and interest.

Each assertion requires substantiation, each point clear support. It is not enough to make baseless claims about your product or service—you have to show why the claims you make are true, relevant, and support your central assertion that your product or service is right for this client. Make sure you cite sources and indicate “according to” when you support your points. Be detailed and specific.

The following is yet another way to consider and include different types of evidence appropriate to your proposal:

  • facts – accepted truths, demonstrable truths
  • logical outcomes of the proposed action – application of the proposed action to predict specific implementation processes and benefits to the reader/organization
  • supporting research – outcomes from other actions similar to your proposed action
  • testimony – information from acknowledged experts in the field

Whatever way of considering evidence makes sense to you, make sure to create enough detailed, logical evidence in your writing to foster agreement with your proposed action.

Organizing the Proposal

Remember that proposals use a problem-solution format. Look again at the table on the Proposal Sections page, and see if it makes sense to use all of the standard sections separately, or collapse some of them into one section, based on your information and evidence.  Then identify the variable sections that you need in order to make your logical argument, and integrate them into a logical order with your standard sections. Depending on your purpose, context, and audience, you’ll may have a number of different  options for organizing the sections of your proposal.

The following two samples provide one way of ordering and outlining proposal sections that might be helpful to you.  Draft the order of sections that you think may work for your purpose and audience, and then add a brief statement of the content of each section.  This procedure can help you check on logical flow of information, and logical ordering of proposal sections, which varies from proposal to proposal

possible organization Sample 1

Proposal to offer a new online course, written by a faculty person to an associate dean.

  • Background and statement of problem – that there currently is no advanced course in research writing, and that there is some demand for one.
  • Analysis – specific number of requests from students and other advisors within the last two years.
  • Research – number and types of degree programs that include an independent study in advanced research writing within the last two years.
  • Possible and Proposed Solutions – continue offering the course as an independent study, send students to other colleges to cross-register for the course, develop the course as a full online course.
  • Benefits – retain students, attract new students.
  • Costs – a detailed breakdown of salaries and time needed for course development.
  • Implementation – a specific timeline of deliverables
  • Qualifications – your own and/or others’ qualifications to create the course.
  • Summary/Conclusion

possible organization sample 2

Proposal to institute customer service training to new front desk hotel staff, written to a supervisor as primary audience and the larger hotel organization that has funded additional training in the past, as a secondary audience.

  • Background – the number of guest complaints has risen over the last year, based on lack of clear communication with front desk staff, some of whom have left guests standing and waiting while pursuing other business. Also, some front-desk staff have been identified as having an “I don’t have time to bother” attitude.
  • Problem – the hotel is committed to good customer service, and that apparently is not being addressed by all, given the number of complaints.
  • Possible Solutions and Analysis – random video-taping of communication interactions, in-house training, training from an outside source.  Analysis centers on the likely reactions of front desk staff to each possibility, and thus the likelihood of their engaging with the training in a positive manner.
  • Proposed Solution and Analysis – outside source training, as the most fair, acceptable, engaging, and positive.
  • Research and Analysis – into different training businesses that has been used in the past and staff reactions to that training.
  • Recommendations – the training business that is most likely to succeed.
  • Costs and Benefits – specific discussion of costs coupled with benefits to justify those costs.
  • Implementation and Conclusion – if training is approved, offer a specific plan for moving forward.

The following video offers yet a different organization, logical to writing a business proposal for event planning.  Although the speaker uses different topics, they are essentially the same as the standard and variable proposal sections, put into language that makes sense to the context and audience:

  • Problem – the client’s needs
  • Qualifications
  • Possible and recommended solutions – the services you can offer
  • Costs
  • Implementation – policies
  • Summary – including the thank you

From all of these examples, you can see the flexibility you have in organizing your proposal.  Just make sure that your sections are ordered in a way that’s logical to their content and your audience, and that you use clear headings to identify the logical flow of information.