Proposal Sections

Proposals use an overall problem-analysis-solution format, and include specific sections within that overall format.  Some sections are standard and expected, while some vary depending on your audience, context, proposal type, and other communication variables.  Note that if you’re writing a proposal in response to a request for proposals (RFP), always include and organize the sections required in the RFP.

Standard Sections Variable Sections
  • Introduction/Background
  • Research
  • Statement of Problem
  • Qualifications
  • Possible Solutions
  • Benefits
  • Recommended Solution
  • Evaluation/Assessment Plan
  • Analysis
  • Summary/Conclusion
  • Implementation
  • Costs

Standard Sections

Standard sections of a proposal address the three basic things that proposal audiences want to know:

  1. Why? – Introduction and Background, Statement of Problem
  2. What? – Possible and Proposed Solutions, Analysis, Implementation
  3. How?  – How much will it cost?


The introduction/background section sets the scene for the proposed action. Explain the current situation or policy so that your reader has enough background information to understand the context out of which the proposal has developed. Although you may want to reveal your proposed action fully in the beginning, it may be better to make the introduction brief and set the stage to lead into your proposed action, backed up by analysis, so readers can get a glimpse of what you will be talking about without reading the same proposal statement throughout the proposal.

Statement of Problem

Identify the problem you are trying to solve – the issue that engendered the proposal.  For example, you may need to explain why the current situation or policy is not working, or why the company is losing money by purchasing from their current suppliers. Whatever the problem, it should be explained in as concrete and specific a way as possible. For unsolicited proposals, a clear, direct statement of problem is key.  You have to establish that there is a need to be addressed.  For solicited proposals, you still need to establish the focus and “why” of the proposal, which may be incorporated into the Introduction/Background section if that makes sense, given your audience and communication situation.

Note that it’s important to summarize the problem from the readers’ point of view, otherwise they may think that it doesn’t affect them and become disinterested. Stating a problem can take some research. Sometimes, readers may provide a problem for you (e.g., when a firm writes your company a letter explaining a problem and how you should solve it). Other times, you may have to define the problem yourself, based on your own observations of the organization’s needs.

Look at the following examples to get a sense of how an introduction and background section can lead into a statement of problem.

example 1

This example is an excerpt from an internal, unsolicited proposal from the head of HR to a managing director, to address a wave of retirements.


Introduction and Background

Acme, Inc., was founded 25 years ago. While Acme has grown and added employees over the years, we generally experienced only an 8% workforce turnover each year.  Many of the early employees were promoted to department and division management positions over the years, creating stability and continuity in the company.  However, in the last two years, some of those same long-term managers have retired and many more are contacting HR expressing their intent to retire within the next one or two years. We project that, within the next two years, Acme will need to hire at least nine new department managers in key departments.

Statement of Problem

With a marked increase in retirements and pending retirements of personnel in management positions, Acme is facing a fourfold problem: 1) continuity of operations, 2) loss of tacit knowledge accumulated by long-term managers, 3) availability of personnel to train new hires, and 4) increased costs related to multiple job searches.

example 2

This is an excerpt from an external proposal from a team of faculty and instructional designers, solicited in response to a call for proposals from top administrators of a university system.


Introduction and Background

Lincoln College has participated in the annual Teaching with Technology grants for the past five years.  Grant recipients have produced materials and innovative approaches for online courses in science, mathematics, and computer science – the STEM areas.  These approaches have resulted in increased performance and retention of students in the courses revised as a result of the grants.

Statement of Problem

Even though Teaching with Technology grants have benefited students, instructional designers, and faculty, those benefits have only been seen in a few courses in the STEM areas.  This grant proposal thus focuses on attaining funding to help disseminate and adapt some of the innovative teaching with technology ideas to other areas of study, in courses and online resources. Funding through a Teaching with Technology grant will address Lincoln College’s current problem of lack of devoted time, resources, and personnel to disseminate ideas.

Possible Solutions

The Possible Solutions section is one section that many writers forget, yet it’s often the most important section of the proposal. This section offers many possible solutions to the problem and leads logically into your Proposed Solution. Explain what the other choices are in this particular case, to solve this particular problem. Remember that the reading audience for the proposal is likely to be someone with decision-making power in the organization, most likely a high-level executive or a group of people who may be somewhat removed from the actual problem. The one solution that you’re proposing may not seem obvious or feasible to these decision-makers. Even if the decision-maker is involved with the particular problem, it’s good strategy on your part to show that you considered many possibilities before choosing one.

Proposed Solution/Recommendation

Offer your specific solution to the problem – your recommended action. Make sure to provide enough specific information and concrete detail so that your reader gets a good sense of exactly what you are proposing.  Try to anticipate your audience’s questions and address them in your discussion of your proposed solution and recommendations.


Explain specifically why the possible solutions are not as good as your proposed solution (e.g., not as cost-effective, may require hiring new staff, etc.). Explain the feasibility and benefits of your proposed solution (e.g., easy to implement, less expensive, etc.). Be complete, accurate, and direct; use neutral language and persuade through your logical analysis and application of criteria to the problem, rather than through emotional appeal.

Important Note on the Placement of Analysis

Analysis may be its own section, but it’s also standard practice to include analysis in your discussion of the possible and proposed solution sections.  Decide on the best way to group and present information based on the communication situation.


The implementation section explains in detail how the proposed solution will be carried out. Remember, the reader will need to see that the proposed action is feasible. Explain in detail what the timeline is for implementing the change, what material and personnel resources are needed, how they will be procured, and other aspects of implementing your solution. You may want to use separate headings and/or sub-headings for these aspects of implementation, or you may decide to combine these aspects under one Implementation heading, depending on your communication situation.


Specify costs, including not only monetary costs but costs in personnel time, training, etc.  Costs are usually formatted in lists and/or tables for ease of reading; generally do not discuss costs as part of a block of text.  Keep in mind that, for a successful proposal, benefits should always outweigh costs.

Variable Sections


Research involves explaining your research methodology in identifying the problem.  It also includes incorporating information from the sources you consulted in developing the solution. Sources may include organizational archives that provide statistics, information from reference sources, results of questionnaires, interviews with colleagues, and more.  Determine whether you need to include information from sources and, if so, what types of sources are most appropriate given your proposal and communication situation. In general, research can validate your problem, solution, implementation, costs, and benefits as credible.

For example, if you propose to implement a shuttle bus service from the parking lot to work places for a more efficient and effective way for people to report to work, you may include results of an internal questionnaire about parking, information from other workplaces with similar situations, and research on insurance concerns in providing this type of service.

As with most sections of a proposal, research may be a separate section or it may be logically incorporated into the problem and solution sections.


The qualifications section offers your own and others’ expertise. What is it that has made you qualified to make this proposal? Have you been working in a particular field for 20 years? Are you a concerned member of the workforce? If there are others involved in writing and implementing the proposal, what are their qualifications?  Use whatever information is relevant to establish credibility and help your audience understand that you are an appropriate person to offer and enact this proposal.  Qualifications are most important if you are writing an unsolicited proposal for an external audience.  You may decide not to include a qualifications section if you are writing an internal proposal, if you think that your audience already has a sense of your qualifications.


Benefits may be a separate section or incorporated into your analysis of possible and proposed solutions.  Benefits also may be used as a means of concluding a proposal.

Evaluation/Assessment Plan

Some RFPs require – and certain proposals benefit from – an evaluation or assessment plan, which indicates how the outcomes of the proposed action will be measured.  Remember that your proposed action should be feasible, and have measurable outcomes (e.g., 20% sales increase, decrease in staff complaints to HR, etc.), and a clear evaluation plan supports the concept of feasibility. Determine if your proposal would benefit from including an evaluation plan and, if so, include this section, making sure that any assessment strategy you propose is clear and feasible in itself.


You may – but don’t have to – use a summary or conclusion section in a proposal, since you have already presented your conclusion in the proposed solution section.  A conclusion may be useful if the proposal is lengthy or if your situational analysis warrants a conclusion, but realize that, in the interest of conciseness, you don’t need to include a conclusion if you feel the rest of your information makes your case.

The following video reviews major proposal sections within the context of creating a proposal for a project.  It offers tips on setting the context for your proposal, by both talking with colleagues before presenting your proposal, and tying your proposal to your organization’s vision. 

Front Matter


There’s one important thing to keep in mind when creating the title of a proposal. The title should identify the proposed action very specifically and clearly, e.g., Proposal to Change Alpha Unit’s Workstations, Proposal to Create and Implement Standard Evaluation Procedures for Part-Time Workers.

Executive Summary

A proposal is the one formal report for which you may not need an executive summary, as you want your reader to read your full argument in the body of the proposal. Again, choose to use or not use an executive summary based on your analysis of communication variables.

Other Front and Back Sections

Include other sections as appropriate (e.g., table of contents for long proposals, appendices with additional information, list of sources, etc.). Refer to the pages on Reports and Written Document Design to read about other possible sections, which should be used only if needed.