Chapter 18: Writing Proposals



Writing Proposals

A proposal can be as simple as a suggestion-box memo or as complex as a book-length bid. Either way, a proposal identifies a need or a problem and lays out a convincing plan for meeting that need or solving that problem. A proposal can tackle issues like these:

  • fixing inefficient operating practices;

  • winning contracts and selling products or services;

  • developing new markets, products, or services;

  • improving current products or services; and

  • meeting legal and ethical requirements.

A well-written proposal, whether it is designed to sell a service, fix a problem, or justify an expansion, is a force for positive change.

In this chapter


Guidelines Writing Proposals

Your goal is to persuade others that you have a workable solution or plan that solves a problem or meets a need.

  1. Plan: (Ideas and Organization)

    • To whom are you making this proposal? What are your reader’s needs, attitudes, and concerns in relation to the issue?

    • Exactly what are you proposing? Why?

    • What outcome do you want?

    Study the need or problem and possible solutions.

    • Research the problem’s background and history.

    • Break the problem into parts, noting causes and effects.

    • Review any solutions attempted in the past, noting their successes and failures.

    • Identify other solutions and choose the best one.

  2. Draft: (Ideas, Organization, and Voice)

    Opening Provide context, as well as a summary, if appropriate.

    Middle Present the problem or need and your solution.

    • Explain what the problem is and why it should be corrected.

    • Map out the solution and stress its value.

    Closing Summarize your conclusions and recommendations.

  3. Revise: (Ideas, Organization, Voice, Words, and Sentences)

    • Have you provided all the details that your readers need?

    • Does the proposal address alternatives, stress benefits, consider ripple effects (who will be affected and how), and show your ability to implement the solution?

    • Is your tone confident and positive, but not aggressive?

    • Have you used precise words, easy-to-read sentences, and strong transitions?

  4. Edit: (Conventions and Design)

    • Have you checked grammar, punctuation, and spelling?

    • Have you checked document design?

“It is the duty of the president to propose, and it is the privilege of the congress to dispose.”

—Franklin Delano Roosevelt


Organizing Proposals


  • Label your proposal with the following: a title or a subject line that promises productive change, your name, your reader’s name, the date, and any reference numbers.

  • Introduce your proposal by providing background and establishing the theme—the need to be met, the problem to be solved, and the benefits to be gained.

  • Summarize your proposal if you want to be direct. To be indirect, do not include the summary.


  • Define the problem or need. Explain its importance, limits, causes, effects, history, and connection with larger issues. Review any past attempts to solve the problem, noting their successes and failures. Note: If the reader is aware of the need or problem, be brief and informative. If the reader is unaware or resistant, build a persuasive case about the problem or need and its importance.

  • List criteria for a solution. What should a solution accomplish?

  • Compare alternative solutions. Then promote the best one.

  • Prove the solution’s workability by highlighting the following:

    • outcomes of the solution.

    • requirements (facilities, equipment, material, personnel, and so on).

    • schedules for start-up, stages, finishing dates, and follow-up.

    • cost breakdowns (services, equipment, materials, travel, and so on).

    • methods of monitoring costs and quality.

    • your qualifications for undertaking the task.


  • Summarize the problem or need and alternative solutions.

  • Provide conclusions about the best solution—results and benefits.

  • Review your recommendations for implementing the solution.


Writing Sales Proposals (Bid Form)

Writing Sales Proposals (Bid Form)

Writing Sales Proposals (Letter)

February 26, 2019

Ms. Agnes Grey

Millwood Pharmaceuticals

2211 Green Valley Road

Tallahassee, FL 32303-5122

Dear Ms. Grey:

Opening: Be positive and polite. Thank you for the opportunity to bid on Millwood’s waste removal and recycling needs.

Middle: Provide a precise bid with the necessary details. Based on the bid requirements, we are submitting the following proposal:

  • One eight-cubic-yard container for regular refuse, serviced twice a week.

  • One eight-cubic-yard container for cardboard, serviced once a week.

  • Total cost per month: $240.00.

  • Extra pick-ups: $55.00 per trip.

Promote your company. As Tallahassee’s leading waste collector, Boniface serves more than 300 organizations. References and brochures are enclosed for your review.

Closing: Anticipate a positive reply. Ms. Grey, I look forward to your response. Please call me if you have questions.


Robert Estavez

Sales Representative

Enclosures 3


Writing Major Sales Proposals or Bids

A major bid is usually a response to an RFP (Request for Proposals) published by a company or a government agency. While the bid must follow the RFP specifications, a common pattern is outlined below:


  • Include some or all of the following “front matter”:

    • a title page with the title, writer, reader, and submission date

    • a cover letter that introduces the proposal, sells its strengths, notes the key players, and thanks the reader

    • a copy of the RFP or the letter of authorization

    • a table of contents and a list of illustrations

    • an executive summary in nontechnical language


  • Review the reader’s need as indicated in the RFP.

  • Explain the solution—your product or service.

  • Describe implementation, focusing on the following:

    • products and services to be delivered

    • methods of delivery and a schedule of delivery

    • costs, fees, budget breakdowns

    • evaluation plans for checking progress and results

    • personnel requirements

    • a statement of responsibilities (yours and the company’s)

  • Outline the bid’s benefits for the client (results, efficiency, reliability, value, and so on).


  • Describe your company and its resources; list relevant past and current jobs; and provide references, testimonial letters, and résumés of key personnel.

  • Summarize your proposal, focusing on the reader’s need, your solution, the results you can deliver, and the advantages.


Writing Troubleshooting Proposals

1 of 3

Rankin Manufacturing


April 19, 2019


John Cameron


Nick Jeffries

Opening: State the problem to be solved. Subject:

Reducing Carbon Monoxide Levels

As you requested, I have investigated the high levels of carbon monoxide in the main warehouse. The following proposal (A) explains the source of the problem, (B) proposes a solution, and (C) details an implementation plan.

Middle: Explain the problem in neutral, factual terms. A. Problem: Emissions from Lift Trucks

From November 2018 through March 2019, Rankin has been registering high carbon monoxide (CO) levels in Area 3 of the warehouse. General CO levels in the area have exceeded 35 ppm, and many office spaces show levels of 40-80 ppm (OSHA recommends 25 ppm).

Be objective. These CO levels are a concern for three reasons:

  1. High CO levels cause sickness and lower productivity.

  2. Using summer exhaust fans in winter to reduce CO results in low humidity that shrinks wood used for manufacturing.

  3. High CO levels can result in a substantial OSHA fine.

Show clear understanding of the causes. To determine the cause of the high CO levels, I investigated all sources of combustion in the warehouse. I concluded that the excess CO was caused by lift trucks operating in Area 3.

I then checked all lift trucks. They were in good working condition and were being properly used and maintained.

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B. Proposal: Phase Out Internal-Combustion Lifts

Middle: List solution criteria. In order to correct the CO emissions problem, the ideal solution should accomplish the following in a timely and cost-effective manner:

  1. Bring CO levels within OSHA limits.

  2. Maintain relative humidity to ensure product quality.

Show that you considered alternatives. To do this, Rankin could continue using the exhaust fans and install humidifying equipment at a cost of $62,000. (See attached estimate.) Or Rankin could replace all internal-combustion lift trucks in Area 3 with electric lift trucks for $295,000.

Offer your solution and provide a clear rationale. Instead, I propose gradual replacement of the internal-combustion lifts in shipping with electric lift trucks, for these reasons:

  • Shipping (Area 3) has 14 lift trucks that operate almost 24 hours per day.

  • The shipping area is well-suited for electric lift trucks (no long-distance travel or use of ramps is required).

  • While electric lifts cost more initially, they have lower operating and maintenance costs. A five-year cost analysis shows that the cost of operating the two types of lift trucks is similar. (See attachment.) In fact, after five years, electric lift trucks save money.

C. Implementation: Phase In Electric Lifts

Show that the solution will work. Because Rankin buys an average of four lift trucks annually, the plans below will complete the changeover in the shipping area within the next four years.

  1. When an area requests replacement of an existing lift truck, management approves purchase of a new electric lift truck.

  2. The new electric lift truck goes to the Shipping Department.

  3. The newest internal-combustion lift truck in Shipping is transferred to the area that requested a new lift truck.

By beginning this plan in January 2020, we could replace all internal-combustion lift trucks in Shipping by December 31, 2023.

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Closing: Restate your solution and its benefits. Gradual replacement of internal-combustion lift trucks in Shipping with electric lift trucks will involve a higher initial cost but will reap two important benefits: (1) CO levels will fall below OSHA’s 25 ppm, enhancing the safety of Rankin employees and guarding product quality; (2) the electric lift trucks will prove less costly to own and operate in the long run.

Therefore, I recommend that Rankin management approve this plan, and phase it in over the next four years as outlined. Improved safety, increased product quality, and lower total long-term operating costs outweigh higher initial costs.

If you wish to discuss this proposal, please call me at extension 1449, or write me at

Cite attachments. Attachments:

Renovation Estimate

Five-Year Cost Analysis


Writing Justification Proposals

1 of 2

Bayford Community Theater


March 15, 2019


Sarah Helter, President

Terry Petersen, Treasurer

Don Wassal, Treasurer


Amanda Smith, Vice President


New Seating for the Theater

Opening: Present your idea and stress its benefits. I’m writing to recommend that the Bayford Community Theater replace the seating in our auditorium. New seating will (1) make patrons more comfortable during performances, (2) beautify the theater, and (3) help us compete with other entertainment options.

Current Seating

Middle: Give the reason for your proposal. Our current seating is more than twenty years old and was secondhand when we acquired it. The seating poses a number of problems:

  1. The hard plastic construction makes the seats uncomfortable for shows.

  2. Review the present situation in detail. Some of the seats are damaged, requiring use of folding chairs.

  3. The seats are not attached to the floor, making them shift as patrons move about.

  4. The metal bases may damage the new flooring installed last year.

  5. Some of the seats are stained, adding to the overall unsightly appearance.


We have discussed a number of measures to address this problem.

  1. Buy plastic-covered stadium seat pads: At $8 per pad (printed with the BCT logo), a hundred pads would cost $800 and would make seats more comfortable. However, they would be awkward to distribute and collect, and patrons would still be sitting on plastic.

  2. Create cloth cushion covers for chairs: This solution would be more comfortable and less awkward than foam pads, though the expense in cloth and foam and the many hours of sewing involved would be prohibitive.

  3. Replace seating with comfortable chairs: This solution would provide comfort and a more attractive appearance, but the slanted floor means that patrons would feel that they are tipped forward.

2 of 2


Middle: Justify an expenditure by stressing benefits. I recommend that we replace the existing seating with new theater seating, fastened to the floor. I have checked with four companies that offer theater seating and have attached their catalogues for your consideration.

In my opinion, the best option is the Turino style of seat offered by Custom Seating Specialists, with the following specifics:

  1. Dimensions: Back heights 36”—37-1/2”; chair widths: 20-1/8”—23-1/8”

  2. Cushions: Cold-molded polyurethane padding with ergonomic design

  3. Inner back: Ribbed injection-molded polypropylene plastic, featuring lumbar curves for back support

  4. Outer back: Injection-molded high impact resistant, textured, linear polypropylene plastic

  5. Frame structure: Rectangular steel tube frame, stress-tested to meet the demands of heavy use

  6. Fabric: Turino polyolefin with fire retardant and Scotch Guard; available in blue, red, gray, or tan

  7. Paint: Powder-coat finish baked at 200 Celsius

Detail costs. See pages 36–37 in the Custom Seating Specialists catalog for more details. For an order of 100 seats, this seating would cost $365 per seat, installed, for a total cost of $36,500.


To pay for these seats, we can use a number of revenue sources:

  1. Building endowment: We have $5,000 available per year for facility upgrades.

  2. Buy-a-seat program: Supporters can “buy” a seat—and perhaps platinum supporters will buy whole rows.

  3. Recycling: We can dismantle the current seats and sell the plastic and metal to a recycling plant.

  4. Auction: We can earmark the proceeds from the pre-show auction to seat replacement. (We might even paint one of the old seats and auction it off.)

  5. Closing: State recommendations clearly and summarize the benefits. 50–50 raffle: We can earmark the proceeds from the 50-50 raffle for seat replacements.

New seating will improve the comfort, look, and image of our facility, not just now but for years to come. The seating drive will also bring the community into the theater.

Anticipate a positive reply. If you need more information or wish to discuss this proposal, please call me at 555-3612 or email me at

Cite attachments. Attachments: 4 seating catalogs


Checklist Writing Proposals

Your goal is to persuade others that you have a workable solution or plan that solves a problem or meets a need.

My proposal . . .

  • Ideas

    • shows a thorough understanding of the problem, alternative solutions, the reader’s needs, and your own resources.

    • where possible, supports its claim by citing the company’s mission, goals, plans, or policies.

    • offers a clear, persuasive line of thinking from beginning to end.

    • contains accurate and realistic details, figures, and estimates.

    • includes supporting graphics such as tables and charts.

  • Organization

    • explains the problem (nature, importance, history, and so on).

    • states the solution, stresses benefits, and shows how this solution addresses the problem better than the alternatives do.

    • presents an implementation plan in terms of time, money, and personnel.

    • includes measures for checking progress and testing the outcome.

  • Voice

    • has a positive and confident but objective tone.

    • shows “you attitude”—careful attention to the reader’s perspective.

  • Words

    • uses language at an appropriate level of formality.

    • uses technical terms carefully, defining any unfamiliar terms.

  • Sentences

    • passes the “read-aloud” test for smoothness and logical transitions.

    • states main points, conclusions, and recommendations in clear sentences. 

  • Correctness

    • contains no errors in grammar, punctuation, usage, and spelling.

  • Design

    • follows the format expected by the company.

    • uses consistent, parallel, informative headings.

    • uses white space, underlining, boldface, and other layout features.

“Controversial proposals, once accepted, soon become hallowed.”

—Dean Acheson

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