Proposal Writing Guidelines

Proposal Writing Guidelines

A proposal is a document intended to persuade someone to act on your recommendations.

Variables to Consider

Audience: Proposals are written in fields such as business, government, and science, among others. Identify your audience and consider what arguments will be the most persuasive.

FormalityInformal proposals can be an email or a memo (if circulated within a business), or a letter (when sent outside of a business).  Formal proposals usually take on the same format as reports; therefore, they typically include a title page, table of contents, abstract or executive summary, (possibly) a letter of transmittal, appendices, and list of sources cited.

Solicited vs. unsolicited: Solicited proposals are submitted at the request of a client or customer who evaluates and selects the proposal that best meets their needs. An unsolicited proposal goes out in the hopes that the recipient will acknowledge a need and decide that you, as solicitor, are the one to address it.


  • Title or subject line-clearly state your proposal
  • Background information-offer your readers background context
  • Statement of problem or situation-clearly describe the problem or situation
  • Description of solution or resolution-fully describe how you plan to solve the problem or situation
  • Costs, timing, and qualifications-spell out any details involving money, time, and expertise
  • Conclusion-end with a call to action

Elements of your argument:

  • Show that you understand the clients’ request and that you have their best interests in mind. You also need to show that you understand the project, goals, and time commitment.
  • Offer a clear solution to the problem and demonstrate the benefits of your solution
  • Justify your proposal by making it clear that your product or service is the best choice.
  • Show that you will reliably deliver on your recommendation and that you will comply with the client’s way of doing business.

Types of Proposals

Planning Proposals suggest solutions to a problem or provide ideas for improvement. Example: A planning proposal might be an appeal for funding to expand a campus newspaper, the architectural plan for new services at a ski area, or a plan to expand energy alternatives to fossil fuels.
Research or Grant Proposals request consent and financial support for research projects. Research proposals are solicited by many agencies, some of which include the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. In these cases, proposal readers will normally be other scientists, so writers can use language that is suitable for other experts. Example: A chemist at a university might address a research proposal to the Environmental Protection Agency for funds to identify toxic contaminants in local groundwater.
Sales Proposals suggest services or products and may be solicited or unsolicited. The scope of the proposal is set by the client or by a thorough your investigation of the kinds of information your audience needs in order to make a purchase decision.


Clayton, B. (1982). The other side of proposal writing: People. Personnel & Guidance Journal, 60(10), 629.
Article about audiences for your proposal.

Gurak, L. J., & Lannon, J. M. (2010). Strategies for Technical Communication in the Workplace. Boston: Longman.(Pages 336-358.)
Excellent book that gives a complete overview of proposals, as well as helpful examples.

Hagley, T. (2006). Writing Winning Proposals: PR cases. Boston: Pearson Allyn and Bacon.
Book that specifically addresses public relations cases.

How to write a world-class proposal. (2009). Strategic Finance, 91(2), 37-41.
Article that gives examples of proposals.

Martin, P. (2000). Preparation before proposal writing. New Directions For Philanthropic Fundraising, 2000(28), 85-96.
Article that gives tips for what you need to do before your write your proposal.

Proposal Writing Tips
Website that provides tips for the proposal writer.

Purdue Owl Resource
Website that addresses academic proposals.

Rainey, B. G. (1974). PROPOSAL WRITING: A neglected area of instruction. Journal Of Business Communication, 11(4), 30-39.
Article that gives an overview of proposals, specifically in education.

Roman, K., & Raphaelson, J. (2000). Writing that Works: How to Communicate Effectively in Business, E-mail, Letters, Memos, Presentations, Plans, Reports, Proposals, Resumes, Speeches. New York: Quill. (Pages 130-135.)
Book that provides tips for what not to do, as well as what to do to succeed in proposal writing.

O’Brien, S. R. (2011). Grant-writing tips for the non-grant-writer. Parks & Recreation, 46(11), 71-72.
Article that addresses grant writing.

Porte, M. (1967). Writing effective research proposals. Journal Of Business Communication, 5(1), 13-20.
Article that addresses research proposals.

Seng, J. J. (2012). Inside the proposal development process: 10 tips for writing a great RFP. Public Relations Tactics, 19(2), 13.
Article that addresses proposals for public relations.