· Define proposals and determine their purpose
· Plan to write proposals
· Compose informal proposals
· Compose formal proposals
· appendix, p. 342
· executive summary, p. 330
· letter of transmittal, p. 342
· limitations, p. 335
· memo of transmittal, p. 342
· pagination, p. 343
· prefatory material, p. 345
· proposal, p. 329
· RFP, p. 331
· scope, p. 335
· solicited proposal, p. 330
· unsolicited proposal, p. 331
WRITE TO LEARN
Think of a time when you had a successful sales experience. Perhaps you persuaded a person or a group to buy a product or service or to agree to an idea such as a fund-raiser or a community or family project. In a journal entry, write a narrative about that experience. Include ways in which you prepared to make the sale as well as a description of your audience.
Focus on Proposals
Read the sample proposal on the next page and answer these questions:
· Who might the head custodian have consulted about the proposed solution?
· What are some alternative solutions the group may have considered?
· Do you agree with the recommendation to hire a new custodian? Why or why not?
· What would you include in a list of the positive and negative supporting ideas for one alternative solution that you choose?
· Most of the events requiring special setup were scheduled in the summer when school was not in session?
· The school had a hiring freeze?
· The current custodians’ hours and wages had been reduced because of budget problems?
Courtesy of Meredith Beattie
Meredith Beattie is co-founder of The BEL Group, a company that works toward capacity building in the government and nonprofit sectors. She writes grant proposals for workforce development, public safety infrastructure, and K-12 educational and cultural programs.
“Competitive proposal development requires time up front to carefully consider the long-term effects of having a proposal accepted,” says Meredith. “The difficulty is that an organization’s staff may have little time to meet with you and want you to ‘just write it.’ This can lead to a proposal that wins the grant, but is not feasible for the organization to implement. Getting organizations to spend planning time with you translates into a better working team and a realistic proposal.”
The writing process is a complex endeavor that requires methodical attention to detail. “A proposal has many moving parts, so the absolute first thing one should do when beginning to write is to read, tear apart, and ‘become one’ with the entire proposal structure,” advises Meredith. “The sections of a proposal are interrelated. If you do not have a thorough grasp of the complete picture, you can create a proposal that is full of contradictions.”
In Meredith’s experience, collaboration with the organization’s stakeholders is key to a realistic proposal. “Reaching agreement on the overall goal, the resources available to meet the goal, and the benchmarks the organization will meet provides a clear framework for the writer. An accepted proposal becomes the foundation of the contract with the funder. Reminding your stakeholders of this may help them articulate reasonable and achievable goals.”
A major difficulty in writing a persuasive proposal is that the writer does not know who his or her audience or competitors are. “Your writing needs to be able to carry any reader—expert or neophyte—to the inevitable conclusion that the applicant is best positioned to fulfill the intent and requirements stated in the application,” says Meredith. “Your proposal may be the 200th one the reviewer reads, so make it as easy as possible to digest, avoid colloquialisms, and be compelling without being sensational.”
1. Why is it important that Meredith work with the organization to plan the proposal? What may happen if she does not get enough input?
2. How would a writer make a proposal “as easy as possible to digest”?
Printed with permission of Meredith Beattie
A proposal is a persuasive document that offers a solution to an identified problem or need. Proposals attempt to sell an idea, a product or service, or a new concept or plan. Proposals may be brief or long. A one-page request for a room change written to a club adviser and a 2,000-page multivolume document selling a new type of amphibious tank to the Department of Defense are examples of proposals.
What physical projects took place at your school during the past year (for example, repainting, repairs, new walkways, or new landscaping)? As you read this part of the chapter, list the types of proposals likely to have been written before this work could have been done.
Proposal comes from the base word propose. Have you ever proposed an idea for a party to your friends? Do you know anyone who has proposed marriage? If you are thinking of the meaning “to suggest” or “to make an offer,” you are beginning to understand the purpose of a proposal.
A proposal can be a request for support. For instance, the local Boys and Girls Club may send a proposal to the United Way requesting money to resurface the club’s tennis court. Another proposal might offer a customer goods or services. If a school organization sells candy to raise money, the project probably began with a proposal from the candy supplier.
The successful proposal persuades an audience to accept the solution offered and to invest in the idea, product, plan, or service. Employees can use proposals to respond to problems rather than merely complain about them. The proposal provides a professional means of presenting the employees’ ideas for change, which can be empowering.
As Figure 14.1 illustrates, proposals can be categorized in several ways relating to the audience: (1) internal or external; (2) formal or informal; (3) solicited or unsolicited; or (4) sales, research, grant, or planning.
Any person (owner, manager, director, technician, or client/customer) who makes decisions.
Clearly and persuasively presenting information the reader needs in order to make an informed decision, anticipating questions and arguments, using an organizational plan that is logical and convincing, and developing appropriate visual aids to enhance the message.
Figure 14.1 Types of Proposals
The Foundation Center is a nonprofit agency that serves organizations that give and seek grants. (A grant proposal, or grant, is a type of proposal that seeks money from a government agency, foundation, or other funding source for a specified project.) The Foundation Center has tools and information for both givers and receivers of grants.
Go to the NET Bookmark for Chapter 14. Use the menu on the left side of the page to select a section of the proposal to read. Create a PowerPoint® presentation about the key points of that section.
Internal and External
Readers of some proposals will be internal—that is, inside the writer’s organization. Other readers will be external, or outside the writer’s organization. Internal proposals usually attempt to sell an idea or a plan, such as how providing on-site day care can reduce the absentee rate at work, how merit raise funds should be distributed, and how eliminating classes the day before finals can ease stress and improve scores. External proposals frequently try to sell goods or services as well as ideas.
Informal and Formal
A proposal is informal or formal based on the degree to which the conventions of formal report writing are followed and how “dressed up” the document looks. Formal proposals contain more parts than informal proposals. Writers decide how formal a document should be based primarily on the audience and its needs.
Because informal proposals often address an internal audience that understands why the document was written, these proposals are often brief, generally from one to ten pages. An informed audience eliminates the need for background information or an explanation of the problem. In addition, the report has a flexible organizational plan, uses less formal language, and is frequently presented as a letter or memo. Occasionally, however, a brief informal proposal may be written to an external audience when the subject matter and proposed solution are simple and require little explanation.
A proposal going to someone close (in the ranks of the organization) to the writer is usually informal. Likewise, a problem and solution that can be explained in a simple manner are presented in an informal report. The proposal writer would not invest the often lengthy preparation time involved in a formal proposal to suggest something as simple, for example, as changing lunch schedules to allow for a company-wide meeting.
Formal proposals, on the other hand, usually address an external and often unfamiliar audience. They are organized according to standard elements of formal researched reports, with a cover page, a letter of transmittal, a title page, a table of contents, a list of illustrations, an executive summary (a summary of the key information in each section of the proposal), body discussion divided by headings and subheadings, appendixes, a glossary of key terms, and a bibliography. (Not all formal reports will have all of these sections.)
Solicited and Unsolicited
A proposal is solicited or unsolicited depending on the audience’s role in its initiation. A solicited proposal is a proposal that the reader asked the writer to prepare. A request may come from a manager at work who sees a problem. The manager asks an individual or a team to study solutions to the problem and present recommendations in a proposal. The request might also appear in an RFP , or request for proposal. The RFP states exactly what the customer seeks. Proposal writers then prepare their documents to address the needs stated in the RFP. An unsolicited proposal begins when the writer discovers a problem, such as an inefficient production line or a lack of water fountains for employees who use wheelchairs. The writer independently identifies a problem, explains it, and offers solutions.
Sales, Research, Grant, and Planning Proposals
Based on function, or what the writer wants the audience to agree to do, proposals fall into one of four categories: sales, research, grant, and planning. Each category is explained below.
· The sales proposal tries to sell a product or service.
· The research proposal asks for approval to begin a study or an investigation. A marine biologist at a university, for instance, might request approval (and perhaps funding) to study the effect of acid rain on a particular fish species.
· The grant proposal seeks money from a government agency, foundation, or other funding source for a specified project, such as developing a horseback riding program for children with cerebral palsy.
· The planning proposal attempts to persuade an audience to take a particular action, as in a plan to improve food service at a restaurant’s drive-through window by rearranging preparation tables for efficiency.
A single proposal may combine several of the categories mentioned here. As you read proposals, you may discover that all four categories apply to one document.
The best format for a proposal is determined by the needs of the audience and the function or type of proposal. Writers who are submitting a formal proposal to a prospective client might want to prepare a bound booklike document for decision makers to read and review. The writers of an informal proposal that suggests ways to improve recycling efforts in a printing company could send their proposal to the manager as an e-mail attachment.
A company that installs fiber-optic cable in public buildings could post a proposal to a website for viewers’ access. Some proposal writers take advantage of images and hyperlinks to persuade the audience by sending a CD or DVD with sound and video and links to useful sites.
Decision makers throughout business and industry read proposals. Most of these people read only a portion of the proposal. They read those sections that deal with their area of interest and expertise. Thus, readers evaluate the proposal based on the data presented in the section or sections they review, passing their acceptance or rejection to the person or group making the final decision.
STOP AND THINK
Why would a single proposal be categorized in more than one way?
Consider the impact of audience when determining the methods you use to be convincing. For example, do you use the same techniques to persuade a friend or a sibling to go to a movie as you do to ask an instructor for extra time to complete an assignment or your boss to give you a day off work?
Now that you know about the different types of proposals, you are ready to plan for writing one. The proposal begins with a problem or need. The problem may be one that you discovered or one that someone pointed out to you, as in an RFP or in a memo or letter from another professional.
A problem-solving strategy such as the one listed below can make your work as a proposal writer easier and can help you focus on the problem.
· Determine whether you have a problem or need.
· If you do, define the problem or need and your purpose.
· Conduct preliminary research.
· Determine the scope and limitations of your study.
· Identify the factors or subparts of the problem or need.
· Brainstorm possible solutions.
· Gather data to support the possible solutions.
· If possible, test and evaluate the solutions.
Once you have gone through the problem-solving process and are ready to write your proposal, you can use one of several strategies to help you appeal to your audience. Create a chart with a line drawn down the middle. On the left side of the chart, write everything you think the readers need or want from the solution. For instance, if you have an RFP, the criteria, as with a job advertisement, are probably noted there. If you do not have an RFP, make the list based on your research and insight into the problem and audience.
On the right side of the chart, list what your solution offers the reader in fulfilling his or her wants or needs. In other words, for every want or need in the left column, explain how your plan will satisfy that want or need. Thus, you will have persuasive tools ready to begin composing your proposal. Table 14.1 relates to a sales proposal for football helmets.
|Protects players||· 1″ of solid tempered plastic covered with fiberglass for resistance
· 34″ foam padding from ear to ear
· Adjustable liner for greater protection
|Is economical||· $29.90 per unit, 10% less than the average football helmet
· 10-year warranty/automatic replacements
Complete the Prewriting worksheet available at www.cengage.com/school/bcomm/techwtg. Click the link for Chapter 14; then click Data Files.
Focus on Ethics
Monina Dagsaan is a new administrative assistant at a company that produces exercise videos and infomercials. One of her first assignments is to read proposals from a dozen catering companies to provide food for the cast and crew on the days they shoot. Her boss, Hank Phelps, gives her the RFP to which the catering companies are responding. He also gives her an internal document about current catering costs, issues with the current caterer, and the amount the company hopes to save with a new caterer. Monina’s job is to sort through the proposals and give Hank the top three or four proposals.
Monina notices that one of the proposals stands out from the others in how closely it meets the needs of her company. It addresses the problems with the current caterer, which were not listed in the RFP, and the cost it proposes matches the exact amount her company wants to spend. Monina thinks that the person who wrote this proposal must have seen her company’s internal document.
What should Monina do?
Another technique that some proposal writers use when analyzing their audience is to imagine how the readers think and feel. Anticipating the readers’ questions and concerns may help you understand the readers’ points of view and anticipate their needs. You also can gather audience information relating to the issues in the proposal, as shown in Table 14.2.
You can add other questions to this audience analysis as you consider the problem, solution, and benefits of the solution.
STOP AND THINK
Why should proposal writers define or state the problem?
|Problem||· Is the reader aware of the problem?
· How much does the reader know about the problem?
· What factors about the problem most concern the reader?
|Solution||· What do the criteria (perhaps in an RFP) established by the audience tell you about the audience?
· How would you prioritize the decision maker’s concerns: personnel, money, time, production, public image, and ethics?
· How open-minded or how critical will your audience be?
Recall several convincing people—that is, when they talk, you listen and believe what they say. What gives them a persuasive edge? credibility? List any traits, characteristics, or actions that lend credibility to persuasive people. Be prepared to share your list with the class.
The organizational strategy of the informal proposal, like that of many technical reports, is designed for the busy decision maker. The proposal usually opens with the most important information. So writers give information about the problem and solution at the beginning of the report. The organization of the rest of the proposal is flexible to fit the different situations that writers are likely to encounter in their work. No matter how you organize your proposals, you must remember your audience throughout the writing process and ask yourself if you are responding to all of their questions and doubts.
Informal proposals begin with an executive summary, or abstract. Following the summary information, the proposals contain the same parts as any other written document: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. The summary, or abstract, is a condensed version of the proposal. The introduction presents the problem and solution and whatever background information the reader needs. The body of the proposal is the main section. It covers the facts—the specific evidence to convince the reader that the plan is worthwhile.
The last section, the conclusion, wraps up the report and spurs the reader to action.
The specific information contained—and thus the headings used (with the exception of the Executive Summary, or Abstract)—in each section may vary. Depending on the problem and solution being proposed, the writer decides which subsections to include and which to omit. Possible headings used in each section are listed in Table 14.3.
|Introduction||Introduction Problem Addressed and Solution (could be two headings) Objectives of Proposed Plan Background Data Sources Scope and Limitations|
|Body||Methods Scheduling Capabilities and Qualifications of Personnel Materials and Equipment Expected Results Plan for Evaluating Results Feasibility Budget (usually in tabular form) Justification of Budget Items (where necessary)|
|Conclusion||Conclusion Summary of Key Points Request for Action|
Drafting the Summary
The summary, or abstract, is designed with the busy decision maker in mind. In a short informal proposal, this section may appear on the title page or, typically, as the first paragraph in the report. It provides a brief overview of the essential ideas presented in the proposal. The summary should include a problem statement, the proposed work objectives, the project impact, and the work plan. Cost is not usually discussed in the summary because writers first want to present all of their evidence to persuade readers. They hope readers will not be “turned off” by the cost, but will be convinced by the proposal to justify the expense.
Image Source/Getty Images
Drafting the Introduction
The introduction answers the “why” in the reader’s mind. It explains why the proposal was written. You must identify the problem up front. Another important element of the introduction is your proposed solution to the problem. This statement should be clear but brief. Later, in the body, you will provide further details and justify your proposal.
The introduction further explains your objectives, or what you hope to accomplish, and clarifies the value of the work and why it is worth the investment you seek. You also may need to include a brief background of the problem in this section.
For example, a proposal to college administrators that recommends doubling the number of bike racks on campus will be taken more seriously when the writer explains the problem leading to the proposal and the way the bike racks address the problem.
Students’ budgets are tighter than ever, and the cost of commuting adds to students’ financial burden. The college raised the cost of a campus parking permit twice in the last two years, and the one-way fare on the most popular bus route to campus is currently $3.65. Secure bike racks placed around campus would encourage students to commute by bike.
An explanation of the background shows your reader that you have a grasp of the problem. In addition, the introduction may explain the need for a solution. Some readers may ask, “Why not simply leave things as they are?” For these readers, note the effects of ignoring the problem.
The introduction also explains how you or other personnel are qualified to solve the problem. In addition, you might describe where you will seek information to help you solve the problem. Data sources could be printed materials (for example, books, reports, or brochures), interviews, observations, or experiments. The introduction also might define the scope , or the extent to which you will search for solutions, as well as any limitations , or boundaries, of the project (for example, restrictions on time, space, equipment, money, or staff).
Drafting the Body
After you have described the problem and solution in the introduction, you use the body of the informal proposal to become more specific about your plan. The specific details—facts, figures, statistics, dates, locations, and costs—are the materials you use to persuade your audience. For this section, you address only the topics in Table 14.4 that you and your readers need.
|Methods||Explain your methodology—what your approach to the problem will be, what criteria (perhaps from the RFP) you will meet, and what outcome or product you will deliver at the date you specify. Justify your plan of work and any exceptions to the RFP as needed.|
|Scheduling||Present a calendar of the work planned and expected completion dates to assure your audience that you anticipate efficiency. Effectively illustrate scheduling as appropriate. Flowcharts or timelines are excellent for visual presentation of timetables.
List numbers and qualifications of personnel.
Describe facilities (both available and needed) to be used.
|Capabilities||Assure your audience that you can deliver the work you propose by (1) noting the abilities of people involved and (2) describing your organization’s successful track record.|
|Materials and Equipment||Review materials and equipment to be used. This section is particularly important in scientific projects and construction projects.|
|Expected Results||Explain what you think the result of your work will be.|
|Plan for Evaluating Results||Outline your plan for evaluating the success of the solution once it is implemented.|
|Feasibility||Explain how you find the solution reasonable to implement.|
|Budget||Present (typically in a table) the costs for the work, including salaries, equipment, materials, travel, communication, services, and other expenses.|
|Justification||Explain clearly and persuasively the reason for any expenses your audience may question.|
Drafting the Conclusion
The conclusion should be straightforward and brief. It might include a summary of key points, such as those noted in the summary section, and it should call for the audience to take action. Make the call to action specific and clear, including dates, deadlines, and amounts.
Explore the Composing Strategies with a Model