Lesson Seven Discussion: Proposals
Imagine you are sitting at your desk working on an assignment for this course. A friend stops by and, after only a little reminiscing, you admit, “I can’t take another minute of tech writing. Let’s go to the beach!” Your friend agrees to go, so what do you discuss next? Typically, you would discuss the specific steps and timetable needed to get you to the beach. You would also talk about money and might mention other people to invite.
This example, like many other common experiences, contains the major elements of a proposal. Regardless of the type of proposal, the concerns reflected in the example are almost always present. These concerns are perhaps best reflected in these questions which you should remember:
1. What is the exact problem and its significance? (In the example, the “problem” is your need for relaxation).
2. What specific steps will best solve the problem?
3. Which people can best solve the problem?
4. What are the specific and justifiable costs?
Unlike reports (documents describing the past), proposals concern the future. The carefully conceived work described in a proposal is only a plan, a plan which the proposal writer hopes to get approved.
Whether proposals are requested or unsolicited, the division, informal/formal, is as useful. Informal proposals include few if any supplements, and vary widely in formality; they are usually memos, but can be in the other formats.
By function (content), proposals can be classified as planning, research, or sales. Because research proposals are often thought of as “pure research” (activities at universities or special science centers), you will find it helpful to add “technical” as a fourth category of proposals. Technical proposals involve research, but the basic purpose is development: for example, how to develop a better 0-ring gasket for the space shuttle. Planning, research, sales, or technical proposals can be informal or formal depending on the circumstances.
In writing proposals of almost any type you will be concerned about a clear statement of the problem, steps to solve the problem, qualified personnel, and specific costs. These concerns, reflected in the four questions listed at the beginning of this discussion, suggest an outline for a bare-bones proposal.
This outline is:
(Be sure to use a more specific heading, not the generic one used here as actually stating the problem makes a more effective heading)
This section gives background and explains the various aspects of the problem to which the proposal is responding and perhaps “justifies” the proposed program by arguing for the serious need for it. Benefits might be mentioned here. Sub-problems must be included. The problem must be clear.
This section, the heart of the proposal, details in step-by-step fashion, the program and its implementation; this section might include data-gathering methods, measuring procedures, planned evaluations, and even the reporting process. The steps are best phrased when they begin with active verbs and are most easily followed when they are numbered. A tabulated schedule is listed here or elsewhere in the proposal.
In a proposal, a great emphasis is placed on clarity as the problem and the program to address the problem must be stated clearly. Also, the problem and solution are clearly outlined so the reader has the impression you have thought it through carefully and have come up with the best solution.
To show you have chosen the best people to do the work, list names, degrees, relevant publications, and previous projects, etc., of principal people. Credentials of the personnel involved should demonstrate they can best do the work.
Provide a complete tabulation (see example in text) of all costs: salaries, wages, consulting fees, equipment, materials, travel, etc. Usually, you should list personnel expenses first. Make the figures as accurate as possible, and avoid lumping large amounts under Miscellaneous. Here, you are showing you are dependable—accurate and trustworthy—with money. The budget should be detailed and carefully prepared so it is realistic.
When composed well, the proposal reflects upon the author as a trustworthy individual who can clearly grasp and explain a problem, offer a logical solution, and plan a project (manage scheduling, identify competent people and suggest a reasonable budget). Thus, a successful proposal persuades on the basis of its total effect. It reflects upon its author as a trustworthy person.
In practice, you will see more elaborate proposals, even when they are informal. Companies and funding agencies often require very specific format and organization. When there is no required form, you will find the text’s examples helpful for writing informal proposals, including the proposal of your assignment described below. Formal proposals have additional main sections and, of course, the supplements.