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How to Write a Proposal

Get tips on how to write a proposal and fund your project.

Learn how to write a proposal and win the support of project funders. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Learn how to write a proposal and win the support of project funders.

Writing a proposal may sound intimidating or overwhelming, but a well-written proposal can open the door to countless opportunities. There are several types of proposals, but the three major categories include business, loan and grant proposals. These important documents establish communication and network between people, businesses and the government.

A formal proposal is designed to connect two parties who may be mutually helpful to one another. It seeks to persuasively present an idea or project that may be of mutual benefit to all those involved. For this reason, proposals are usually short, between two and four pages, and aim to clearly and concisely define a problem and outline a solution. A well written proposal answers concrete questions about what the issue is, why it is important, who is involved, where it is taking place, how it can be addressed or resolved, when it can be addressed or resolved, how you fit into the picture, and why the reader should listen to you. Many times, a proposal is also a formal request for funding, either in the form of a grant or a loan, so your proposal will need to ensure that your idea or project is worthy of pursuit and aid.

Proposal Formats

Unfortunately for proposal writers, there is no universal proposal format. It all depends on the purpose of your proposal - why you are writing it and for whom. But there are common features that all successful proposals share. For example, a strong proposal letter introduces your topic, clearly and knowledgeably, and engages your audience in a way that persuades them that you and your idea are worthy of their enthusiasm and support. Proposals must be credible, as well as compelling, and showcase your competence and skill. There are many good online resources that can help you with content, structure and formatting. Learning Lab Proposal Writing Short Course offers step-by-step proposal writing guidance. For proposal letter examples, you can reference How to Write a Proposal Letter. This article, written by Dave Seibert, a noted sales writing specialist, highlights various types of proposal letters for a number of different projects.

Business Proposals

As you might expect, business proposals vary by industry, company and project. But no matter what type of business proposal you're writing, it's important to cover several basics like funding, staffing and business plans and to be very concrete and specific about them. The Microsoft Small Business Center offers an article highlighting some key tips for writing business proposals

Loan Proposals

Another common proposal type is the loan proposal. This is a formal request for funding assistance, and so a solid loan proposal should tell the lender who you are, how much money you need, how you plan to pay it back and what will happen if you cannot pay it back. Helpful loan proposal tips and strategies can be found through the Business Resource Services Inc. This Web site also offers samples of a loan proposal.

Grant Proposals

Grant proposals are written by individuals or organizations requesting funding from private foundations or from the federal or state government. These funds do not need to be repaid, and some are one-time gifts to be used specifically for the project outlined in your proposal. Whether you are presenting an academic, cultural or humanitarian project, writing a solid grant proposal can increase your chances of receiving much-needed financial help. A sample grant proposal can be found at the Idea Bank's online grant writing course

Government Proposals

When an individual or company is in a business relationship with the government, the business will generally present a government proposal as part of the negotiations. These may be in response to government Requests for Proposals (RFP) or an attempt to win a government contract. ONVIA, a U.S. government business intelligence organization, offers tips and guidance for writing government proposals. The Library Spot, an online research resource, also offers helpful government proposal information.

Ultimately, there are no hard and fast rules for proposals. Formats vary depending on the funding source, and the tone can range from very formal to rather casual. But if you're clear, concise, and thorough, your proposal will be more effective and lead to a successful project.

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