The keys to writing a great proposal


Posted Feb. 26, 2018
Proposals represent a highly specialized form of writing that differ substantially from more common types of writing. They must be powerfully persuasive, yet easily readable. They must make deft arguments, while vividly explaining the benefit of the proposed solution. It can be particularly difficult for technical personnel, whose writing is often instructional, perhaps even scholarly, and who typically adopt an objective, even-handed tone. With proposals, they suddenly find themselves working on a document that must convey excitement through goal-driven rhetoric. It can be an uncomfortable shift to make.

Yet, proposals are often crucial to obtain the funding and other support they need to carry out their desired activities. Sometimes, they’re even the lynchpin of new project or customer acquisition. Thankfully, we have extensive experience in proposal writing skills and this guide to proposal writing to help you strengthen your proposals.

Target your readers.

Most proposals fail to focus on the reader’s problem. Instead, the focus falls on “we do this and that” without considering how the solution helps the reader. A Texas A&M International University analysis comparing academic writing to proposal writing says, “As one of our university's consistently successful grant writers put it: ‘My epiphany came when I realized that grant programs do not exist to make me successful, but rather my job is to make those programs successful.’”
In other words, your proposal isn’t really about you. It’s about the reader.

Emphasize benefits and successful outcomes.

This tip follows directly from the first. A classic error in sales and marketing writing is to discuss features rather than benefits, but it’s key to remember that you’re selling the outcome or result of your product or service, not the product or service itself. Diet foods don’t sell because they’re low calorie, they sell because fewer calories mean people lose weight and thus look or feel better.
Now think about what it is you’re proposing and how it benefits the reader.

Use user-friendly language.

Far too many proposals use jargon and/or assume that the reader knows what they’re talking about. “Jargon masks real meaning,” Jennifer Chatman, management professor at the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, tells Forbes. “People use it as a substitute for thinking hard and clearly about their goals and the direction that they want to give others.”
Instead, speak plainly, avoiding clichés and overused catchphrases and be specific rather than generic.

Take steps to improve your proposal writing skills.

Proposals don’t have to be hard to write and, fortunately, proposal writers have ample options to improve their skills. Start by reading and analyzing other proposals–both successful and not. Another option is to get editing from a third-party specialist. You can also take a course to get first-hand experience in honing your proposal writing skills.
About Hurley Write, Inc.
Hurley Write, Inc., a certified women-owned small business (WBENC and WOSB), Historically Underutilized (HUB), and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), has been designing and teaching customized onsite and online technical, business, and scientific writing courses for over 25 years. We also develop and teach specialty courses, such as how to write proposals and standard operating procedures (SOPs) and deviation and investigation reports, and how to prepare and give great presentations.