Creating the outline for your proposal

If you follow the outline and it's wrong, your proposal may never recover

Starting the proposal outline

  • The initial proposal outline should be based on the RFP.
  • However, a complex RFP may need a Compliance Matrix to map the requirements to the outline.
  • Ultimately, the outline is just part of what you need in order to be ready to start writing the proposal.

The outline needs to reflect the structure that the customer expects and incorporate everything that the customer wants you to address.  If the RFP is complex, then to create the initial proposal outline it is a good idea to create a Compliance Matrix. A compliance matrix is a tool that helps you align the relevant requirements from the RFP with the section of the proposal where it should be addressed.

Creating the outline and the compliance matrix go hand-in-hand. The compliance matrix helps you parse the RFP into your proposal outline. For each item in your proposal outline, the compliance matrix shows which RFP requirements are relevant. As you read the RFP, you discover requirements and decide where to address them within your outline. As you go along, you modify the outline until you have a place to address every requirement.  The result is both your proposal outline, and a tool that shows which RFP requirements to address in each section. 

Here is some additional guidance

When your compliance matrix and proposal outline are complete, make sure you validate the outline before you start using it. Here is a checklist for validating your proposal outline.

Creating an outline and a compliance matrix is the first step in creating a Proposal Content Plan.  Neither the outline nor the compliance matrix is sufficient on its own to describe everything that needs to go into winning a proposal. But they are a good start. The outline provides the structure, and the compliance matrix helps you understand what you need to do to be compliant with the RFP. A Proposal Content Plan takes that foundation and adds to it everything else you need in your proposal in order to win.

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Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of and PropLIBRARY.

The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant. 

Carl can be reached at

To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.


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