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Introduction to proposal writing

What you learned about writing in school probably did not prepared you to write an effective proposal

If you are like me, you learned the basic five-paragraph essay format (and about a dozen variations) in school.  You remember: introductory paragraph, three supporting paragraphs, and concluding paragraph.  Most variations follow the same concept: introduce, support, conclude.  If you are writing a proposal, this is completely backwards. Consider:

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Proposal writing
  • The goal of a proposal is to persuade — here is what I want you to conclude, and here’s why.
  • Most proposal evaluators don’t want to be there — here is what I hope you’ll read and here is the obligatory detail that you’re not going to bother with.
  • A winning proposal is easy to evaluate.  Picture the evaluator with a checklist in hand going through your proposal — check, check, check.  State conclusions that reflect the evaluation criteria, and then explain how or why.

Never save the best for last, or build to the finish.  Give them what they want right up front in firm, positive statements.  You still need to provide the explanation and proof for due diligence, but if there is anything about your approach that you really want them to know or anything about it that is special, you should call it out first.  Tell them what the approach will do for them, what the benefit of it is, and only then tell them the details of the approach.

The goal is not to deprive them of necessary detail, but to give them what they want, in the order they want it.  You’ve got to give them a reason to bother reading the detail.  Think about why they are reading — they are evaluating what you are proposing in order to do two things: get through the formal evaluation process (completion of scoring forms) and to make a selection.

What the evaluators are looking for in the proposal is how to score you and why to select you.  If they find those, then they’ll examine what you are proposing to make sure you can deliver.  It is always a good idea, in any type of writing, to imagine what it’s like to be the reader.

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Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

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