Proposal Writing

For Business and Academic Publication

Man contemplating information to include in his book
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In composition, especially in business writing and technical writing, a proposal is a document that offers a solution to a problem or a course of action in response to a need.

As a form of persuasive writing, proposals attempt to convince the recipient to act in accordance with the writer's intent and includes such as examples as internal proposals, external proposals, grant proposals, and sales proposals.

In the book "Knowledge Into Action," Wallace and Van Fleet remind us that "a proposal is a form of persuasive writing; every element of every proposal should be structured and tailored to maximize its persuasive impact."  

On the other hand, in academic writing, a research proposal is a report that identifies the subject of a forthcoming research project, outlines a research strategy and provides a bibliography or tentative list of references. This form can also be called a research or topic proposal.

Common Types of Proposals

From Jonathan Swift's satiric "A Modest Proposal" to the foundations of the United States government and national economy put forth in Benjamin Franklin's "An Economical Project," there are a wide variety of forms a proposal can take for business and technical writing, but the most common of which are the internal, external, sales and grant proposals.

An internal proposal or justification report is composed for readers within the writer's department, division, or company and are generally short in the form of a memo with the intention of solving an immediate problem. External proposals, on the other hand, are designed to show how one organization can meet the needs of another and may be either solicited, meaning in response to a request, or unsolicited, meaning without any assurance that the proposal will even be considered.

A sales proposal is, as Philip C. Kolin puts it in "Successful Writing at Work," the most common external proposal whose "purpose is to sell your company's brand, its products or services for a set fee." He continues that regardless of the length, a sales proposal must offer a detailed description of the work the writer proposes to do and can be used as a marketing tool to entice potential buyers.

Finally, a grant proposal is a document composed or application completed in response to a call for proposals issued by a grant-making agency. The two main components of a grant proposal are a formal application for funding and a detailed report on what activities the grant will support if funded.

Research Proposals

When enrolled in an academic or writer-in-residence program, a student may be asked to write another unique form of proposal, the research proposal.

This form requires the writer to describe the intended research in full detail, including the problem the research is addressing, why it's important, what research has been conducted before in this field, and how the student's project will accomplish something unique.

Elizabeth A. Wentz describes this process in "How to Design, Write, and Present a Successful Dissertation Proposal," as "your plan for creating new knowledge." Wentz also emphasizes the importance of writing these in order to provide structure and focus on the objectives and methodology of the project itself.

In "Designing and Managing Your Research Project" David Thomas and Ian D. Hodges also note that the research proposal is a time to shop the idea and project out to peers in the same field, who can provide valuable insight into the project's objectives.

Thomas and Hodges note that "colleagues, supervisors, community representatives, potential research participants and others can look at the details of what you are planning to do and provide feedback," which can help solidify methodology and importance as well as catch any mistakes the writer may have made in his or her research.