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Purpose, Content & Structure of Proposals

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  • 00:00 Proposals - Definition…
  • 1:50 Front Matter
  • 2:40 The Main Text
  • 4:27 Back Matter
  • 4:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

Proposals are an important part of business communications. In this lesson, you'll learn about the purpose, content, and structure of proposal writing in a business setting. A short quiz follows.

Proposals - Definition & Purpose

Steve and Bill own a software development company that has just completed a new logistics program that they believe will be a killer application for large online retailers. They know that We Sell Everything Online, Inc. is currently shopping around for a new logistics program and Steve and Bill decide to write a proposal to submit to the company.

A proposal is a document that is prepared for a prospective customer to persuade the prospect to adopt the solution to a problem or the fulfillment of a need proffered in the proposal. Proposals are written for both private and public sector organizations.

While Steve and Bill are writing a proposal for an external solicitation, many proposals are internal. This means the prospect is not a customer from outside your company, but rather someone in your own company. Internal proposals may be written to suggest a new idea to upper management or to suggest a solution to a current organizational problem.

Proposals may be solicited where the prospective customer sends out a document to potential vendors, known as a request for proposals or RFPs. However, many proposals are unsolicited, where the prospective customer receives the proposal without asking for it. If a request for proposals is sent out, it usually provides instructions on what the customer wants the proposals to specifically address. Such instructions should be followed precisely.

In fact, We Sell Everything Online has issued a RFP, so Steve and Bill will make sure they fully address all specifications made in it. For example, the RFP requests that Steve and Bill include not only information on the software and its pricing but also information on after-purchase support, the company's history, the company's technical capabilities, and financial information to establish that the company isn't heading towards bankruptcy.

Front Matter

Like most complex writing projects, you can divide a proposal into three components: a beginning, middle, and end, which is often called the front matter, the text, and the back matter.

The front matter of a proposal really sets the stage for the pitch to come in the core of the proposal. The front matter provides tools to help the reader understand the proposal and guide the reader through it. Steve and Bill's front matter includes:

  • A title page
  • A cover letter presenting the proposal
  • A table of contents
  • A list of illustrations if the proposal has a significant number of visuals
  • And an abstract that gives a brief, non-technical summary of the proposal that identifies the issue or problem and the proposed solution and its benefits

The Main Text

The heart of the proposal is the main text. Steve and Bill start off with a short introduction that briefly explains the purpose of the proposal and the problem the proposal seeks to solve or the need it seeks to satisfy. In this case, the purpose of their proposal is to explain the benefits and advantages of their logistics software to solve We Sell Everything Online's logistics problem.

Steve and Bill next move on to composing the discussion section of the proposal's main text. The discussion is where Steve and Bill attempt to persuade the reader to accept the proposal.

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