How To Make Your Writing Proposal Work

by Anne Wayman

writing proposalThe words, writing proposal, can seem intimidating until you consider how broadly that term can be interpreted.

Everything from a multipage document, complete with table of contents, to a brief email describing how you might get some work done along with your qualifications, can fall under the rubric of a writing proposal.

A close look at the purpose, form, understanding the potential client’s need, how to make yourself look good and paying attention to the details will make the business of writing a proposal easier, no matter what its length.

The purpose of a proposal

Generally speaking the purpose of any writing proposal is to convince someone to hire you to do the writing they need or want. It’s that simple.

The worst thing you can do is complicate this idea. Keep it simple and you’re much more likely to land the writing job you want.

The form of a writing proposal

While you need to pay some attention to the actual form, it’s fairly easy to work that part out. For example, if you’re dealing with academia your proposal needs to match the academic style. If a Fortune 500 company wants you to make a proposal it’s up to you to either ask for sample or figure out exactly how they want that proposal look. Hint: It’s always okay to ask, always!


Determining the form of any writing proposal is mostly a matter of listening closely or reading an ad closely or asking the right questions, and then doing what’s appropriate.

If you’re in direct contact with the client it’s totally okay to ask what form they want a writing proposal in. If you’re answering an ad, you’ll just have to make it look good and take for granted that it’s okay.

Remember, in most cases it’s the contents of the proposal that will actually sell your services.

Understand what they want and need

To write a proposal that will help someone to make the decision to hire you requires that you understand what the potential client wants and needs.

This is where you put your best listening skills to use. You want to comprehend both the words the client is speaking as well as the meaning underneath them.

For example I was recently asked for a proposal to edit a white paper. Before I agreed I actually asked for a copy and was quick to realize it would need more than copy editing, typos etc., if it were to be any good. So my proposal included the editing the way they had described it plus the additional time it would take me to add and clarify information. I included a short sample paragraph that demonstrated how the end product would read. Yes, I got the gig.

In other words, you’ve got to demonstrate your understanding. It’s about them and how you can meet their needs. That can be done with an example as I did, or by showing them samples of what you’ve done in the past that similar, or in in more informal situations, just in your conversation with them.

Make yourself look good

The proposal is an actual sample of the kind of writing you plan to do for them. Your proposal should match the tone and style of the final product.

You want to pay attention to how the proposal will look to the client. This goes way beyond making sure everything spelled correctly and you’re using complete sentences. You want any headings bullet points footnotes etc. to be readable and look like they belong on the printed page. Pay attention to the formatting even if someone else is going to set it up in for example a webpage.

If you’re sending a printed version, you don’t have to buy super-expensive paper, but you do want it to look and feel good in the hand.

Since so much of what we write these days is done for online presentation, make it clear what you’re doing when you have a link, or an instruction, etc. These days I never use underlining unless it’s for a link. Of course academic writing has a different set of rules. If that’s where your proposal is going follow there is not mine.

Be detail oriented

Obviously you want to copy edit any proposal closely, but don’t stop there. Make sure it looks as good as it reads.

This is true both for the longer proposal and for the brief email proposal.

Proposals aren’t difficult as long as you recognize that your job is to be of service to the client. That includes finding out what they really want, which isn’t always what they say they want, and showing them that you can do the job they want and need.

What’s your experience writing proposals? Tell us about it in comments.

Write well and often,

annesig.

 

 

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