Proposal Guidelines (Penn State)
Proposal Template (Penn State)
A proposal is a plan for solving a problem. Engineers and scientists write proposals to do such things as research turbulent boundary layers, design turbine blades, and construct jet aircraft engines. The audience for a proposal usually includes both managers and engineers. These audiences view proposals in different ways. For instance, managers review proposals to see if the plan for solving the problem is cost effective. Engineers and scientists, on the other hand, review proposals to see if the plan is technically feasible.
Proposals may be solicited or unsolicited. In a solicited proposal, a company or agency advertises that it desires the solution to a problem. In most cases, this company or agency sends out a request for proposals, often called an RFP, that presents a problem which needs addressing. For example, if the Department of Energy desires research on reducing nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel engines, then the Department announces its request, often in periodicals such as the Commerce Business Daily. A company then reads the announcement and proposes a plan for doing the research. In an unsolicited proposal, however, there is no request. Instead, an engineer on his or her own initiative recognizes a client's problem, writes a proposal that first makes the client aware of the problem, and then presents a plan for solving that problem. Unsolicited proposals often occur within a company. For example, an engineer or scientist may write a proposal to his or her division supervisor suggesting a new computer system to handle that division's work.
This section presents a sample proposal request and corresponding sample proposals that respond to that request (a checklist for proposals accompanies this scenario). Notice that the request for proposals included here discusses the format that the proposals should follow. This discussion of format occurs often in proposal requests because requesters of proposals have to evaluate the proposals. If submitted proposals follow the same format, particularly in regards to length and order of information, then the evaluation process is simplified.
For a proposal to succeed, you need a good idea. No amount of crafted writing can make up for a weak idea. Even though you might have a strong idea, there is no guarantee that your proposal will succeed. You should also understand your constraints--especially the constraints of audience and format. Having a good idea and knowing your constraints is still no guarantee for success. The review process for a proposal has many uncontrollable variables such as politics. Nonetheless, if you have a strong idea, then crafting the writing of that idea to meet the constraints will improve your proposal's chances for acceptance. For information about the style of proposals, see Chapter 13 of The Craft of Scientific Writing.