HOW TO WRITE PROPOSALS AND FORMAL REPORTS

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PROPOSALS

Ultimately, proposals are written documents used when making a request, when making an offer, or when urging someone to take action. For example, a proposal could be used to request permission from a person in a position of authority. Similarly, a proposal could be used to offer a service to a potential client. Whatever the case, knowing how to construct a good proposal is an important skill set, especially in the world of business (Texas A&M University Writing Center, 2008).  

 Firstly, proposals are divided into two general groups; solicited and unsolicited proposals. Solicited proposals are a response to demands made by people, firms or companies, in attempt to fulfill a specific requirement. It is common practice that such entities announce/distribute a RFP (Request for Proposal) or CFP (Call for Proposal), stating what it is they are looking for. Subsequently, a solicited proposal is a document written in reaction to such a demand, hoping to fulfil the prerequisites of the RFP or CFP (Guffey, Rhodes and Rogin, 2006). 

 An unsolicited proposal is exactly the opposite and is written without a request from an outside party. This type of proposal is used more often than not to offer a service, a solution to a problem, or when trying to sell something (Guffey et al., 2006). 

 All the same, proposals are essentially presentations used to influence its recipient. Accordingly, knowing who the recipient/audience of the proposal is and catering your proposal to their needs is recommended. Furthermore, as per Guffey et al. (2006), there are 3 things to remember when writing an effective proposal:

 ·           Emphasise the benefits of your proposal for the reader
·           “Toot” your own horn by detailing your expertise and accomplishments
·           Make it easy for the reader to understand and respond

 While proposals can fall into two groups, solicited and unsolicited, they can also be written in 2 formats; informal and formal proposals. In the next sections we will describe the function as well as the components of both, in effort to give you a good understanding of how and when to use each (Guffey et al., 2006).

Informal Proposals

Usually comprising 2-6 pages, informal proposals are shorter than their formal counterpart. An informal proposal is made up of 6 components labelled Introduction, Background, Proposal, Staffing, Budget and Authorization. It typically used as a response to smaller issues, problems or projects (Guffey et al., 2006). 

 
Introduction

The goal of the introduction is to explain the purpose of the proposal as well as demonstrate your competency. It is suggested by the Texas A&M University Writing Center that the introduction should both explain the issues that will appear in the text as well as make the readers feel you are qualified to take on the task proposed.  To do this, explain your qualifications in a couple of sentences. (Texas A&M University Writing Center, 2008)

 

Background

 In the background section of the proposal, you must firstly show an in depth knowledge of the issues or problems that are affecting the reader. Melissa Little (2007) , it is suggested that the background section be a extension of the introduction, “demonstrating an in depth comprehension of the issues”. If you are writing an unsolicited proposal you essentially have to convince the reader that there is indeed a problem, in hopes that he chooses you (based on your proposal) to resolve it. If you are writing a solicited proposal, the goal is to demonstrate an in depth knowledge of the issues presented in the RFP/CFP, ultimately making the reader feel confident in your knowledge and ability.  Also, in the background section, it is recommended that you emphasise the importance of your proposal as well as the importance of its purpose or goals.



Proposal  

In the proposal section, you are presenting the description of the project proposed, your plan of action, or the solution you’re proposing. While this seems simple enough, in some proposals it is relatively tricky. When writing this section of the proposal you must know what and how much of your action plan you are going to reveal. Reveal too much information and the reader might have already found the solution they needed; and ultimately not require your services. Reveal too little and your proposal won’t be compelling, and your services will again not be needed. Accordingly, to write an effective proposal you must find a balance between the two.

 Another tip when writing such a proposal can be found in the article Writing A Formal Proposal found at http://www.careerramblings.com/2007/04/26/writing-a-formal-proposal/. The article describes that it is important that state your plan of action, discuss its implementation and provide a schedule your plan. This will make the reader feel confident in your abilities, planning and organisation. 

 

Staffing 

The staffing section should communicate to the reader the resources you have at your disposal; be they human, technological, etc. It is recommended that you describe your expertise on the relevant subject matter, as well as the expertise of all staff that will be included on the project you are proposing. By effectively demonstrating that you, your staff and your resources better qualify you to take on the task at hand, your proposal has greater chance of being considered/accepted.

 

Budget  

The budget is a fundamental component of your proposal. According to the Texas A&M University Writing Center (2008), the budget should “Present your expected costs and revenue (if any) specifically and clearly. Do not hide costs or lump items together in a way that might look like you are padding the budget or hiding something.” This section is essentially a contract dictating the costs of the project you are proposing and must be prepared carefully. Furthermore, if your proposal is a response to an RFP or CFP, refer to it to find out the general guidelines, limits and restrictions with respect to creating your budget.
 

Authorization

   The authorization section is simply a request that the proposal be accepted and is not mandatory when writing a proposal. Essentially it is an easy way for the reader to respond and accept the proposal. When a proposal is dealing with relatively small issues, the authorization section provides the reader with a simple way to respond. When dealing with complex matters that will require further negotiations, including a request for authorization in your proposal may be impractical. Ultimately, including an authorization request in your proposal is completely dependent on the situation and should be left up to your better judgement.



Formal Proposals


Formal proposals are similar to informal proposals accept that they differ in size and format. As per Guffey et al. in Business communication: Process and product, formal proposals are generally a response to big projects and contain components in addition to the 6 included in an informal proposal. Those additional components are listed below and are placed before and after the 6 components of the informal proposal to aid in organisation. 

 For a complete online video tutorial of how to write a formal business proposal, visit the video series found at expertvillage.com by the following this link.

 

Copy of RFP 

When writing a formal proposal, it is recommended you include a copy of the RFP or CFP that you are responding to. Keep in mind that large companies, government corporations, etc. may send out innumerable RFPs. Accordingly, attaching a copy of the RFP identifies the issue to which you are replying.

 


Letter of Transmittal

Transmittal letters are letters addressed to the person who is receiving the proposal. The letter confirms that the proposal concerns the issues put forth in the RFP and briefly highlights the major features and benefits of your proposal. 

 Essentially, as per Guffey et al. (2006) the letter of transmittal in a formal proposal should fulfil the following 2 requirements: 

            1.      Announce the topic of the report and tell how it was authorized
            2.      Emphasise the key points and benefits of your proposal 


SUPPLEMENTAL INFORMATION: For an in depth and comprehensive summary of what to include in your letter of transmittal follow this link: http://www.class.uidaho.edu/adv_tech_wrt/week14/letter_transmittal_outline.htm

 

Abstract or Executive Summary

A formal proposal contains either or both an abstract or executive summary. Both an abstract or executive summary are a brief text emphasising the key aspects of the proposal. The difference between the two is as follows. Abstracts are designated for specialist in the relevant field and are more specific or technically complex. Executive summaries on the other hand are intended for managers and consequently require less specialized details.

 SUPPLEMENTAL INFORMATION: For more focused instruction on how to write an effective abstract/executive summary, the following link provides you with detailed and insightful instructions on how to write a good abstract/executive summary. 
http://www.ece.cmu.edu/~koopman/essays/abstract.html

 

Title Page

The title page should include the title of your proposal, name of the organisation, RFP number, date of submission, author’s name and the name of the author’s organisation (Guffey et al., 2006). Furthermore, as per the A&M University Writing Center (2008) the title should be descriptive and capture the essence of what you want to achieve”.   

 
Table of Contents

The table of contents should be included in the proposal to help readers find information. Include all headers and list their page numbers as well as appendixes (Guffey et al., 2006). 

 
List of Figures

 The list of figures includes all relevant tables, graphs, figures and data pertaining to deductions, conclusions or goals set within your proposal. If you have a negligible amount of figures, it is not necessary to include them in your proposal; nonetheless this decision is up to you. 

 
Appendix

 Any related supplemental information that you believe will be of interest to the reader should be put in an appendix. Examples of something you might generally find in an appendix include letters of support, timelines, budgets, copies of surveys, etc. The A&M University Writing Center (2008) maintains that each item placed in the appendix should be separated and labelled accordingly.



FORMAL REPORTS

Formal reports are documents used to interpret data and essentially report information. Through a process of data collection and analysis, reports ultimately make recommendations on the subject matter treated within. Extremely similar to formal proposals in length and format, formal reports are the result of detailed research and analysis. Due to the fact that the formal report and proposal are so similar in structure we will only discuss the part that are not described in the proposal section, or those that are not matching in both a formal proposal or report.


Formal Report Layout

1.       Cover

2.       Title page

3.       Letter or memo of transmittal

4.       Table of contents

5.       List of figures

6.       Executive summary

7.       Introduction

8.       Body

9.       Conclusions

10.   Recommendations

11.   Appendix

12.   Works cited / bibliography.

Components discussed below

·         Cover

·         Title page

·         Letter or memo of transmittal
·         Executive summary

·         Introduction

·         Body

·         Conclusions

·         Recommendations

·         Works cited / bibliography.

Cover

The cover of a formal report is the first thing to great the reader who picks up the report. Accordingly, it will be the component that gives the reader his first impression of your document. Thus it is important to make your report look crisp and professional. Guffey et al. in Business communication: Process and product maintain that the cover should firstly have the report title on it, followed by the author’s / company’s name. Another thing that one could include on a report cover would be a company logo. 

 

Title page

The title page of a formal report should include the following information

    Title of the report, all in uppercase letters
    The name of the person authorized the report or who it was prepared for (preceded by “Prepared for”)
    The name of the author of the report (preceded by “Prepared by”)
    The date of the reports submission
 

A sample of a report cover page can be found at the following link:
SAMPLE TITLE PAGE:  http://core.ecu.edu/engl/snyderh/3880/titlepage.html

 
Letter or memo of transmittal

 As per Guffey et al. inBusiness communication: Process and product, the letter or memo of transmittal in a formal report should fulfil the following 4 requirements: ]

      
1.       Announce the topic of the report and tell how it was authorized
2.       Briefly describe the project
3.       Highlights the reports findings, conclusions and recommendations
4.       Closes with appreciation for the assignment, instruction for the readers follow up action, acknowledgements for help from others, or offers of assistance

 

Letter: sent to outsiders
Memo: sent to insiders

 SUPPLEMENTAL INFORMATION: For an in depth and comprehensive summary of what to include in your letter of transmittal follow this link: http://www.class.uidaho.edu/adv_tech_wrt/week14/letter_transmittal_outline.htm



 Conclusions

The conclusion section of report includes deductions made through interpretation of the data or findings. These deductions should be a response to the numerous questions posed when putting forward the purpose of the report. 


According to the text Formal Technical Report Organization published by the University of Florida and found at http://pie.che.ufl.edu/guides/reports/formal_report.html, your deductions should be numbered or bulleted and listed in order of importance.  

In some reports, the conclusions section as well as the following recommendations section can be combined to form one. 

 

Recommendations
 
In the recommendations section of the report, you make suggestions on what must be done to resolve the problem or issue at hand. These recommendations should be brief, explicit, and should evolve from findings and conclusions found within the report. Once again, as per the text Formal Technical Report Organization found at http://pie.che.ufl.edu/guides/reports/formal_report.html, it is recommended that the recommendations be numbered or bulleted and listed in order of importance.

 

References / works cited / bibliography

The bibliography section should include a list of works cited throughout your report. Depending on the writing format used, for example MLA or APA, your bibliography will be called either works cited or references respectively. It is in this section that readers can see from where and who the ideas cited in the text came.