The Proposal Writing Formula

Now that we understand some basic rules governing proposal writing and the different sections of a proposal, let’s look at the basic formula for how to write a proposal. The formula is in essence a story. Stories have always been a very effective tool for persuasion. They have been used to covey messages and influence behaviors since before the written word.

The formula also relies upon the use of a series of “persuasion techniques” known as the weapons of influence. If you look carefully, you will see this same basic formula being applied to everything from television ads to local news stories. The formula is used so much because it is very effective at influencing people’s decisions.

The formula is as follows:

  • Set the Stage (Once Upon a Time)
  • State the Challenge (Damsel in Distress)
  • Explain the Solution (Hero Saves the Day)
  • Describe the Result (Happily Ever After)

This basic formula can be used to write nearly every kind of proposal content. Let us detail each part of the formula.

Set the Stage

During the first part of the formula, we describe the setting of our story. The beginning of your content must give the reader a reason to read the rest. Usually, proposal content evokes the weapon of “social proof” during this portion. By doing this, you show that you are speaking about a client or situation that is so similar or familiar to the reader that they can relate. Our hope is after they read the content, the reader will see the proposed solution as a solution that is also appropriate for them.

State the Challenge

Every good story has a damsel in distress. When we talk about a damsel, this could be a man, woman, firm, city, agency, or even the reader. The only real criterion for a damsel in distress is that they have a problem or challenge that they can’t seem to solve without some help. Again, we want to make sure that the reader can see themselves in our damsel in distress.

Explain the Solution

During this part of the formula, we describe the solution and give examples of the solution in action. In most proposal content, you or your firm will be the hero of our story. The solution is how you solved the problem and saved the damsel in distress. In the case of a new service offering, this might also take the form of telling how the problem could be solved in a new and better way.

Describe the Result

Everybody likes a happy ending. The conclusion of your content should state how solving the challenge results or resulted in a positive outcome.

Below, I’ve provided an example of how proposal content might use this formula.

Project Description Using Formula

Set the Stage

Pilster Pharmaceuticals is a world leader in providing life-saving and life-extending therapies for patients with cancer. Respected as one of the worlds most productive and innovative research organizations…

State the Challenge

Pilster Pharmaceuticals was in need of a new 150,000 sq. ft. Process Research and Development Facility on their Chicago Campus. The scope of the new facility included three laboratory floors, which included BSL-4 BioSafety Laboratory (containment and hydrogenation) areas and a ground-level entry floor. The building’s plan needed to accommodate a variety of specialized research support spaces, administrative offices, research staff offices, conference rooms and an auditorium.

Explain the Solution

XYZ Engineering was able to achieve key client success factors by utilizing our ability to understand and communicate Pilster Pharmaceuticals’ culture to the entire design team and keep the project on schedule, saving an estimated $5,000,000 that could have resulted from change orders. Based on our experience with Pilster Pharmaceuticals’s master specification guidelines, we requested a review of the original specifications of the project completed by the in-house design team before final approval.  This action allowed us to uncover potential problems in the design ahead of time in various areas including the fuel hood elevations, electrical routing and the UPS equipment. This resulted in increased system reliability, substantial cost savings and an estimated savings of 1.5 months in design time.

Describe the Result

Designed and constructed within the initial $20M estimate, Pilster Pharmaceuticals’s new state-of-the art facility helps the company continue its valued research into successful treatments for cancer patients.

Variations Of The Formula

Sometimes the requirements of the client or the format of a document inhibits your ability to use the full formula. Resumes and forms sometimes fall into this category.

There are several different ways to approach team resumes, depending on the services you provide. Some firms use bullet lists or the project name followed by a brief description to illustrate previous experience on a resume. These resume formats are typically used by design firms that work with standard structures like schools, homes, and churches.

Government resumes forms, like the SF330, require you to format information in a very specific way. In these situations, you may need to use a truncated version of the formula that uses just the last two parts. For example:

Lead Electrical Designer. Joe designed the electrical systems for the Bank of Canada’s $2B data storage and processing center. The center achieved a reliability rating of 99.9999% uptime.

Click Here To Sign Up For My Free Proposal Writing Crash Course