In many aspects, writing a proposal letter is like any other type of business writing. Clear, succinct, accurate writing is important for any business document. Business proposals, however, do require specific components, such as the proposal cover letter. The proposal letter, much like a resume cover letter, serves as a polite introduction to a given proposal. Using active voice, following accepted business writing etiquette, and showing appreciation for the reader's limited time are paramount to a successful response.
Often, when large organizations post requests for multiple projects, the proposal cover letter serves to inform the reader which request for proposal (RFP) the document responds to. If there is no existing rapport between professionals or companies, a proposal letter acts as both an introduction and an opportunity to make a good first impression. When a relationship already exists, the cover letter can serve as an opportunity to compliment, express appreciation, or extend continued good will between both parties.
Whether a relationship exists between the parties or not, each proposal letter should follow proper business writing etiquette. For example, the document should be formatted with proper headings, neat margins, and standard typeface or font. Addressing the letter to the proper contact and using a professional greeting acceptable for the clients' culture is expected. Incorrect contact information or a greeting that is too informal can make the difference in whether a proposal letter is read or discarded.
Aside from proper etiquette, the tone of a proposal letter is also important. Formal, yet personalized approaches typically work best in Western cultures, with some business relationships allowing for an informal tone. Eastern cultures typically, although not always, prefer a formal, professional approach. Should there be doubt regarding the proper tone, a formal and professional approach is best.
While no proposal letter will guarantee acceptance, using active voice and concise writing improves the odds. Do not use two or three words, when one will suffice. Short, simple sentences are better than long, complex paragraphs. Active voice portrays clarity and confidence, so avoid “to be” verbs in your writing. Avoid phrases such as “if you would like to” or “you may prefer.” Opt instead for strong action verbs and direct calls to action.
Specific content for a proposal letter will vary for each project and business relationship. One common mistake professionals make in writing the cover proposal letter is to rehash or summarize information contained within the accompanying documents. Keep in mind, most business professionals are limited on time. Respect your reader's time and do not simply restate the contents of your proposal. Instead, write your letter with a face-to-face introduction in mind: what you would say or how you would present yourself in person before handing over a proposal document?