What are the Most Common Proposal Guidelines?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2019
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Proposals are business documents that are normally employed for one of two purposes. Often, a proposal is prepared in response to a query from a potential customer. At other times, the document is prepared in order to pitch a business idea to someone who is in a position to offer financing or other support. In both instances, there is a core set of proposal guidelines that will always increase the chances of receiving a positive response to the document.

When a potential customer has issued a formal Request For Proposal or RFP, much of the work is already done in advance. The RFP will tell you what data must be included in the proposal before it will be considered. In many instances, the RFP will also dictate how that data is presented and arranged. Using the text and terms in the RFP will make it much easier to design a proposal template that will impress the recipient and increase your chances of earning the business.


Proposal guidelines also dictate that you keep the text of your proposal clear and precise. You want to get the main proposal ideas across in as direct a manner as possible. This will minimize the chances of anyone reading the finished proposal format from losing interest half way through and moving on to the proposal submitted by your competition. Avoid using slang or technical terms unless the proposal guidelines contained in the RFP specifically allow for verbiage of this type.

Along with clarity, proper spelling and punctuation are extremely important to the success of the proposal. Far too often, an otherwise brilliant proposal is discarded, simply because the errors in the text make it difficult to read. Proposal guidelines require that the document be checked thoroughly for any type of spelling or punctuation errors before the proposal is ever submitted.

When the RFP does not specify elements such as the use of visual elements or the inclusion of a title page, general proposal guidelines require that these types of extras be added into the finished document. Clip art, logos, tables, and other images help to break up the stark look of the text, providing some refreshment for the eye as the document is read. However, make use of visual elements judiciously. Inserting them for no apparent reason will actually hurt the effectiveness of your proposal, since others will wonder what you are attempting to hide behind all that excessive window dressing.

Following basic proposal guidelines will greatly enhance the potential of your finished document to achieve its intended goal. If you are not provided with a formal Request For Proposal and have no idea where to begin, make use of sample proposals to get some general ideas of how to proceed. With a little practice, you will soon be able to prepare a proposal that is accurate, readable, well organized, and very likely to help you achieve win the business or support you are seeking.


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