What is a Project Proposal?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Project proposals are documents designed to present a plan of action, outline the reasons why the action is necessary, and convince the reader to agree with and approve the implementation of the actions recommended in the body of the document. In many cases, the document is drafted as a response to a Request for Proposal (RFP) that is issued by a current or prospective client. However, a document of this type may also be prepared to serve an internal purpose, especially when someone within the company has an idea of how to make the company more profitable or efficient and needs authorization and backing to implement the action.

A project proposal will speculate on the outcome of implementing a particular project, such as an increase in sales.
A project proposal will speculate on the outcome of implementing a particular project, such as an increase in sales.

In any situation, a project proposal will be clearly arranged so that readers can follow a logical progression of thought to the conclusion. Many sample proposals offer a basic guideline that can help even novices get into the swing of effective proposal writing. The guidelines usually identify five key components or sections of any project proposal: the introduction, background, strategy, budgeting or financing, and outcome.

A project proposal should be clearly arranged so that the reader can follow a logical progression of thought to the conclusion.
A project proposal should be clearly arranged so that the reader can follow a logical progression of thought to the conclusion.

With the introductory section of a project proposal, the idea is to tell readers what the project is all about, and why it is worth taking the time to consider the project in the first place. Essentially, this section serves to validate the time and effort spent in presenting the data as well as the time required to read and consider the merits and feasibility of the project itself. The introduction is not the place to present the nuts and bolts of the project, only to establish its potential and cultivate enough interest to encourage the reader to learn more.

The background expounds on the basic points of the introduction, often citing specific reasons why the project plan is a good one, based on historical data, projections of future needs and performance, and the current circumstances of the business. The background helps to build the case for how the project can meet the needs that have arisen due to past actions while also anticipating future needs and addressing them in a timely manner. For the most part, the background section will firmly establish that something must be done and pave the way for learning how that something can be accomplished.

With the strategy section of the project proposal, the goal is to outline all procedures that are necessary to make the project successful. Often, the strategy helps to define short term and long term goals for the project, explains how to systematically accomplish each step and what type of return can be expected from the effort. Here, the reader begins to get an idea of how important the project is and the potential it has to help the company make better use of available resources while positioning itself for the future.

The budget section gets down to what most decision makers must know before approving any project: what is the cost involved with the implementation of the project proposal. In this section, the detail must be backed up with facts and figures that are well researched and cover every imaginable aspect of the financing needed to launch and maintain the project over time. Many proposals fail here, due to a lack of detail and supporting evidence for the detail that is included.

Finally, the project proposal points to the outcome of implementing the project. This is the section where all of the benefits are spelled out clearly. The advantages may include such items as reducing operating costs, increasing the public profile of the business, generating more sales, or increasing profits due to more efficient use of available resources. As with the budget detail, it is important that every benefit named can be supported by other data in order to be seriously considered.

Writing a proposal is sometimes easier when a formal RFP is provided. Often, the RFP will lay out the basic structure of the proposal, provide invaluable clues as to specific information that is of interest to the potential client, and define the order in which data is presented. When an RFP is provided, it is essential to follow the specifications of the document to the letter. Otherwise, the proposal will be set aside and one of the other vendors who did follow the provisions closely will be awarded the business.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


I am writing a project proposal on the topic Incubator Manufacturing. I am lost in organizing the aspects of more details of the chronological arrangement of contents. Please help me out.


i am a young nepali citizen liking to work with poor and helpless children. And i need to write a proposal report. Can anybody help me?


I have received some proposals, and I need to review them all. Is there any check list that i could go through and could make comments or find which proposal is best to be implemented.


I'm a student who has to do a report on project proposals. Any ideas of what I should include in my report?


@lightning88 - As far as I know there is no last word on the subject, but like you said, there are a lot of guides.

I think that it is kind of like writing a resume -- you find a basic template, then customize it to make it work for you.

Of course some basic rules still apply, for example, the basic sections of the project proposal won't vary too much, and you'll want to keep your spelling, grammar, and formatting standard, but aside from that, I think that you're pretty much free to customize at will.

Kind of like yournamehere said, your best bet is probably to check out what other people in your field have done, and then go from there. Good luck!


Does anyone know if there are any definitive style guides for writing project proposals, kind of like the MLA style guide for papers?

I've just started doing some freelance web developing work and wanted to start making some more formal proposals for my clients. I've seen a lot of templates and guides for writing proposals, but it seems that each one is different.

Does anyone know if there is a "last word" reference for this type of proposal?


Project proposals also differ slightly in style depending on the context. For example, a proposal for a business project will be different from one for a school project, or city planning project. There are also sometimes different stylistic requirements for project proposals, much like there are MLA style thesis and APA style theses. For people writing a project proposal for the first time, it is often highly advisable to either consult with someone who has written a proposal for a similar project before, or to look over examples of similar project proposals before writing their own. As in many areas of life, a little background research can go a long way in making a project proposal effective.

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