21 Proposal

Phil West and Christina Frasier

Learning Objectives

  • Recognize the purpose and structure of proposals
  • Describe different types of proposals
  • Identify strategies for writing proposals


The Purpose of Proposal in Writing

The proposal essay is a form of argument in which the writer persuades the audience to adopt a proposal. Depending on the instructor, the assignment will have different components, but will likely be guided by a few basic questions:

  • What are you proposing?
  • What do you believe the proposal will accomplish?
  • Who will implement the proposal, and who will be impacted by it?
  • Why should it be adopted?
  • How will the outcomes of the proposal be achieved?

The proposal paper can either — again, depending on what the instructor assigns — require the student to craft a proposal, or it might allow the student to examine an existing proposal. Below are some examples of different types of proposals:



  • Bill submitted by a state senator regarding the electric grid
  • Municipal bond vote to repair and build new sidewalks
  • Grant submitted by professors to secure research dollars from the National Science Foundation
  • Business plan for a tech start-up to develop an app
  • Social media marketing proposal for a small business


Just as with classical arguments, proposals consist of a claim supported by evidence. Students should be prepared to research why the proposal is a good idea and how it will lead desired outcomes, finding evidence from their sources that address with different aspects of a proposal. If a proposal that’s been adopted by one entity is being considered by another, research can include providing evidence that the proposal is indeed accomplishing what it intends to accomplish.

Ultimately, the proposal paper helps students to develop persuasive skills — it’s helpful to think of an audience that might not be too ideological one way or another on a particular issue. Think of an audience that’s on the fence or open-minded, and convince them that your proposal and its desired outcomes are worth the investment of money, time, work, and energy that it might require.

The Structure of a Proposal Paper

Each proposal paper will need to include:

  • An introduction with a thesis (claim) highlighting the proposal
  • A series of body paragraphs that detail reasons and/or outcomes
  • A conclusion

Proposal papers can vary in length and complexity, depending on the instructor creating the assignment. Some professors require a feasibility paragraph, which focuses on three questions to help determine how realistic it is to put the proposal into action. Those questions are:

  • How will I fund it?
  • How will I implement it?
  • Who might oppose it, and how strongly?

With these questions, students can detail three clear, distinct outcomes resulting from the proposal, with each outcome covered in a body paragraph and evidence required to provide support for each of those paragraphs. See the example below for an organizational structure along these lines:



  • Introduction
  • Feasibility
  • Favorable outcome 1
  • Favorable outcome 2
  • Favorable outcome 3
  • Conclusion

Tips for Writing a Proposal Paper

  • Select a topic that interests you. You’ll be spending some time researching this topic and crafting your essay, and so you want to pick a topic that engages you. If it doesn’t resonate with you as important and worthwhile, it will be harder for you to persuade an audience that it’s worth their attention and consideration.
  • Make sure you can see different sides of the issue. Some students who attempt a proposal paper are so emotionally invested in the idea that they can’t see any viable alternatives. This is especially true with issues like abortion and capital punishment, which are typically emotional in nature, with people’s positions coming from their deep-seated values. Avoiding emotional topics is often the best approach. That doesn’t mean that you have to shy away from controversial issues. But you might want to think about proposal ideas that don’t have baked-in and unyielding opposition.
  • Think change. While you could have a proposal that says, “Let’s keep things going the way they are,” the real work in crafting and arguing for a proposal comes when you think about change being enacted — ideally, for the betterment of the people impacted by the proposal. 

Writing at Work

Proposals are essential to many different workplace settings. In government agencies, writing and implementing proposals are often central to the work. In companies, the decision makers need to consider how to spend their budget, which vendor or vendors to use for a specific need, and which business opportunities to pursue. The skills students develop in persuasion papers can figure into the day-to-day and long-term decision-making that companies, governments, and non-governmental organizations face.



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From College to Career: A Handbook for Student Writers Copyright © by Phil West and Christina Frasier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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