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Tips for Writing a Business Proposal

Do you find it difficult to write a request or proposal? Are you unsure whether you have set the right tone?

Here are some suggestions that will help you sound confident and definite.

These guidelines apply just as much to a short letter proposal as they do to a multi-page formal proposal. 

Think Like the Reviewer

Even though you may be writing a proposal that will improve your firm’s bottom line, view what you are writing through the recipient’s eyes. Make sure that, early in your proposal, you answer the questions that may be uppermost in the reviewer’s mind:

  • How will this benefit me?
  • How will it benefit others? 
  • How capable are you to implement your ideas? 
  • What is it going to cost? (more about that later)
  • If we approve, when will you deliver the result or product?

Create an Attractive Appearance

Although the words you use are important, your readers will first notice how your proposal looks. Make your information approachable by 

  • inserting plenty of white space on either side of and between the paragraphs, 
  • using headings to separate different parts of the proposal,
  • avoiding a too-busy appearance, and
  • using only one font (typeface) throughout the proposal. 

In particular, use a friendly “easy on the eye” font. Although a plain sans-serif font (such as Arial or Helvetica) may seem clean and businesslike, research has shown that a serif font (such as Times New Roman) is easier and less tiring to read on a printed page. Most journals, magazines, and books use a serif font while online documents use a sans serif font.

Use Confident Language

Demonstrate confidence by using confident words. If you write I feel that…or I believe…, your readers may feel you are not sure. Similarly, avoid wishy-washy words such as would, could, might, or may, and use the positive, assertive active voice (which says “who will do what”) rather than the bland, unassertive passive voice (which says “what will be done by whom”). For example, replace 

We believe that the design outlined in this proposal would meet all the requirements specified by the RFP. 

with a more confident statement:  

Our proposed design will meet all of the RFP’s requirements. 

And try not to introduce a feeling of uncertainty, as in: 

If our proposal is approved, we would…

Instead, imply you expect your proposal to be approved by saying: 

On approval of our proposal, we will…

State the Cost “Up Front”?

This is the most debated issue about proposal writing. Some people say that, by stating the price in the opening one or two paragraphs, you answer the readers’ immediate question: “What is this going to cost?” If they don’t see it up front, they go hunting for it and become annoyed if they cannot find it easily. 


But other people say: “No way! If they see the cost first, they may decide there is no point in reading any further. They’ll never discover my good ideas.”

There is merit in both points of view. What do we suggest?

Generally, if you are known to your reader and are recognized as a person or organization that consistently builds a quality product or provides a quality service, then we suggest you can safely state the cost in your opening paragraph(s). Even if your reviewers think your price is high, they’ll read further because they know you always offer well-substantiated ideas.

But if you are unknown to the reader, or are presenting a proposal that may meet resistance, then we suggest you present the cost later. However, we recommend you also present a list of contents on the first page, with a reference to your cost proposal and its page number. Give your readers the opportunity to find it, if they really want to. 

You can't expect to win every proposal but these tips and some practice, yours will be stronger than the others.

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