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College Writing Tips: How to Write A Persuasive Proposal
Why write a Project Proposal?
There are many reasons a person may write a Proposal to Solve a Problem. That is why it has many different names. Sometimes it might be called a "Project Proposal," a "Persuasive Proposal," "Proposing a Solution," or simply a "Proposal." Perhaps it has been assigned by a teacher. Perhaps a boss has asked for it. Perhaps it will be used as a contest entry or as part of a grant proposal. Learning how to write a Project Proposal is advantageous because it is often necessary to persuade another person or people to ACT.
It is important to understand the distinction between a Proposal to Solve a Problem and an Argumentative or Persuasive Essay. In both genres, the writer is trying to persuade his or her audience to think or believe something specific. However, in a proposal to solve a problem, that persuasion must be accompanied by a specific, feasible action. For example, the writer of a persuasive essay may aim to make his or her audience believe that recycling is important, while the writer of a Proposal will aim to make his or her audience initiate a recycling program in their office building.
That means that your purpose as the writer of this proposal is to persuade someone to DO something.
Who is my audience?
Who may it concern?
Your audience for a Proposal to Solve a Problem should be specific. It is a good idea to pick a particular person or a committee. That means that your audience is not "all of the people in the world who might read this," or, for that matter, all of anyone anywhere. It is also not "the government," or any particular government agency. It is not, for example, "people who care about trees" or "people who like to cook," or even "all users of Match.com." The audience is A (named) Person or a (named) Committee of People. You will choose them based on your intended outcome.
The audience in the above example (see also the closely-related Research Proposal), a person at XYZ, Inc. wants their human resources people to start a recycling program in the office. The appropriate person here might be the director of the human resources department or the head of the Employee Programs committee. Addressing it to "XYZ, Inc." is too vague and it would therefore be ineffective. The same applies to "the employees of XYZ, Inc." The best audience is the person or people who reach XYZ, Inc. and the employees of XYZ, Inc., essentially on your behalf.
How do I present it?
Don't use second person if you can help it.
This article, you'll notice, frequently uses second person. What a hypocrite! You say. However, who is the intended audience? Well... you. You are the intended actor. Now, at this point, you may say, "Yeah, but the person who reads my proposal is my intended audience," and that's true. But, ask yourself, is that person the person who is going to actually do everything? Or are they just the person in charge? Are they going to buy the recycling bins to put by the copiers? Are they going to personally send out the e-mails? Maybe. But, for this paper, maybe isn't good enough, and turning a "maybe" into a "yes" makes you, the writer, cross boundaries you shouldn't cross. In other words, unless you feel comfortable telling another person how to do his or her job, using "you" is too pushy. And if they are not the person who will actually do it, then what you are saying by using "you" simply isn't true.
So, what's the alternative? Name the institution whose agents will be actually making the change. For example, "The human resources department at XYZ, Inc. could then send out a monthly e-mail to encourage employees to recycle." This names the secondary audience (the human resources department at XYZ, Inc.) AND the tertiary audience (the audience of the e-mail: the employees). This is a chance to improve the clarity of the piece. Simply saying: "You could then send a monthly e-mail to encourage employees to recycle," sounds casual and is not necessarily a good suggestion. Your audience's HR administrative staff might be the people sending e-mails, so your suggestion would not make as much sense to them.
So, your correctness here comes down to your choice of an audience. Who is the person/group of people who are mostly likely to be able to effect change? (Here, you may have already had an audience assigned, so your job now is to figure out what would make them the most sympathetic to your idea. You may have also picked an audience in your initial Research Proposal, so, if you want to address a different audience, it's a good idea to ask your boss or your teacher first.)
Checklist: Ask yourself:
- Is this audience capable of addressing my issue in the way I propose?
- Did I choose a specific person or committee (not just an organization)?
- Did I avoid second person?
What do I include in the essay?
There are several ways structure a project proposal. It can be written as a letter to a specific person or committee, use headings and subheadings, or simply be written in traditional essay format (meaning Intro, 3-5 body paragraphs, conclusion). However you choose to format it, it is important to include these three things:
a compelling description of the issue at hand
a clear proposal for a solution
a justification for the solution/method for execution
Let's break down the parts.
What is a compelling description of the issue at hand? First, let's look at the word "compelling." Google's dictionary says that "compelling" means: 1. Evoking interest, attention, or admiration in a powerfully irresistible way, and/or 2. Not able to be refuted; inspiring conviction. So, a paraphrased version of that, through the lens of your proposal, is: Something is compelling when it is interesting, when it convinces people to pay attention to it, and when people are convinced of its truth.
The second word, "description," indicates that your job is to make your audience understand exactly what issue it is that you are talking about. E.g., In the XYZ, Inc. recycling problem example, the author would need to describe XYZ' Inc.'s lack of a recycling program. (Note: This may repeat information from any other research documents you have shared with your boss or teacher.) "XYZ, Inc. throws away 1 million pounds of paper each year instead of recycling it. According to Dr. Seymour Sycamore, the leading behavioral psychologist at the Healthy Workplace Institute, a consulting firm specializing in boosting workplace morale, the habit of throwing away materials that could so easily be recycled encourages employees to adopt an attitude of disrespecting their environment and the materials it provides. That includes their work environment." This description provides background information about the specific problem at XYZ, Inc.(1 million pounds of paper are thrown away), and places it in a global context. In a Proposal to solve a problem, it is important to describe the problem specifically and globally.
Here, it is also important to back up what you say with research. For example, the above problem might be described like this: "XYZ, Inc. does not recycle. That is a problem because every company who wants to get ahead in this world recycles. They are missing out on opportunities to reduce their carbon footprint and setting a bad example for their employees." That is a bad description. It is full of assumptions and could be said by any random yahoo on the street who's never opened a book in his life. Don't be that yahoo.
So, this part of the proposal gives you a chance to prove to your audience that the issue you are addressing is worth addressing. This is where you tell them it's a problem and describe the parameters of the problem. If you've done research already about the problem, this is your opportunity to show it off.
Checklist: Have I described the issue successfully?
- Did I describe the problem specifically?
- Did I describe the problem globally?
- Did I describe the problem clearly?
- Did I back up what I said with research?
- Did I describe the issue in a compelling way?
What is a clear proposal for a solution?
A clear proposal describes the specific actions that your chosen audience will take. It may be necessary to lay out a plan in a step-by-step format. Perhaps presenting the plan of action in multiple parts would be effective. Choose the format that is most effective for getting your point across clearly.
In this part of the proposal, it is essential to be specific and to present feasible actions. Your choice for the solution is directly related to the specificity of your audience. That means that if your audience is too vague, your solution will ipso facto be too vague. If you choose "all the companies that don't recycle" as your audience, then your solution will have to be for all the companies... Think about the logistics of that. How would you tell "all the companies"? In fact, how would you tell "a company" without knowing which one? This goes for "radio stations," "TV stations," and "people who care about gun laws" as well. While knowing that your audience exists on this broad level is a great place to start, it is not specific enough to actually effect change.
So, a solution is feasible if it can be done and you describe how it can be done. It is your job to convince your audience to act by making them seem like acting is sensible. You say, "I want XYZ, Inc. to reduce their paper waste by 500,000 pounds this year," and the first thing someone says is, "How?" A good solution will answer that question thoroughly.
Checklist: Have I described the proposed solution successfully?
- Is my solution feasible?
- Is my solution specific?
- Does my solution match my audience?
What is a justification for the solution/method for execution?
This often seems like the hardest part: justifying the solution. However, you've probably already done most of the work. Your research that helped you understand the problem and come up with a solution required that you understand the justification for the solution.
Now the question is: how do I choose what to include? The answer is similar to your description of the problem. The justification must be compelling and it must make sense. So, if you have information that is related to the solution, choose the information that moves your solution forward.
You may wonder, "I chose a specific group of people to carry out my solution. Do I justify my choice of the group or my choice of the actions my audience should take to achieve the solution?" Ask yourself: "Which information will be the most useful in service of your solution?" In most situations, the description of the actions to be taken are the most justification-worthy. The following example: "The Human Resources department of XYZ, Inc. should make it easy for employees to recycle. One very effective way to do this is to place recycling receptacles next to the copier, which can be bought from Green Earth, Ltd. Studies show that workplaces with recycling bins next to the copier reduce their unrecycled paper trash by 75 percent," is much more effective than a description that justifies why it would be a good idea to buy from Green Earth, Ltd.
Checklist: Have I justified the solution successfully? (Ask yourself these questions about EACH PIECE of the justification for the solution. Analyze each fact on its own, not the section as a whole.)
- Does this information make the solution plausible?
- Do these facts give the audience the information they need to act?
This article gives a general overview of proposal writing and offers ways to think about the different components. Of course, following it to the T will not necessarily get you the results you want. It is the nature of proposals to be vastly different from one another, so remember the whole time to THINK. The main three questions you should ask yourself through the proposal-writing process are: "Is this clear?" "Am I being specific enough?" "Does this make sense?"