June 12, 2017

How do I write a proposal?

If you have a question for an ACE expert, contact Jim Milliken at

The Association for Consulting Expertise (ACE) is a non-profit association of independent consultants who value “Success through Collaboration.” The public is welcome to attend its regular meetings to share best practices and engage with industry experts. For more information go to

Q: I'm in charge of human resources at a growing company that wants to formalize recruiting procedures. The CEO and the board told me to write a proposal, but I'm no writer. Where do I start?

ACE advises: If you know your field, you've already got the content in hand, so don't fret. Just start with an empty screen or legal pad and write down what you know about the topic. Let it flow, with no concern for form or even grammar. This is called brainstorming, also "pre-writing" and exploratory writing.

The next step is drafting, where you go through all that stuff and cull redundancies, correct contradictions and highlight what's important — never failing to lose sight of the fact that, in the final version, brevity and clarity go hand-in-hand. Give this stage the time and attention it deserves, and organizing the proposal will fall into place neatly. The main point will emerge from brainstorming, followed by one topic per paragraph (or a list of bullets). That's what writing is all about: ideas supported by details.

Then ask yourself if you've said everything you want to say and nothing more, remembering that too much length alienates the busy reader. Edit yourself carefully because, being human, you've made mistakes in the drafts. If the grammar and spelling are sloppy, the reader may wonder what's wrong with the content.

Finally, have you taken proper AIM? Have you kept the Audience firmly in mind by trying to edify, not impress? Is your Intent (what you want the reader to think, say or do) clear? And does it add up to an effective Message?


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