How to write a technical proposal: the best proposal writing guideline 101

How to write a technical proposal: the best proposal writing guideline 101

“Technical writing is a continuous process of learning, carefully gathering, sifting, organizing, and assessing, all while trying to craft something that makes sense for a user.”

― Krista Van Laan, The Insider’s Guide to Technical Writing

Writing a technical proposal entails an in-depth understanding of the proposed solution, the main pain points, and, ultimately, your audience. In technical writing, writing the content of a proposal can be overwhelming and time-consuming, even more so if you don’t have a technical background.

However, a successful proposal can result in a new project and/or client when done well.

In 2021, more and more marketers are turning to automatization for help. Whether in construction, education, healthcare, software, and technology, or manufacturing, there is an appropriate automated option that can help achieve the best results.

How to write a technical proposal:

  1. Prepare an executive summary, abstract, or introduction
  2. Put together a table of contents (TOC)
  3. Add technical background, opportunity, or situation
  4. Write technical approach, resources, and costs required
  5. Mention capabilities and procedure
  6. Anticipate benefits of project proposal
  7. Anticipate environmental impact of the proposed solution
  8. Write a conclusion
  9. Add nomenclature
  10. Add references and sources
  11. Mention appendices

What is technical proposal writing? 

Technical proposal writing is translating technical requirements into a customer-facing proposal used to pitch your solution or offerings. Considering the situation in which your proposal occurred and depending on its nature, technical writing might encompass only a small section or the whole proposal.

Also, do regard that different proposals require different methodologies and concepts. While the main idea behind them is the same/similar (getting your point across and being approved for a project), a business proposal won’t have the same structure as a technical proposal, nor will a cover letter for a progress report follows the same proposal examples as a piece of technical writing. 

Inputting together and implementing a request for proposal, you need to mind a few steps of its structure. Read on for the best tips that will help you create your best technical proposal writing:

#1 Prepare an executive summary, abstract, or introduction

Provide a summary of your proposal in one page or less, presenting an overview of the proposed work.

Make sure your proposal writing is carefully put together and covers all elements and deliverables you plan to tackle:

  • Indicate that your memo content revolves around a proposal for a specific project.
  • Develop at least one direct, to-the-point and motivating statement that will inspire the recipient to read on and consider supporting/approving the project.
  • Put together an overview of the contents of the proposal.

It is not necessary you lay things out in this order.

If you are writing a proposal on your own, make sure you use proper proposal templates, follow the outlined workflow and formatting, and stay on point. 

Here’s a good example of how you can put together an executive summary for a website development proposal.

#2 Put together a table of contents (TOC)

The purpose of a table of contents or TOC is to show the readers what topics this technical proposal covers, how the topics are discussed (the subtopics), and what page numbers they can find those sections and subsections.

A well-organized table of contents provides an at-a-glance way of finding information in the proposal. In that sense, it is crucial you apply proper formatting in your TOC design structure.

Do consider the following:

  • Levels of headings

If your proposed project is longer, consider including more than the top two levels of headings. This keeps the TOC from becoming unwieldy and overwhelming.

  • Indentation, spacing, and capitalization

Make sure all levels of headings and page numbers are aligned with each other. As for capitalization, it is customary for main chapters or sections to be in all caps. Also, first-level headings apply initial caps on each main word, while lower-level sections apply initial caps on the first word only.

  • Vertical spacing

For increased readability of your entire proposal, format the first-level sections so they have extra space above and below.

#3 Technical background, opportunity, or situation

Give background that identifies the problem; discuss what has inspired the need for the project, and provide motivation explaining why such a task would be essential or beneficial. Reflect on the present opportunity to improve things in your proposed project while explaining the basic situation. 

For example, the project management department of an IT company or a startup is looking to ensure that all employees know the basics of safety measurements in case of a fire, resulting from a new set of regulations for IT companies or due to their personal preferences. 

While most of the proposal’s named audience may already be familiar with this very well, writing the background section is valuable as it demonstrates your particular view of the situation. If this is an unsolicited proposal, a background section is almost a must.

You will have to convince the audience that this is the right time for your proposal assignment (as the opportunity exists) and that it should be addressed.

3.2 Justification, benefits, and feasibility of the proposed work

Provide technical justification for your technical proposal, and include any data obtained by yourself or others (if cited properly) that would support your idea and the proposed project.

Everything you lay out in this section serves as a type of argument in favor of approving the project. 

If you are handling an unsolicited proposal, you will possibly need to discuss the likelihood of the project’s success. This section is where you are trying to “sell” the audience on the project. 

This section is often the largest and tends to contain numerous subsections such as:

3.2.1 Theory 

Short theoretical summary tackling the benefits of your proposed work, as well as its justification and viability.

3.2.2 Previous experimental results

Drawing in on previous work that would serve as an example and starting point for what you are about to propose and, ultimately, work on.

3.2.3 Theoretical modeling of experimental results

Submitting relevant papers, textbooks, and links that may have standing as a backup in your work.

3.2.4 Implications of work completed to date

Any relevant work related to your idea and project that can serve as an example that such work is possible to complete.

3.2.5 Identification of critical needs

An overview of tools (of any kind) you may need to complete your proposed project successfully.

The models above are only examples of the format this section usually contains but should be considered flexible.

#4 Technical approach, resources, and costs required

Most proposals contain a section resembling a progress report detailing the approach to the projects, resources, objectives, and costs required. This is true for both internal and external proposals. 

The difference is that external projects, i.e., external technical proposals, may require a detailed list of costs of equipment and supplies, your hourly rates, projected hours, and so forth, and then calculate the total cost of the entire proposal. 

Internal projects, although a bit more laid back, are still not free; they too require a list of the project costs: hours need for proposed work completion, equipment and supplies you will be using, potential assistance you may need from other team members in the organization, and so on. 

Here is a part of the proposal that is typically included in this section: 

4.1 Objectives

Pinpoint the specific things you plan to achieve with this project.

4.2 Statement of work/Work plan

4.2.1 Project tasks

Provide a detailed list of itemized tasks (Task 1, Task 2, etc., with sub-tasks (if any), numbered Task 1.1)) that need to be performed for the objectives listed above to be met.

Each task and subtask should come with a brief description.

4.2.2 Project calendar/schedule

Attach each task to a schedule for project completion. Include a calendar predicting the overall project completion. 

If preferred, this section can contain a chart for schedule illustration.

4.2.3 Expected costs

Determine costs per each task and the overall project completion. Include estimates for all labor involved as well as any supply and equipment costs.

Although the proposers don’t typically know all that it will take to complete your project at this early stage, it is still important to show they understand the overall process and understand the steps required.

#5 Capabilities and procedure

This section acts as an additional persuasive element that shows you have a sound, thoughtful approach to your statement of work and the knowledge of the field needed to complete the project.

5.1 Project team and key personnel

Classify and pinpoint team management structure and list the qualifications and related experience of key team members.

5.2 Equipment and facilities

Identify resource and equipment suitability you plan to use and/or purchase in carrying out this project. Indicate what equipment is an existing capability and what needs to be additionally constructed/purchased to complete this proposal assignment.

#6 Anticipated benefits of project proposal

This section focuses on an explicit acknowledgment of the anticipated benefits linked to this project proposal, i.e., the undertaking of the proposed work.

The benefits listed here can include economic, societal, environmental, or any other benefits that could have an impact at any level. The purpose of this section is to justify the time and expense of carrying out this project.

#7 Anticipated environmental impact of the proposed solution

Use this section to identify any potentially harmful environmental effects because of this work completed. Common items often listed in this section might be emissions of toxic substances or the use of hazardous chemicals that require consequent disposal, etc. 

If there are no harmful impacts, then a straightforward statement of that fact is sufficient for this section.

#8 Conclusion 

The conclusion of a technical proposal is the final paragraph/section of the proposal that brings readers back to the central idea of the proposal. 

This final section should, once again, list all positive aspects of the project. If you want to end your proposal on a solid note, urge the reader to contact you to work out project details further, remind them of this project’s benefits, and maybe remind them why you (and your team) are the right person to lead this project.

#9 Nomenclature

In technical proposal writing, nomenclature can and does not have to be a part of the proposal.

Depending on your proposed project, you can use this section to layout suggestions to simplify infraspecific terminology. Additionally, you can indicate (if necessary) a system of names and terms you would like to use in this executive summary.

If there is no need for nomenclature, a simple statement of that fact is sufficient for this section.

#10 References and sources

References section lists resources cited in the body text and diverts readers to those sources should they need additional reading or checking of facts.

#11 Appendices

Not an essential part of the proposal but potentially a helpful one, an appendix contains supplementary material that provides a more comprehensive understanding of the research/topic at hand.

Appendices sections usually contain information that is too taxing to be included in the body of the paper.

Valuable tips and hacks for writing a successful technical proposal

Getting funds for research takes more than having a good idea; you need to have a captivating, persuasive approach that will convince a panel of reviewers your idea is worth considering and – is likely to succeed.

So, we give you eight tips for a winning technical proposal:

  1. Write/present with your reviewers in mind – make sure they understand your point, use a clear and engaging style
  2. Present research questions clearly, and introduce them early in your proposal
  3. Be sure of your work’s relevance, and explain how it affects the bigger picture
  4. Refer to prior, supporting research relevant to your current idea
  5. Address potential limitations and problems to show you understand the entire scope of the project
  6. Present your proposal only after having it thoroughly checked for grammar, style, and argument
  7. Briefly summarize your goals and methods, and anticipate conclusions; avoid technical language that would make your abstract confusing or difficult to understand
  8. Have someone who is not in your niche read over your proposal for clarity and style – Can they understand it? Did they find it interesting?

Remember, it is not unusual for great ideas to fall through: not because they were bad ideas but because they didn’t have a clear and convincing presentation. So, follow PandaDoc tips for a winning proposal writing piece, and you should be good to go!

Final thoughts: Proposal creation done right 

If you are looking to have your proposal error-proof, clean, and automatized, we recommend including a proposal software solution into the mix. With the suitable proposal tools, an RFP is a pleasure to write. 

You can also use a proposal template, a seamless solution for a successful proposal

PandaDoc offers a fantastic range of template options as starting points for developing your own technology business. 

What is more, with PandaDoc you can choose between proposals, quotes, contracts, eSignatures, and forms to get the solution you need. 

Proposers everywhere have been using PandaDoc for their technical proposal writing, so why not join the crew!

With a technical proposal that’s seamlessly put together, there’s very little that won’t go your way.

Sign up to PandaDoc to explore your options!

Originally published April 30, 2014, updated Sep 6, 2021

Hanna Stechenko

Hanna Stechenko SEO Content Manager

Hanna is an SEO Content Manager who keeps up to date with Content Marketing and SEO trends at PandaDoc. This, in turn, helps her to connect real people with relevant messages. In her spare time, Hanna is keen on writing and taking surfing trips.

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