Q: I was just hired at a company that has no policies or procedures in place for creating a proposal or recommendation. The most I have to look at are previous proposals and recommendations, but those are printed copies – there are no electronic versions – and the staff who drew them up no longer work here. Where do I start?

A: Your question comes up more frequently than you would think. Because proposals and recommendations are usually based on one or more ideas from a single employee, sometimes the electronic file is created and then erased when that employee leaves, or it goes with the employee via disk, CD, or e-mail attachment. Regardless, if you need assistance in creating a new proposal or recommendation, you should do two things: ask for assistance from your boss or, if possible, an employee who has created or reviewed past proposals or recommendations; and find out what type of proposal or recommendation you need to draft. As a general rule, proposals are longer and more drawn out than recommendations. Proposals can dip into the length and breadth of full-on business plans, while recommendations are much shorter, typically 1-2 pages.

In formatting your proposal or recommendation, you may want to examine the company’s letterhead, standard outgoing mail, reports, and/or annual reports. Pay attention to the sizes and fonts of the text, any logos or graphics that are used, and, most importantly, the construction of points or sentences. For instance, if reports you come across use a “business justification” construction such as, “Revenues for Q4 2005 were $176,000, representing an increase of $42,000 (31.3%) over Q4 2004, which were $134,000,” you would want to keep in mind the format used to refer to quarters, as well as that percentages use the percent sign (%) instead of the word “percent.”

Turning to a more “macro” stance, your proposal or recommendation should address 3 key areas: Define the idea to implement or obstacle to overcome, address how this can happen, and note any relevant background. Try to keep your writing short and to the point, remembering that the supervisor will likely view your final proposal or recommendation from an actionable, financially feasible perspective. You should also keep it as professional as possible because it can be added to your employee evaluation file, as a sample showing you’ve gone above and beyond your duties in either addressing a problem or finding a new way for your employer to do business.

Finally, you might try one of these web sites I came across in researching your question. Good luck!

A Practical Guide for Writing Proposals, by Alice Reid, M.Ed.

Guide for Writing a Funding Proposal, by Joseph Levine, Ph.D.

Online Technical Writing: Proposals (author unknown)