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How to Write a Preliminary Project Proposal

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Before they start poring over the longer-format proposals that often come with developing a project and hiring contractors, some company leaders may ask those hopeful contractors to submit a preliminary proposal. Likewise, before your employer will approve a project you want to work on, he may want to see a brief summary of the project in the form of a preliminary proposal. It's an extra step in the process, but it can help you clarify your goals and processes before you start working on a more involved proposal.

About Preliminary Proposals

As its name suggests, the preliminary proposal typically comes before a longer proposal. In other words, writing a successful preliminary proposal opens the doors to continuing with the project and digging deeper into the planning. These proposals typically contain much of the same information as longer proposal documents -- they just have a lot less detail.

These documents are your chance to wow an employer or a potential client with your ideas and to convince them that they'll want to see more. Thus, you need to ride a fine line between providing an adequate amount of detail to meet the prospects' initial requirements, but only enough to keep them wanting to find out more.

Gathering Information

Preliminary project proposals are typically really short, so every word you use has to make an impact. Read the request for proposal, or RFP, document carefully to understand just how long your proposal can be, and whether you have any font or font size requirements. Now's also the time to study the RFP carefully and be sure you understand exactly what the client wants, and whether you have the skills and talent to meet its needs. As you read and research, make notes of specific ways you'll meet the client's needs. If you're writing a proposal unsolicited, plan to create a document that's no more than one or two pages.

What to Include

A typical proposal includes an executive summary or overview of the purpose of the project, followed by a statement of need or a reason for the project. Following that is the "meat" of the preliminary proposal: a brief explanation on how you'll carry out the project, a timeline, and brief data about the target audience or statistics regarding the project's impact. Next comes a brief budget, which for a preliminary proposal won't need to be itemized. Finally, write a conclusion that serves as a summary of all the things you've already covered. Also include your full contact information at the top or bottom of the proposal.

Choose Words Carefully

The first few sentences of your proposal should sell the project and describe why it matters to the client or employer, so pay extra attention to that section. Because space is limited, each subsequent section should be as clear and succinct as possible, and use headings such as "Budget" and "Timeline" to introduce each section. Read over the entire document carefully for places to remove unnecessary words or redundant phrases. Ask a colleague to look over the preliminary proposal to ensure you've covered the topic adequately, without including extraneous information.


Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.

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