Instructions for Preparing your Final Proposal Cover Letter

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Instructions for Preparing Your Final Proposal Cover Letter

"Proposals are specialized documents that offer persuasive solutions to problems. A proposal also needs to sell the reader on some idea."
Pocket Book of Technical Writing, by Leo Finkestein, Jr.

Writing effective proposals is a critical skill for all technical professionals. Convincing someone that your idea is the best one to solve the problem they face is fundamental to a successful career in science or engineering.

Proposals are an example of persuasive writing. Their success depends upon your ability to convince the reader to do something. First, you must identify the problem to be solved. You may think you are exempt from explaining the problem because the reader has solicited responses by preparing an RFP and must therefore know what the problem is. This is not the case however, they may not understand the complexity of the problem, or what is required to address it. By stating the problem clearly, you report on the scope of the work to be done and demonstrate your credibility by showing that you understand the problem.

Next you must offer your solution to the problem. Make sure you demonstrate the viability of your solution. It is important to present evidence in support of your proposal.

Finally, show that you are capable of implementing the proposed solution. Does your company have the skills and resources necessary to complete the task at hand? One of the best ways to show this is to present evidence of your successful completion of other, similar projects.

Traditionally, persuasive language seeks to activate three responses in a reader:

  1. Ethos (ethical response): While having good ethics is one way to create a feeling of ethos in the reader, doing the right thing is only part of it. Ethos is aroused in clients when they feel respect for the writer and trust that the writer is competent to complete the assignment. You can create a sense of respect when you demonstrate a thorough understanding of the issues that face the client. In addition, a client trusts a proposal that is precise and professional, uses engineering principles to describe the solution and offers proof beyond simple assurances that your design is best. Coming up with a good design is only the first step; clients will receive many good designs that meet the minimum specifications. In order to make a contract decision, clients will look for a team that demonstrates general design competence so that they are sure that the job will be done well and that the team will be able to adapt to changes in the client's needs or problems that come up during production.
  2. Logos (logical response): Clients feel a sense of logos when the proposal is structured in the form of a logical proof. By creating a clear sense of the client's need, including what difficulties are in the way of a solution, the proposal sets up an expectation in the reader. Logos is achieved when the information in the report leads the reader from the problem to the proposed solution. When evidence is presented that supports the idea that the proposed solution is correct, and that evidence is patiently explained by the writer, readers feel a sense of logos. Simply presenting evidence without explanation, or making random observations without an overall argument, will not achieve logos. Logos results when a writer demonstrates that a solution makes good logical sense in relation to one specific problem.
  3. Pathos (emotional response): While your report should maintain a professional and objective tone that does not mean that you should not seek to create an emotional response in your readers. Using descriptive words and adjectives is one way to achieve pathos. Another way is to tie the project into larger concerns, such as the overall health of the client, humanitarian or social needs, or the need for innovation in a competitive marketplace. Pathos must be carefully targeted to your perception of the client. If the client is a large corporation, ideas of efficiency and savings might excite feelings of pathos. If the client is a consumer, however, issues of quality and safety might be better. Remember that there is plenty of crossover potential: if you think that a client's primary concern is cost savings, for instance, you may be able to generate a feeling of pathos by reminding the client that there are human beings involved in the process as well. Sometimes the most effective way to create an emotional response is to embrace the unexpected.

When writing a proposal, it is essential to seek these three feelings in balance. Figure 1 demonstrates the effect of proper balance.


Too high

Too low

Just right


The writers are overconfident or arrogant.

The writers lack expertise and the project will fail.

I trust the writers' abilities to complete the project.


The writers are out of touch with the real world.

The design has nothing to do with my company.

This is the right proposal for our company today.


The writers are trying to manipulate me; or, the writers lack substance.

The writers are not enthusiastic; or, the proposal does not move me to action.

This is the proposal that will satisfy my needs. I must choose this team.

Figure 1: The Range of Client Reponses to Persuasive Language

In EG we are responding to a solicitation for a proposal. Someone has asked you to write this document and has identified the problem. It is implicit that they have also decided to try and solve the problem.

Proposals typically have a format like this:

  1. An introduction that states the purpose of the proposal, the problem that needs to be solved and the scope of the work planned.
  2. A discussion section that describes the proposed solution, explains how the solution will be implemented, and lists the tasks to be accomplished.
  3. A resources section that lists who will do the work and what materials will be required.
  4. A costs section that includes how much money and time will be needed to finish the job.
  5. A conclusion that summarizes the proposed solution and tells the reader who to contact for more information.

Your assignment is to prepare a cover letter for a formal proposal. Sometimes called a Transmittal Letter, the purpose of this document is to summarize the subject and purpose of the proposal, state the reason for preparing the document, and emphasize any information that is of special interest to the reader.

Remember, just saying that your firm is the best one for the job is not the best way to establish credibility. You become credible when you accurately describe the problem and offer a solution. Credibility is established through your mastery of the subject you are discussing. While it is important to include references to other projects you have done that are similar to this one and to document your expertise, establishing a confident, professional, persuasive tone in your writing will go a long way toward convincing your reader of your abilities.

Please note: You will not be writing the actual proposal, just the letter that will accompany it.

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