Elements of a Proposal Argument

Choose a problem that is important or interesting to you and propose a solution to it. Your proposal should include the following elements:

1. A claim that

  • proposes specific action, whether a change of practice or policy, to resolve a problem or need, and
  • is suitable for your audience.

2. Evidence and reasons that

  • show clearly the problem and its significance,
  • clearly relate the proposal claim to the problem or need, and
  • show that the proposal will work and resolve the problem or need.

3. A consideration of

  • other proposals, and
  • possible rebuttals to your proposal.

Suggestions for Finding a Topic

Consider practical problems at Kean University; your high school; your city or town; your place of work; your hobbies, etc. If you were to choose a problem or situation at Kean, for example, you might consider proposals like the following:

  • A proposal to improve the quality of advising for students in your major.
  • A proposal to improve the ESL program
  • A proposal to improve the international student exchange program.
  • A proposal to improve safety conditions in a particular building or facility.
  • A proposal to change a rule at your dormitory.


Proposals are generally addressed to someone who can do something with them, and they are accompanied by a cover letter that introduces the proposal to that specific person or persons. For example, if you were writing a policy proposal based on a social issue, you might name your senator or representative as the individual capable of taking action, but it must be the correct senator or representative for your voting district. If you feel that the senator or representative might not listen, then you might address your proposal to a specific group or organization that the senator or representative might listen to.

Some tips to help you

Find an issue that is manageable. For instance, proposing changes to the New Jersey education system requires an enormous amount of research and expertise. Instead, propose specific, small changes to the school you or your children attend. In this situation, you can talk to the people in charge, find out why something has or has not been tried, and adapt your proposal to what you find out. Because you have the opportunity to talk with your audience, you have a better chance of understanding what the problem is from their perspective and be able to make a better proposal that they will at least listen to.

Preparing to Write

Brainstorm to find a narrow, local issue which is a problem for you.

Brainstorm and research who the right audience would be for your proposal. Find someone who can implement your proposal or pass it on to someone who can do something about the problem.

Use your own research (interviews, surveys, graphs, polls) and library research. Document your sources accurately both in your text and in your bibliography. Your research should show that other problems like yours exist in the world, that people are concerned about them, that they are serious, that there are counterarguments and criticisms to your solution, and that there are solutions that can solve these problems.

General Comments
Consider the values of your audience.
Use details and vivid examples (if possible, of real incidents and your own personal experience).
Create credibility by looking at the problem objectively, not as a complainer.

Writing the proposal

The following sections explain the shape of this proposal paper and give the subtitles that you should use in your own paper.

Cover letter
This one-page letter introduces your audience to the problem, its significance, and your proposal to solve the problem. It should be addressed to a specific individual or group.

This section summarizes the problem, its background, the proposal, and justification in one paragraph.

This is a one-sentence description of the problem.

Background to the problem
This section is an introduction to the problem.
Describe the problem, its background/history, and its significance.
Convince your audience that it's a real problem and something needs to be done about it. Sometimes, a reader might initially respond by saying, "Oh, that stuff again." So you need somehow to make it personal or show how it affects the reader.
Present your proposal (thesis statement) concisely.

If some people may be skeptical, this is a good place to first insert opposing viewpoints, before continuing on with your own proposal.

After showing a problem really exists in the introduction, you need to show your solution, one which is solvable, doable, and practical.
Explain your proposal in detail (with step-by-step specifics on how your solution works):

  • how much money it will cost,
  • who will be responsible for implementing it,
  • how easily it can be implemented,
  • how much time it will take to set it up and make it work,
  • what kinds of materials and labor are needed to make it work,
  • how it addresses the problem,
  • etc.
Use causal arguments: Show how one consequence will lead to another until the problem is solved.
Use analogy: Perhaps your solution or a similar one elsewhere is successful.
Use precedent: Perhaps your solution or a similar has been successful in the past. If a similar solution was not successful, show how your situation is different so that the solution will now work in your situation.

Give reasons for your audience to implement your proposal (other than those which relate to its being able to solve the problem by giving arguments from the heart and from values).

Show how the benefits of your solution outweigh the costs. If the costs are high, appeal to the values of the audience by showing that your proposal will lead to actions that lead to consequences that your audience values.

Summary and rebuttal of opposing views
(This section may go before the proposal and justification sections.)
Describe rebuttals to your solution, including other proposals for this problem.
Respond to each of these rebuttals.

Sum up the main points and state your case clearly and directly, so that your audience feels convinced to do something about the problem, preferably adopt your proposal.

Use either APA or MLA style for your sources, and unlike on the wiki, do not annotate them.

©2007-2008 Charles Nelson