All proposals (and their proposers) should follow the sponsor guidelines and solicitation requirements. However, these should not be seen as limitations. In fact, you can (and must) creatively use those restrictions to your advantage. Be cautious: There is a fine line between adapting requirements and over formatting.
Best practice is to use the format requirements to create an outline document. You can then insert the review criteria so that you can easily reference them as you compose your text. Next, start designing your proposed project. It is recommended that you start by recapitulating the needs of the sponsor (either reflecting the sponsor’s mission or the specific solicitation) and linking it explicitly to your proposed solution, approach, or research project.
As the proposal content evolves, the writer needs to continuously address the structure and organization of the ideas presented. If the proposal is 12 pages or 60 pages, you have to drive the reader through the document using both a compelling narrative and formatting guideposts.
A few helpful tips to consider when optimizing formatting in a proposal:
- Use only two types of font for headers and body text.
- Use only three levels of headers.
- Use only three types of formatting, e.g., bold, italics, and bold & italics.
- Bullet points should be two lines or less.
- Include ample white space, e.g., between paragraphs, around graphics, above and below headers, etc.
- Left justify body text.
- Do not have frequent headers, or headers with less than one paragraph associated with them.
- Use headers, leading lines, and graphics captions to convey a message that recapitulates sponsor and solicitation requirements.
We can all agree that wall to wall text is challenging to read even if you are a Nobel Laureate. And disjointed content does not advance your cause, even when the solicitation demands it. Instead, proposal text that is persuasive, concise, and succinct will, by its nature, encourage you to not over-format the content while staying compliant. If done well, the reader will be able to easily digest cleaner, better organized text, which in turn, will allow the reader to understand the value/significance/innovation of what you are proposing.