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Proposal layout, formatting, and design

Layout and design

If there is no written RFP, or if the written RFP does not specify outline or format, then there are no rules for the layout and design of your proposal. The only standard to apply to the proposal’s appearance is whether it fulfills the proposal evaluator’s expectations. If they haven’t told you what they are or written them into an RFP, then all you can do is make your proposal legible. Your proposal layout should be highly readable and make it easy to locate information. You should make extensive use of graphics, because they enhance the readability of the document and convey information well. In the absence of instructions to the contrary, your headings, typefaces, margins, headers/footers, and other formatting attributes can be anything that you want that achieves the goal of your proposal.

So that you don’t have to study typography, we recommend:

  • A serif typeface such as Times Roman
  • 10-12 point type
  • A column width of 50-60 characters (either double column or “scholar’s margins”)
  • Page margins of at least .5”
  • The use of color whenever possible
  • Extensive use of graphics
  • Full use of front matter (Table of Contents, List of Figures, etc.)
  • “Navigation aids” such as a cross-reference matrix
  • Appendices for data that must be provided, but disrupts your proposal’s story
  • If the page count is large enough, use 3-ring binders or other binding
  • Use tabs that break the content down into sections and make finding material easier

Final production

Final formatting and polish is often reserved for the end of a proposal effort. Indeed, in some environments they wait until all edits to the content have finished before they apply final formatting and perform reproduction. On a large proposal they may allow several days to a week just for final production. Some organizations use sophisticated desktop publishing and artwork, others use MS-Word for their final output. The value of a better-looking proposal must be weighed against the level of effort it takes to achieve it. We recommend that you format your proposal in a layout that you are comfortable with. Keep it simple, and don't overextend yourself by using an advanced layout that you have difficulty producing.

Tipes for Proposal Formatting

Basic proposal formatting is easy, just keep it simple and elegant. But with a little more effort, you can use your proposal formatting to help you win. Here are some tips for proposal formatting.

By Carl Dickson, Founder of

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