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Writing Proposals

Page history last edited by Todd Breijak 9 years ago


Writing Proposals




Writing Proposals




Overview of Proposal Components 



Proposals are always attempts to make some people decide to take some action

  • What is the problem that you want to take up for your proposal?
  • Is this problem a local or global one? Who is affected/interested?
  • Who is the audience for the proposal? Who are the potential "action takers"?


2. Proposals are always focused on a problem (whether your audience realizes the problem exists or not) and then provide a solution to that problem

  • Is your audience aware that the problem exists or will you have to convince them that it exists?
  • How serious is the problem? What negative consequences will occur if it is not fixed/solved?


3. Proposals also convince and audience that the solution being proposed is both fair and feasible

  • Can you provide enough detail about your proposed solution to convince your audience that it is an achievable course of action?
  • How can you convince your audience that the proposed solution is fair to all involved parties? 
  • What positive consequences will occur from your proposed solution?


What's the Difference Between Evaluations and Proposals?


Strictly speaking, evaluation arguments are focused on judgments (this is how you should feel about something), whereas proposal arguments are focused on actions (this is what you should). In practice, however, a judgment about an object often suggests a particular action and suggesting a particular action implies a judgment of some sort (thus, evaluation arguments often contain proposals and vice-versa). In other words, the real difference might one of emphasis or degree rather than kind.


Examples from arguments I was involved in yesterday:

  • The show Homicide: Life on the Street is superior to The Wire.
  • Increased availability of free tutoring will positively impact Wayne State's retention scores.

Evaluation Arguments


How do we invent Evaluation arguments?


Much like definitional arguments ("Is X a Y?"), evaluations usually also involve a criteria-match structure structure, but in this case you are not providing the criteria that a thing must meet to be defined in a category, but the criteria it must meet to be evaluated as a "good" or "bad" instance of whatever category to which it already belongs. In other words, it follows the structure "X is (not) a good Y because it (fails to) meet(s) criteria Q, R, P."

  • Pick a item to be evaluated
  • Find out the stakes involved in the claim (is this evaluation controversial and/or interesting to others? Who would be opposed to this evaluation and why?)
  • Develop criteria for evaluating that item (which make it good or bad? which are most important? which are obvious and which ones do you have to argue for? Which are most likely to impact your audience?)

Proposal Arguments


How do we invent Proposal arguments?

Much like evaluations, proposals are created based on specific criteria and follow a basic structure: "We should (not) do X."  Proposals are typically arranged in a three part structure:

1. Convincing the audience that a problem exists

2. Showing the particulars of your proposal (your solution to the problem)

3. Justifying why your proposal should be enacted (that your proposal is feasible and will have positive outcomes).


Priorities: Is the real challenge convincing your audience that a problem exists or is it convincing them of a viable solution to a problem they already know exists?

  • Prioritizing the Problem: Depending on the particulars of your topic, one or more of these items may be prioritized over the others. For instance, if you are proposing a fairly straightforward change that requires little detail - say, convincing an audience to ban stem cell research - you might spend the majority of its times on item one (convincing the audience that stem cell research is a problem), with items two (it should be banned entirely in the US) and three (negative consequences if the ban is not enacted) relegated to the final few paragraphs.
  • Prioritizing the Solution: Conversely, often your proposal might be addressing what the majority (if not all) of your audience will agree is a problem; in this case, the challenge is providing a viable solution (if the finding the solution is not a problem, presumably the problem would have already been solved). For instance, most WSU students would agree that parking on campus is a problem; however, providing a feasible solution to this problem is difficult.


Other Stasis Arguments (beside evaluation and Definition) that often Appear in Proposals:

Proposals often make use of both Categorical and Resemblance arguments. Both work by putting the item in question in relation to another item for which the audience already has strong feelings. Proposals also almost always make use of Cause/Consequence arguments, as a rhetor needs to account for both the positive and negative consequences of a planned proposal.


Consider for instance several claims that might be use to argue that WSU should abolish its fraternity and sorority system: (This is a "Priority Problem" proposal - it would not be hard to abolish the system - the hard part is convincing necessary stakeholders that it should be abolished):

  • Example from Categorical Arguments: "WSU should abolish fraternities and sororities because the Greek system is elitist."
  • Example from Resemblance: "WSU should abolish fraternities and sororities because other schools that have eliminated the Greek system have produced good results."
  • Example from Cause/Consequence: "WSU should abolish fraternities and sororities because eliminating the Greek system would improve our school's academic reputation."  


Practice with Proposal Elements


Let's reverse-engineer the readings for today by asking the questions a writer would pose to themselves when writing the piece:


Proposal Questions:

1. What is being proposed?

2. Does this proposal prioritize the problem or the solution? Why?

3. What does the audience know about this topic and how do they feel about it?

4. Are any other stasis issues (definition, resemblance, cause-consequence) used?

5. Does the author do a good job of identifying positive consequence that will occur if the proposal is enacted and/or negative consequences that will occur if the proposal is not enacted?

6. What are the most effective strategies used by the author in making their proposal persuasive?


For your last response, read this article and answer the above six questions. Post them on your personal pages under the heading "Response #6."


Comments (1)

Briona Ely said

at 11:12 pm on Dec 1, 2014

1.) What is being proposed is that there should be a fight for Ebola.

2.)Yes it does because it tells you what is happening, what should be done, and what is being done.

3.)The audience knows that Ebola is a life threatening disease and is scared of the epidemic because of how fast it is spreading.

4.)Neither definition or resemblance is used in my opinion, but cause-consequence is.

5.)Yes the author does. If the proposal is enacted "The West African Ebola epidemic is a tragedy. But perhaps it can point the way, ultimately, to offering a sturdy medical lifeline to poor countries and preventing uncontrolled spread of epidemic diseases."

6.)Stating facts right away.

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