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Improve the Visual Appeal of your Software Development Proposal

Author: Jack Smart
by Jack Smart
Posted: Feb 17, 2014

The Customer needs to read your proposal, if you want any chance to win the contract. You can improve the odds by creating a proposal that is visually appealing.

As with the content of your proposal, "Know the Customer" stands as your motto when designing the layout of the proposal:

  • Many companies will dictate your proposal's format, within the Request for Proposal,
  • Study any communications from the Customer for clues on format and colors. Formal documents, such as white papers, case studies, likely contain the Customer's favored design,
  • Look on the Customer website for a style guide,
  • The nature of their business might give you clues about the layout and design elements to use.

Present the Customer with a format they are familiar with, and comfortable to read. People like to do business with people they know.

Your proposal needs to be persuasive, without being overly salesy, to fulfill it's two-fold purpose:

  1. To assure the Customer that you understand the problem they face,
  2. Persuade the Customer that you are the best choice to solve their problem
Proposal Writing Guidelines

Some business buyers, already overwhelmed by a seemingly unending flow of information, do not have time to read or re-read proposals. Rules to write by:

  • Clear. Your proposal must convey the exact meaning you intend. That is, the Customer will understand what you propose to do. Take your time and use the correct words in a way that makes your meaning clear.

    A confused mind will always take the easy way out... ignore your proposal.

  • Concise. If your descriptions are overly wordy and looks long, the Customer may be intimidated by all that test and decide to NOT read your proposal. Give your proposal to a colleague to review. The length of time it takes her to get started will tell your how daunting the task looks.
  • Complete. The whole story of your solution needs to be included in your proposal. There is no greater fault in a proposal than to leave something out. Anticipate the buyer's questions and answer them in your proposal.
Proposal Writing Design Elements Paragraphs and Sentence length

A paragraph makes one point. When you make that point, it's time to start a new paragraph.

Large blocks of text look difficult to read. Make it easy for the Customer and break them up into smaller pieces. Mix up the sizes with a combination of large and small paragraphs, but keep the maximum to about 100 words.

Vary the length of your sentences, the building block for a paragraph. People often find the need to re-read sentences which carry over several lines, because their eyes miss the new line.


Business readers tend to skim over a document, scanning to find information important to them. A bulleted list draws the readers eye.

Most proposal writers fall into the habit of throwing in a list of features, which is good in itself. But, the real magic in the list comes when you add the benefit of that feature, to the business.

People like to read lists, so write something worth reading.


Add a headline to each section of your proposal, including the key benefit for the reader, to entice them to read more.

The purpose of the headline is to draw the eye to something important and lead them to the next line.

And, an important design feature to make your proposal scannable.

Sub-headings can be used to tell the reader that something important follows in the document.

Graphs and Charts

"You may have heard the saying "A picture is worth a thousand words."

It's true... maybe.

In your proposal, include graphs and charts to support your features and claims. Again, these elements draw the reader's eye.

Only use graphical elements if they convey the 1000 words you need. An off-topic element will interrupt the reader's attention, and possibly cause confusion.

Italics and Bold

Another effective design element in your proposal, to draw the reader's attention.

A reader tends to look at a few words on either side of a highlight in a block of text, so include important information.

Don't over-do highlighting. It creates a crowded presentation, and can make your proposal appear as an Internet sales page.

The Scan Test

With good design, you make your proposal organized and easy to read.

We already mentioned that many busy business buyers scan documents such as your sales proposal. You want them to understand your proposal from that scan.

You can test your proposal to see, for yourself, if you have creates a scannable document.

Print your proposal and hold it at arms length. Relying only on the design elements we talked about in this article, does it does it adequately communicate the intention of your proposal?


In this article we explained that you want a clean, appealing format for your proposal, to encourage the buyer to read yours, before any others. Use design elements, where appropriate, but do not go overboard with them.

To Know more read our blog on

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Author: Jack Smart

Jack Smart

Member since: Oct 11, 2013
Published articles: 13

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