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Humanities LibreTexts

7.6: Proposal Arguments

  • Page ID
    37807
  • Audio Version (January 2022):

    Proposal arguments attempt to push for action of some kind. They answer the question "What should be done about it?"

    In order to build up to a proposal, an argument needs to incorporate elements of definition argument, evaluation argument, and causal argument. First, we will need to define a problem or a situation that calls for action. Then we need to make an evaluation argument to convince readers that the problem is bad enough to be worth addressing. This will create a sense of urgency within the argument and inspire the audience to seek and adopt proposed action. In most cases, it will need to make causal arguments about the roots of the problem and the good effects of the proposed solution. 

    Below are some elements of proposal arguments. Together, these elements can help us create a sense of urgency about the need for action and confidence in your proposal as a solution.

    Common elements of proposal arguments

    Background on the problem, opportunity, or situation 

    Often just after the introduction, the background section discusses what has brought about the need for the proposal—what problem, what opportunity exists for improving things, what the basic situation is. For example, management of a chain of daycare centers may need to ensure that all employees know CPR because of new state mandates requiring it, or an owner of pine timberland in eastern Oregon may want to make sure the land can produce saleable timber without destroying the environment.

    While the named audience of the proposal may know the problem very well, writing the background section is useful in demonstrating our particular view of the problem. If we cannot assume readers know the problem, we will need to spend more time convincing them that the problem or opportunity exists and that it should be addressed.  For a larger audience not familiar with the problem, this section can give detailed context.

    Description of the proposed solution

    Here we define the nature of what we are proposing so readers can see what is involved in the proposed action. For example, if we write an essay proposing to donate food scraps from restaurants to pig farms, we will need to define what will be considered food scraps. In another example, if we argue that organic produce is inherently healthier for consumers than non-organic produce, and we propose governmental subsidies to reduce the cost of organic produce, we will need to define “organic” and describe how much the government subsidies will be and which products or consumers will be eligible. See 7.2: Definition Arguments for strategies that can help us elaborate on our proposed solution so readers can envision it clearly.

    Methods

    If we have not already covered the proposal's methods in the description, we may want to add this. How will we go about completing the proposed work? For example, in the above example about food scraps, we would want to describe and how the leftover food will be stored and delivered to the pig farms. Describing the methods shows the audience we have a sound, thoughtful approach to the project. It serves to demonstrate that we have the knowledge of the field to complete the project.

    Feasibility of the project

    A proposal argument needs to convince readers that the project can actually be accomplished. How can enough time, money, and will be found to make it happen?  Have similar proposals been carried out successully in the past? For example, we might observe that according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Rutgers University runs a program that sends a ton of food scraps a day from its dining halls to a local farm.1 If we describe how other efforts overcame obstacles, we will persuade readers that if they can succeed, this proposal can as well.

    Benefits of the proposal

    Most proposals discuss the advantages or benefits that will come from the solution proposed. Describing the benefits helps you win the audience to your side, so readers become more invested in adopting your proposed solution. In the food scraps example, we might emphasize that the Rutgers program, rather than costing more, led to $100,000 a year in savings because the dining halls no longer needed to pay to have the food scraps hauled away.  We could calculate the predicted savings for our new proposed program as well.

    In order to predict the positive effects of the proposal and show how implementing it will lead to good results, we will want to use causal arguments. The strategies in 7.5: Causal Arguments will be helpful here. This is a good time to refer back to the problem we identified early in the essay and show how the proposal will resolve that original problem.

    Sample annotated proposal argument 

    The sample essay "Why We Should Open Our Borders" by student Laurent Wenjun Jiang can serve as an example. Annotations point out how Jiang uses several proposal argument strategies.  

    Practice Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Find a proposal argument that you strongly support.  Browse news and opinion websites, or try The Conversation. Once you have chosen a proposal, read it closely and look for the elements discussed in this section.  Do you find enough discussion of the background, methods, feasibility, and benefits of the proposal? Discuss at least one way in which you think the proposal could be revised to be even more convincing.

    Works Cited

    1 "Fact Sheet About the Food Scraps Diversion Program at Rutgers University." Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. October 2009, https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-mana...ers-university. Accessed 12/10/2021.

    Attributions

    Parts of this section on proposal arguments are original content by Anna Mills and Darya Myers.  Parts were adapted from Technical Writing, which was derived in turn by Annemarie Hamlin, Chris Rubio, and Michele DeSilva, Central Oregon Community College, from Online Technical Writing by David McMurrey – CC: BY 4.0.