You are a citizen concerned about a problem that affects your community you have done some research on this problem and have come up with a solution you would like to propose
WRITER’S ROLE: You are a citizen concerned about a problem that affects your community, you have done some research on this problem and have come up with a solution you would like to propose. You are trying to persuade your readers to take action in some specific way to help implement your proposal.
WHOM YOU’RE WRITING FOR: While this may vary somewhat based on the problem you’re addressing and how you propose to solve it, for the purpose of this assignment you can assume, at a minimum, that your readers are informed and educated. (See below under “Identify your readers.”) You can also assume that this is a more formal writing situation; see below under “Requirements.”
Proposals are persuasive essays that address some problem which readers are already aware of— or that identify a problem which readers may not yet be aware of— and propose specific solutions. This is a very “real world” type of writing situation, especially in fields such as business, science, politics or the social sciences.
At first glance, this assignment may seem daunting. “I’m just a college student,” I can almost hear you say; “how can I be expected to solve the world’s problems, or even those of my local community?” If you find yourself having that reaction, take a deep breath, and then read the next sentence very carefully. I don’t expect you to.
What I do expect, at a minimum, is an essay…
1. that has a clear point of view about a subject of (potential) concern to readers.
2. that has clearly identified its readership— those who can help to solve this problem— and is targeted specifically to that group of readers.
3. that addresses a problem and attempts to persuade readers that a specific course of action is the best response.
4. that relies on evidence from outside sources as well as logic in order to make its case.
5. that persuades its readers that the solution being proposed is a plausible and realistic one.
If you look at these expectations, you will see that in order to fulfill the assignment you will need to do the following things.
1. Choose your topic carefully. While you can potentially go in a number of directions, I really recommend that you give this some thought. You will do better if you limit your topic to a problem that is more local than global, and one which is not overly complex. Avoid problems that are too broad or complex to plausibly “solve” in a three-page paper. For example, for the purpose of this assignment, “Three Steps to Improve Test Scores in Jefferson County Public Schools” would be a much better topic than “How to End World Hunger.”
2. Identify your readers. Your purpose in writing this essay is to solve a problem. Ask yourself who can help you solve this problem. Who has the power to make the change you want to make? Are you addressing a specific group of decision makers within an organization? Are you addressing voters in your city? Are you addressing your local school board? The more specific you can be in identifying your readers, the more likely it is that you will be able to write a persuasive proposal by targeting your readers and tailoring your proposal to them.
3. Address a problem of concern to your readers. To engage their interest, you will have to address a problem your readers already are aware of, or else convincingly identify a problem they may not yet be aware of. If you choose the second option, you will have to use evidence from reliable sources to persuade your readers that this problem is one they should take seriously.
4. Rely on solid evidence. Remember that the reason for writing this essay is to persuade your readers to take some sort of action. Remember, too, that your readership likely includes more educated readers who are aware of the problems in the world and their community. Think about what is going to be convincing to these people. Is it going to be important to them that you present facts to back up your argument? Is it going to be important that your sources seem very reliable, and that you seem like you have researched this issue thoroughly? The answer to these questions is definitely yes. (Note: We will discuss evaluating sources soon in class. For more information on this topic, see Chapter 40 in your textbook.)
5. Persuade your readers to take action. Once you have identified both your topic and your readers, ask yourself What do I want my readers to do? Do you want them to vote a certain way on an upcoming ballot measure? Do you want them to take some sort of action in their community? Do you want them to write letters to their representatives in the state legislature or on the local school board? You need to arrive at something fairly specific that you want your readers to do, and to urge them to do it. After all, getting your readers to take action is whole point of writing a proposal.
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