Guidelines for Design Proposals

Proposal Template

Sample Proposal
ME 4015 Guidelines
General Writing Guidelines

This document requests proposals on plans for completing engineering projects in senior design. The purpose of your group’s proposal is to persuade the advising faculty member or sponsor of the project to accept the general plan for performing the design. Acceptance by the faculty member pr sponsor of the proposal means that the design team is headed in the right direction on the design project. This request for proposals specifies the proposal format, which includes not only the layout and design of the proposal, but also the proposal's length and the names of sections and subsections. Note that this document focuses on general guidelines for proposals. Your advisor or sponsor might have additional guidelines which he or she will indicate to you. The length of the proposal should be no more than 10 pages, which would include the title page and contents page, but would not include any resumes that your advisor or sponsor might ask you to attach.

Format for Proposals

The typography and layout for the design proposal should follow the general format guidelines presented in the Writing Guidelines for Engineering and Science Students. In addition, the proposal should include a title page and contents page. Finally, your advisor or sponsor might request a one-page resume for each team member to be attached to the end of the proposal. The following subsections discuss the content of the proposal.

Title Page. The title page presents your proposal title, your names, your department affiliation, the date, and the name(s) of your project advisor(s). The title is the single most important phrase in the proposal; it identifies the design project and your perspective on that design. The word proposal should be somewhere in the title to identify the type of document for the reader.

Proposal Text. There are seven major sections of the proposal: "Summary," "Statement of the Problem," "Objectives," "Plan of Action," "Management Plan," "Conclusions," and "References." The summary identifies the problem and the design that addresses that problem. Given below is a summary from a design proposal from a senior design project at Virginia Tech:


To reduce greenhouse gases in vehicles, manufacturers are considering alternative fuels, such as hydrogen. As part of this effort, Virginia Tech has a hybrid electric truck that uses a hydrogen-burning internal combustion engine to power a generator. This document proposes a design for the controls portion of this truck. A redesigned version of this truck will enter the 2004 Future Truck Competition. Included in this proposal is the plan for the rewiring of the current vehicle’s control system and the plan for writing a new controls programs that will help the vehicle adjust to the competition’s driving conditions.

The "Statement of the Problem" presents the need and justification for the design. In a sense, this section is a preliminary literature review of the problem or need. This section does two things: (1) makes the proposal reviewers aware of the need for the design, and (2) convinces the proposal reviewers that the writer understands the reason for having the design. Consider an example that comes not from a design proposal, but from a research proposal [Gray, 1995] to assess different methods of earthquake detection.

Statement of Problem

On the morning of April 18, 1906, the population of San Francisco was awakened by violent shaking and by the roar caused by the writhing and collapsing of buildings [Hodgson, 1964]. The ground appeared to be thrown into waves which twisted railways and broke the pavement into great cracks. Many buildings collapsed, while others were severely damaged. The earthquake caused fires in fifty or more points throughout the city. Fire stations were destroyed, alarms were put out of commission, and water mains were broken. As a result, the fires quickly spread throughout the city and continued for three days. The fires destroyed a 5 square-mile section at the heart of the city [Mileti and Fitzpatrick, 1993]. Even more disastrous was the Kwanto earthquake in Japan, which devastated the cities of Yokohama and Tokyo on September 1, 1923 [Hodgson, 1993]. In Yokohama, over 50 percent of the buildings were destroyed [Bolt, 1993], and as many as 208 fires broke out and spread through the city [Hodgson, 1964]. When the disaster was over, 33,000 people were dead [Bolt, 1993]. In Tokyo, the damage from the earthquake was less, but the resulting fires were more devastating. The fires lasted three days and destroyed 40 percent of the city [Hodgson, 1964]. After the fire, 68,000 people were dead and 1 million people were homeless [Bolt, 1993].
The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the Kwanto earthquake were two of the most famous and devastating earthquakes of this century. These earthquakes struck without warning and with disastrous results. If earthquakes could be predicted, people would be able to evacuate from buildings, bridges, and overpasses, where most deaths occur.
Some earthquakes have been successfully predicted. One of the most famous predictions was the Haicheng Prediction in China. In 1970, Chinese scientists targeted the Liaoning Province as a site with potential for a large earthquake. These scientists felt that an earthquake would occur there in 1974 or 1975. On December 20, 1974, an earthquake warning was issued. Two days later, a magnitude 4.8 earthquake struck the Liaoning Province; however, further monitoring suggested a larger earthquake was imminent [Mileti and others, 1981]. On February 4, 1975, the Chinese issued a warning that an earthquake would strike Haicheng within 24 hours [Bolt, 1993]. The people in Haicheng were evacuated, and about 5.5 hours later, a magnitude 7.3 earthquake shook the city of Haicheng. If the people hadn't been evacuated, the death toll could have exceeded 100,000.
Using geophysical precursors, the Chinese have predicted more than ten earthquakes with magnitudes greater than 5.0 [Meyer, 1977]. For example, the Chinese predicted a pair of earthquakes of magnitude 6.9 that occurred 97 minutes apart in Yunnan on May 19, 1976 [Bolt, 1993]. Despite these successes, the Chinese failed to predict the earthquake that struck the city of Tangshan on July 27, 1976; this earthquake killed 250,000 people and injured 500,000 more [Bolt, 1988]. This earthquake wasn't completely unexpected, but the Chinese believed it to be a few years away. Other earthquakes have been predicted, but the predictions didn't have enough precision for warnings to be issued. For example, in 1983, a young geophysicist predicted that an earthquake of magnitude 8 would strike Mexico City within four years [Deshpande, 1987]. Two years later, an earthquake of magnitude 8 did strike Mexico City. Because the prediction was not more precise, no warning was issued and the earthquake took the population of Mexico City by surprise. Other predictions have turned out to be false warnings. For example, an earthquake warning was issued in August 1976 near Hong Kong [Bolt, 1988]. During the earthquake alert, people slept outdoors for two months. No earthquake occurred.

The "Objectives" section contains the same type of information as in the Mission Statement from ME 2024 (but in paragraph form). This section presents the scope and limitations of the solution. The "Objectives" section explains what kinds of things your design will include and what it will not include. Because you are writing about something that you intend to do rather than something you have already done, this section is perhaps the most difficult section of the proposal to write.


I propose to review the available literature on how geophysical precursors can be used for short-term predictions of earthquakes. In this review, I will achieve the following three goals:
  1. explain three commonly monitored geophysical precursors: ground uplift and tilt, increases in radon emissions, and changes in the electrical resistivity of rocks;
  2. show what happens to each of these precursors during the five stages of an earthquake; and
  3. discuss how each of these precursors is used for short-term earthquake predictions.

Geophysical precursors are changes in the physical state of the earth that are precursory to earthquakes. In addition to monitoring geophysical precursors, there are other strategies for predicting earthquakes-in particular, analyzing statistical data on prior earthquakes. Analyzing statistical data on prior earthquakes, however, is solely a long-term prediction technique [Bolt, 1993]. For that reason, I will not consider it.
In my review, I will discuss three common geophysical precursors: ground uplift and tilt, increases in radon emissions, and changes in the electrical resistivity of rocks. Earthquakes occur in five stages as there is a build up of elastic strain within faults in the earth, followed by the development of cracks in the rocks, then the influx of water into those cracks. The fourth stage is the actual rupture of the fault and the release of seismic waves. The fifth stage is the sudden drop in stress in the fault. In this stage, aftershocks occur.
During these five stages, the geophysical precursors follow distinct patterns. For instance, the ground uplift and tilt increases during the second stage as the volume of rock increases. In my review, I will relate how the three geophysical precursors relate to the five stages of an earthquake and how well this relation can be used to predict the oncoming fault rupture.

Following the "Objectives" section is the "Plan of Action" section. This section explains how you will perform the design. This section will have the following four subsections:
Identifying Customer Needs
Establishing Target Specifications
Generating Design Concepts
Selecting Design Concept
Note that even though your group might not be in a position to select the design concept by the time this proposal is written, your group can still discuss your plan for how you will make that selection. That plan should be included in this subsection.

The next section of the proposal is the Management Plan. It presents the schedule (with time-line figure (Gantt chart)), budget (include a table), and your qualifications for doing the literature review. Note that proposals often call for resumes to be attached as a sort of appendix. These resumes are then referred to in this subsection. Your advisor might ask for one-page resumes of the tem members (without GPAs) to be attached. Given in Table 1 is a sample budget and given in Figure 1 is an example Gantt chart.

Table 1. Budget for design of test rig.
Materials Cost
Speed Controller $600
Fan $700
Heat Exchanger $500
Lexan $900
Piping $150
Exit Nozzle $50
Orifice Plate $250
Heating System $1200
Unistrut $150
Miscellaneous $50
Total $4900

Figure 1. Schedule for completion of literature review. The two triangles represent milestones for the project, the first being the formal presentation on November 11, 1996, and the second being the formal report on December 6, 1996.

At the end of the proposal are a “Conclusions” section and a "References" section. These two sections immediately follow the "Management Plan." The "Conclusions" section summarizes the proposal and present a call for action, which is a reason that the proposal request should be acted upon. The "References" section lists all sources that have been cited either as a paraphrase, quotation, or image in the proposal.


This document has presented the format for design proposals. In the proposal, you must have the following sections: summary, objectives, plan of action, management plan, and references. Proposal evaluations will be weighted equally between a management review and a technical review. Also considered will be the quality of the writing.

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Bolt, Bruce A., Earthquakes (New York: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1988).

Bolt, Bruce A., Earthquakes and Geological Discovery (New York: Scientific American Library, 1993).

Deshpande, Prof. B. G., Earthquakes, Animals and Man (Pune, India: The Maharashtra Association for the Cultivation of Science, 1987).

Hodgson, John H., Earthquakes and Earth Structure (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1964).

Gray, Christopher, "A Proposal to Review How Geophysical Precursors Can Help Predict Earthquakes," proposal from EPD 397 (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin, February 1995).

Meyer, Larry L., California Quake (Nashville: Sherbourne Press, 1977).

Mileti, Dennis S., and Colleen Fitzpatrick, The Great Earthquake Experiment (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1993).

Last updated 1/07