Proposal Writing Advice from the Best!


The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) uses an outline known as the Heilmeier Questions, to give their Managers some guidance on what to include in their proposals, and to think clearly about what they hope to accomplish.

It can also be a great way for you to outline your federal contract proposal, edit your response, and clarify your aims.


  1. What’s the goal of the project?

What’s the problem?  Why is it hard? Write it down….use simple, clear language, and absolutely no jargon!


  1. How is it done today?

Who is the incumbent? What are the limits of the current approach? Why are improvements needed?


  1. What’s different about your approach?

Why do you think it will be successful? Have you done any preliminary work? Have you tested your assumptions?


  1. Who cares?

Who are the stakeholders? Who will benefit from your successful project?


  1. What difference will it make?

How will your approach benefit the agency?


  1. What are the risks and benefits?

How can you mitigate risk to the agency? What happens if things go wrong – do you have a planned course of action?


  1. How much will it cost?

Not just the dollar amount the agency will need to pay.  Also think about the costs your company will incur – in money, time, people, and resources.


  1. How long will it take?

Check the proposal document for the agency’s desired timelines. Can you meet them?


  1. What are the midterm and final “exams” for your project?

How will you measure progress? What are the milestones/metrics? How will you assess and make mid-course corrections?


Using these questions to focus and organize your proposal is an excellent use of your time and effort.

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