The sixth edition of the "American Psychological Association Publication Manual" provides writing guidelines for the behavioral and social sciences. However, the manual can also be used in other fields because of its logical and clear approach to format and style. Entrepreneurs can prepare the sections of an effective business proposal using the APA framework.

Overall Structure

Give every major component of the proposal its own section with a heading. With the exception of the introduction, which does not have a title, start each heading at the left margin and use bold title case. Make titles short and descriptive of the sections that follow. Whenever information from a source is mentioned in the proposal, cite it within the text. Put the last name of the author, a comma and the publication date of the source inside parentheses, directly after the information. For example: "In 2011, the median income for Alabama was $44,190 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012)." If you mention the author in the text, simply follow it with the publication date in parentheses, such as "According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2012), in 2011 the median income in Alaska was $65,719."

First Section

The first section, the introduction, is a strong statement that provides an overview of the proposal. Summarize the problem to be addressed or the goal to be attained. Explain why society needs your plan. Indicate the products or services to be developed and the expected consumer response. Include details that highlight the originality of your goods or services. What sets them apart from what is already available? Identify the primary participants in the plan and how their past experiences are pertinent to the current project.

Overview Section

Start with a section explaining your outlook. Begin with a short vision statement. What future do you foresee for the business? For instance, is your audience local, regional, national or global? What will your impact be on your customers? Explain your short and long-term goals. What smaller objectives must be achieved before the ultimate goal is reached? How will you accomplish these goals? Since the activities in this section are often time-related, consider using numbered bullets to indicate your organization and timeline.

Descriptive Sections

In the marketing section, identify your potential customers and why they will find your goods or services superior to what is already available. Include issues such as durability, dependability and price. Discuss your approach to advertising. How will you find and approach customers? Why will these tactics be successful? Use a financial management section to outline your current financial position and expected start-up costs. Explain your financing strategies. What amount will you contribute, and where will you obtain the rest of the funds? What accounting methods will you use? A daily operations section gives you the opportunity to explain what personnel you need, what infrastructure is required, what your insurance costs will be and how you will deliver your goods or services.

Conclusion

In the conclusion, summarize the status quo. What is the current situation? Then make an argument as to why your business proposal is an appropriate response to a specific need. Be realistic and discuss potential problems of the plan, such as barriers to implementation, biases and limitations. Follow the final section with documents that support your plan, such as insurance policies, resumes, loan forms and other financial information, partnership agreement, inventory and patent or trademark documentation.