When Do You Write an Executive Summary?

The very worst time to write an executive summary is when the person finally gets a free hour or two right before or right after the last review. When this happens, there are simply not enough review cycles to perfect this key part of the proposal.

I still hear a debate on when an executive summary should be written first or last? I’ll bet you have heard it too. People have very strong opinions about this.

Those who have attended the various proposal writing courses are drilled in the concept that the executive summary should be written first.

Then there are the rebels who say, But the executive summary cannot be written first because we don’t know what we are writing about: are still developing and iterating the approach.

Their reasoning goes something like this: toward the end of the proposal we will know the topic and all the win themes a lot better than we do when we are just starting out. So they postpone the writing until the proposal is almost done.

Certainly the executive summary needs to be continually edited through repeated iterations, right through to the very end so that it accurately reflects and highlights the main points and thrust of the proposal as it stands when the process is complete.

The problem with starting the executive summary at the end is that it is created as a kind of an afterthought, and does not allow for sufficient review cycles to sharpen and hone the arguments, and to make this very important part of the document shine and sing!

Also, if without repeated iterations, there is no chance to polish and refine the surface details. This is a sure-fire recipe for creating an unprofessional document full of bloopers or even basic grammar and spelling errors that create a very bad first impression. In addition, you lose a great opportunity to allow the executive summary to guide the process when you leave drafting of the executive summary until the end.

When do you usually write the Executive Summary?

5 thoughts on “When Do You Write an Executive Summary?

  1. Shree Harsha says:

    I have worked with professionals who write executive summary both first and last. Professionals who write the executive summary in the first believe that this section would give them a checklist to fill in the content for the rest of the document. With the people who write last believe that then can always go through the document and reflect the same in the executive summary.

    Following are few points that can be covered in exec summary:
    1. About the company to whom solution is proposed
    2. About the company who is proposing the solution
    3. Background about this engagement / bid
    4. The solution proposed
    5. The uniqueness of the solution and differentiators
    6. Outline of the document
    7. Highlighting the key aspects with giving reference to the section in the document
    8. General value proposition that can be fine tuned as the document takes shape

    Points such as 1, 2, 3, and 8 to an extent can be drafted in first. But I believe the exec summary is not complete unless the solution is clearly depicted in the document and same to be pointed out in the exec summary. So I start writing the executive summary first and it will be complete only after few reviews through the review panel. Any modifications in the proposed solution shall be reflected clearly in the exec summary.

  2. Jason says:

    Nice article and thanks to Shree for the extra input. I guess the process of writing an executive summary depends on the individual…I personally prefer to write it last when I already have a complete picture of the proposal to reference in my mind.

    Jason Allen,
    (Elliptical vs Treadmill)

  3. Great article. I’ve been looking for information on executive summaries, and this post ended up helping more then I could have asked for. I like the simplicity of Shree’s outline.

    Cody, webmaster at Dentist Covina site.

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