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’re writing about: we’re 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’re 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?
About the Author: Olessia Smotrova-Taylor is President and CEO of OST Global Solutions, Inc. (http://www.ostglobalsolutions.com), a capture and proposal consulting company that helps clients win government contracts.