The ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ of writing an executive summary

New to proposal writing? Wondering what an executive summary is, why you need one and how to get it right? Let’s start by consulting the dictionary to figure out the ‘what’:

Executive – (adj) relating to or having the power to put plans or actions into effect; (noun) a person with senior managerial responsibility in a business.

Summary – (adj) not including needless details or formalities, brief; (noun) a brief statement or account of the main points of something.

In other words, it’s a brief statement making main points – without needless details – designed to be read by a person with the power and responsibility to make decisions. 

Your primary target audience has the power to make decisions about which proposal to accept, to best put their plans or actions into effect. They’re also responsible for getting it right.

That leads us to the ‘why’. The executive may never read your proposal in its entirety but needs to understand its gist. Your executive summary enables them to be part of the process, ask better questions and make informed decisions. 

What about the person reading the proposal? They may receive dozens of proposals, with the difficult task ahead of them of reading through tens of thousands of words per day. A well-written executive summary makes the most important points, acting as an anchor to help them make sense of what follows. It’s easy to miss critical information when reading through a long text. Your executive summary should make their life easier – and they’ll be grateful for it! 

Of course, your ‘why’ is to win the bid, and that means your executive summary is a powerful sales pitch. In a few paragraphs, you have the chance to summarise your entire argument for why your company should be the one to win the bid!

Lastly, the ‘how’. To write a great executive summary, you need to put yourself in the shoes of the busy, time-poor people tasked with ensuring they choose the best provider to make this project succeed: at least one executive and one manager. You need to be succinct and to the point, while also being compelling. 

As the ‘summary’ suggests, you’ll summarise your proposal – making your main points and leaving out needless details. Imagine if you had to tell someone what your proposal was about while standing on one leg – what would you definitely leave in, and what would you cut?

It’s also important that your executive summary should be the last part of your proposal that you write – never the first! The details of your proposal can and often do change during the proposal development process, and the best way to make sure it’s an accurate, well-considered executive summary is to be summarising a proposal you’ve completed.

A well-written executive summary is a win-win for everyone concerned: your company, the executive and the manager that reads through your proposal. Take advantage of this opportunity to put your best foot forward!