Perspicacious Priyadarshi

Thoughts, Observations, Interpretations

Archive for June 13, 2007

Proposals: Effective Executive Summary

What are the essential elements of an executive summary? This has been a common question in all the interviews I have appeared for the position of a Proposal Writer. I have a readymade list to answer this question. However, some questions sprout in my mind as a reflex action. Is the Proposal Writer actually the owner of the executive summary section? When should be the executive summary written at the beginning or end of the proposal development process. Who reviews the executive summary? And so on.

The executive summary section which appears as the first chapter of a proposal is like a web portal’s home page. Its stickiness will only ensure the readers’ continuous attention through the subsequent sections that may be running through hundreds of pages. The executive summary is like an editorial of a business magazine which essentially introduces all the highlights and important articles or news items of that issue. The executive summary plays a critical role in deciding the success of a proposal. A proposal may be having different categories of audience. If the reader is a CIO or from the topmost level of management who does not have enough time to read all the pages should be able to understand the soul of the proposal by reading the executive summary. If the reader has time and reads the proposal from cover to cover, the executive summary will help to understand what is available in detail in the subsequent sections.

As a Proposal Writer, writing the executive summary is the most challenging sub-task while publishing a proposal. You need to assume that you are the editor of a magazine and based on what you write in the executive summary the audience will react. And the reaction has to result in a win. Otherwise the week or month-long effort of putting together hundreds of pages of information will go in vain. Here are some of the important things you should keep in mind while drafting the executive summary:

  • The proposal's executive summary has to contain a sales orientation. To make it so, you have to think like a sales person and act like an editor.
  • Present abstracts of key ideas or solutions you are proposing to the customer in logical flow. Each idea should be present in at the most two or three sentences. 
  • You can give links or references to sections where the ideas are presented in details. Give the linkages in such a way that does not require to much of effort to manage last minute changes. Otherwise, you will have change the links every time there’s change in the number of pages, etc.
  • Use the right word, right statement, and right flavor in your writings. Your writing should reflect clarity of thought, logic and sans redundancy of unnecessary content.
  • Use heading and subheadings judiciously. Try presenting a long list of information in bulleted list. 
  •  Avoid repetition of ideas, jargons, phrases, ambiguity.
  • Read, re-read and if possible rewrite the executive summary before sending it for review by others.
  • Try writing at least two or three different executive summaries and choose the best among them.
  •  Avoid using graphics or information that requires graphics to understand.
  • Put yourself in the shoes of the customer and read the final executive summary. Do you see it addressing all your concerns for which you had invited bids? If yes, you have written the right stuff. If no, rework.
  • Finally check grammatical and spelling errors. Check for consistency in tense. Ensure parallelism. Stick to one version of English language (US, UK, Australian or whatever). You must have set the language well in advance though.
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