How To Write An Executive Summary

Whether you are in banking, real estate, insurance, law, education, or any other type of business organization and you write long business documents, you probably need to write executive summaries for those documents. In this article we are going to be discussing how to properly write executive summaries. But first we need to look at what an executive summary really is.

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What is an executive summary?

An executive summary is a brief summary of a long report, article, recommendation, or business proposal.

An executive summary should be written in such a way that the reader can get the essence of the whole document through reading only the executive summary. The executive summary is usually written for people who do not have the time to read the whole document and as it should be written in a way that enables the reader to make a decision based only on reading it.

What is included in an executive summary?

An executive summary should:

  • summarise the key points of the report.
  • reinforce the purpose of the report.
  • highlight the major points of the report.
  • describe any results, conclusions, or recommendations from the report.

What should the proper length of an executive summary?

Since it is a summary, it should be short but there is no rule that states what the proper length of an executive summary should be. However, the convention is that the standard length should be around between five to ten percent of the length of the original report.

Preparing to write an executive summary

It is important to note that an executive summary should address the following main points:

  • Purpose
  • Problem
  • Problem Analysis
  • Results of analysis
  • Recommendations

Here are some of the questions you need to be asking yourself. Make sure the summary answers all of them.

Purpose

  • What is the purpose of the document?
  • Who are you trying to impress?

Problem

  • What is the issue that needs addressing?
  • Why is it an issue?
  • Why is it important that the issue be addressed?

Problem Analysis

  • What can be changed or improved by addressing these issues?

Results of analysis

  • What are the major findings or results you came across while researching the issue?
  • What methods did you use?
  • How valid, reliable, and credible are your sources?

Recommendations

  • What can be done to address this issue?
  • How will your recommendation help?
  • What is the next step?

Writing an executive summary

It is important to realise that the executive summary is the first substantial thing your reader is going to see in your report or proposal. It may also be the only thing your reader will go through before making a decision.

For many people, getting started is the hardest part. You might be asking yourself, “How can I write a summary before I begin writing the report?” However, even though the executive summary appears at the beginning of the report it is normally written last.

Since the executive summary is written after the report has been prepared, the first thing you need to do before writing the summary is to review the full report, identifying the purpose, the major points. After that, get into the writing and here are the steps:

  • Start with a brief introduction that includes the purpose and major points of the report, such as the problem, need, or goal.
  • Then write about the decisions that needs to be made.
  • Create a thematic heading for each main point in the same order as they appear in the full report and write a brief paragraph about each point.
  • Then write recommendations in which you discuss the benefits of the recommended action. Include the expected outcome and the reasons why they should choose your option.
  • Finally end with a call to action

Common mistakes to avoid when writing an executive summary

An executive summary is a stand-alone document that should make sense on its own without any additional information. However there are some common mistakes you should avoid:

  • Do not get too lengthy or wordy – keep it less than 10% of the whole report.
  • Make it unique. Avoid cut and paste.
  • Do not use too much technical jargon. Make it easy to read even to a layman.
  • Avoid using passive language.
  • Avoid repeating the content of the executive summary almost verbatim in the report.
  • Do not providing too much background and too much detail in the summary. There are pages for that.
  • Avoid using different data in the executive summary from the data in the report. Whatever data the executive summary includes must be included in the report.

Juliet Muturuki

Quantity Surveyor and Freelance Writer.

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