How to Write an Executive Summary
Executive summaries briefly and comprehensively summarise lengthy reports, outlining the key ideas, conclusions, and arguments of the longer document.
Because there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to pour through the extensive reports most businesses rely upon, executive summaries are a vital tool in the corporate world. It is often said, in fact, that an executive summary is the single most important part of a business document or report.
These summaries, they are often reviewed in place of reading the full paper, it is important for executive summaries to encapsulate all the relevant information and give thorough roadmaps of their reports so that readers can quickly flip to relevant pages for more details in specific areas of interest.
Though they are sometimes confused with abstracts (like those used in academic papers), executive summaries are entirely different because they outline an entire paper, rather than merely showing the subject of the document. As with abstracts, however, it is the responsibility of the paper’s author to write the executive summary that precedes it.
The Importance of Executive Summaries
For businesses, executive summaries are essential tools for maintaining workflow. They give valuable employees the opportunity to identify rapidly which documents are worth reading, which are worth browsing, and which should be set aside, this frees up critical time for executives and managers to spend accomplishing vital tasks for the company. It also allows them to stay abreast of a wide variety of relevant information without dedicating hours each day to reading reports.
On the other hand, potential investors also use executive summaries to vet business plans. So in the world of startups, a weak executive summary could easily derail a budding business before it ever launches.
The fact of the matter is that decision makers can only read so much in the course of a day. So if authors want their work to be paid attention, they must first sell it with a convincing pitch. To this end, executive summaries are a necessary and essential part of running a business, from start to finish.
Crafting a Standout Executive Summary
The best executive summaries are brief, convincing, and relevant. They give readers a strong, clear argument; they provide concrete suggestions, and they explain how to begin implementing the recommendations or findings.
A general rule of thumb is that executive summaries should be about 5% as long as the primary document. At very most, they can run up to 10% in some cases. But because the goal is to convince without losing attention, the shorter your executive summary can be, the better.
Executive Summary Contents
The following 5 points are the core components that every executive summary needs:
- Accessible Language: The tone, language, and writing style must be tailored specifically to the target audience. Write in the style most appropriate for those you seek to reach.
- A Summary: Yes, you must summarise your summary. The first paragraph should provide a compelling and extremely brief synopsis of the summary. Get your reader hooked from the start, demonstrate relevance, and keep it concise.
- Ordered Information: The summary must be written in the same order as the longer document. You want to provide a roadmap to the longer piece.
- Recommendations: Executive summaries should provide the conclusions and argumentative thrust of the longer document. Tell readers how, why and where the information is applicable.
- Conclusion: Use the last paragraph to sum things up, reassert the central point, and explicate the relevance of the paper. Why is this important? Why now?
Different Types of Executive Summaries: Matching Purpose and Process
There are two kinds of executive summaries.
The first is a summary of a report or article, which usually attempts to explain and/or contextualise research or findings.
The second is a proposal or recommendation of some sort, which tries to convince readers to take some concrete action.
The format is largely the same, but there are nuances in the way each of these unique summaries should be executed. For each, answer the following questions:
- What is the document about?
- Why is the report/article relevant? What is the purpose?
- What are the main findings or conclusions?
- How can these findings be applied?
- What is the document about?
- What is being proposed?
- Why are you making this suggestion?
- What action should be taken next and how?
Executive Summary Examples
A Strong Executive Summary Looks Like This:
Opening: Internal Audit ran a performance review of the Westside Warehouse to assess whether daily operations there were in compliance with our established procedures and policies.
Findings: The audit found workers in accordance with all but two areas of policy: (1) the amount of documentation used to track inventory, cycles, and credit; and (2) the implementation of recently mandated resource and energy conservation policies. The report outlines three top-priority and two low-priority recommendations for improvement. (See Table 2, page 5) [Or you could use bullets to list the specific recommendations, assuming they are brief]
Conclusion: Warehouse management responded by developing plans and disciplinary actions to implement our recommendations. Internal Audit must now track the implementation to ensure compliance.
A Weak Executive Summary Looks Like This:
Without proper documentation, accurate inventory tracking becomes impossible, performance analysis is skewed, and underperforming workers cannot be held accountable. When energy and resources are wasted, profit margins plummet. The following report discusses how the Westside Warehouse has failed to implement the proper documentation and energy efficiency practices as dictated by our organisation-wide standards. In a recent review by Internal Audit, these failures were discovered and subsequently discussed with the warehouse’s management. The paper makes a series of recommendations for bringing the warehouse back into compliance and advises management to perform a follow-up internal audit on the location. If these recommendations are followed, we expect performance and profit margins to rise at the Westside Warehouse.
So, in conclusion, executive management jobs are amongst the most lucrative and sought-after positions in the corporate landscape. As the economy continues to improve, many new executive jobs are opening up, particularly for young professionals. So for those looking to rise in the corporate ranks, being able to convey complex ideas concisely and save company time is an important way to stand out in the workforce.
By learning to write an excellent executive summary, you can boost your job prospects and advance your career.