Business Writing

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Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

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May 29, 2013



If you are lucky enough to be writing mainly for one executive, know your executive and what they want to see.

Have someone who cares a lot less than you write the summary - one thing I see hurting summaries is having people (including me!) with a lot invested in the writing being unable to let even one little beloved detail go. A little distance can give a lot of perspective.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Jennifer, great suggestion. Thanks!


Jeannette Paladino

The executive summary is not the table of contents but you still might put the page number next to each of your main points. A CEO might want to go directly to the recommendations, for example.

James Venis

Oh, I like Ms. Paladino's idea!

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Jeannette. I agree with James. That's an excellent idea!


Mafuzur Rahman

Can you help me any suggest?

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hello, Mafuzur. I may be able to help you with suggestions. Do you have a specific question?



I advise people to put what matters most into their executive summaries. Writers should highlight only the most interesting, startling, unique or important points in the paper. For example, if a report has 10 findings, don't pop them all into the executive summary in a bland list. Identify the top three findings and hit them hard in the executive summary. This way, the writer most likely will compel the reader to read on. If a reader doesn't read the whole report, he or she at least gets the major points.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Diane. Thanks for your excellent suggestion.

I agree that important points belong in the executive summary. I can think of situations, though, where interesting, startling, or unique points might pull the summary in an unusual direction.

I like your closing sentence. We definitely want the reader to get the major points from our executive summary.

Thanks for sharing.


S Sunil Kumar

Hi Lynn, thanks for the article. it is of great help. if i have to evaluate an executive summaries or commentaries, what could be the major parameters which can be used for evaluation?

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hello, S Sunil Kumar. Your question sounds like one a professor would ask.

I would evaluate an executive summary the same way I would evaluate any type of business writing. For example, I would ask:

It is clear? It is concise? Does it meet the readers' needs?



if i may ask what executive summary report should not contain?



The one topic that I have read consistently on various websites, is that the Executive Summary should never contain numbers or figures for the desired budget. What I read is that the CEO or potential investor sees that number and it sticks in their minds throughout the presentation; sometimes a decision has already been formed before the presentation has been completed, based on the dollar figure, and not on the positive qualities and potentials of what is being proposed. Hope this helps.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi Jan,

The key to what doesn't belong is this: The executive summary is a SUMMARY. Don't include anything that doesn't help to summarize the document.

Please review the common mistakes in my article above. They include a couple of examples of things that do not belong in executive summaries.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi Maria,

Thank you for responding to Jan.

You are correct that in a persuasive document, you may decide not to include a dollar amount in the executive summary. The reasoning, as you suggest, is that the reader needs to appreciate what the dollars will create or buy before knowing the exact dollar amount.

Yet it depends on the reader and the purpose of the document. Some readers want to know at the beginning whether the request is for $20,000 or $200,000. And in some documents, the purpose is not to persuade but to inform. For example, the purpose might be to explain to the reader how the $200,000--which has already been approved--will be spent.

Because of the many documents that may include an executive summary, I would not suggest that the summary should NEVER contain numbers for the desired budget. It depends.

Thanks again for commenting.

Lauren Ruiz

Thanks for this post.

I frequently see the first mistake: people repeating from the executive summary verbatim.

I'm an editor who searched the topic for some back-up and found your helpful post.

Lauren Ruiz


Suppose you are a manager at a Construction Company and you have completed a project regarding the construction of a bridge. Write one page report to the CEO of your company regarding the success of the project.


i need complete format for this report with thanx

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Moon, a well-written report should answer the reader's questions, such as:

--What's this about?
--Is the project complete?
--Was it on time?
--Was it on budget?
--Does it meet all the requirements of the contract?
--Has it passed all inspections?
--Is there follow-up to be done?
--What else do I need to know about the project?

You would probably use headings, paragraphs, and bullet points to convey the information.

Good luck.


Natalie Maya

I thought this information was very valuable, I am writing a research paper for Cal Poly Pomona and this is something that most people are not taught until grad school or running a business. However it is proving to be an essential part of a professional and educational career.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Natalie, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Good luck with your paper.



Superb .Thanks for sharing sucH A Good points on Executive summary ..

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

You are welcome!


Entails oadisun

Please send some useful hints how best to review report .Equally best possible way to write official letters

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

The best way to review a report is to assess whether it achieves its goal. If it's a site report on a manufacturer, does it report on the essential aspects of the site's efficiency and productivity? If it's a business trip report, does it share only the relevant information about the trip? Does the report supply the information a reader would want--without providing unnecessary details?

The best way to write official letters is to write them so people can understand them and accept their conclusions. If I had to write official letters on the job, I would ask for examples.



Thanks all of you.This I am come cross of paramount importance because I am doing my internship and an executive summary is one of the gap that i have to fill so as to provide a full report.I am from BURUNDI-BUJUMBURA

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Good luck!



I am looking for a formal executive template to use for my user acceptance testing/sign off with the business

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi Kim,

I don't have such a template. If you can't find one that is already developed, think about the questions your executive summary needs to answer. You can find two bulleted examples in the article above.

Good luck!



Short, sharp and informative. I also found contributions in the comments section useful. I think we need to pay a little more attention to articulating our 'elevator speech'. Many times we are caught up in the projects that we only provide executive summaries as after-thoughts whereas they are probably the only aspects that senior leadership will ever read fully.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

AR, I agree about senior leadership. Thanks for making that important point.



great post

Barry Eager

Hi Lynn,
I enjoyed reading your article.. wondered if you have a a view on the inclusion of highlevel figures in a Sales proposal i.e. Request For Proposal.
Like a similar example above, I believe it depends if a beneficial example can be offered.
This might suggest the investment of "X" will increase revenue by "Y" and improve customer satisfaction by "Z".
Some of my colleagues suggest you should never include such an investment summary as it might draw detrimental conclusions too early, such as being too costly.
I'd welcome your view.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi Barry,

Here's what I said on the subject in a comment above:

"You are correct that in a persuasive document, you may decide not to include a dollar amount in the executive summary. The reasoning, as you suggest, is that the reader needs to appreciate what the dollars will create or buy before knowing the exact dollar amount."

I agree with you that it depends whether an example would be beneficial.

Another solution might be--if truthful--to say that the proposal offers three solutions at price points ranging from X to Y. How does that sound?



Hey Lynn,
I'm in a group project for a second year business course and i'm doing the executive summary on a report. We're supposed to make recommendations for a fictitious Family business who wants to make wine and I don't know what format to use and please can you elaborate on your 7th common mistake please?

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi Tokoni,

The format you choose for the executive summary depends on the content of the report. So the report has to be done before you can summarize it.

If the report contains six recommendations for the fictitious family, your summary might introduce and list those recommendations, and then the report would flesh them out.

Regarding Point 7, the final summary would, of course, not list the recommendations again. It would probably summarize the need for them.

Good luck!



Hi Lynn,

In an executive summary, is it ever appropriate to cite the page number (or location) of a particular point, term, etc. from the source document? And if so, what is a good way to do that?

The purpose being that if the reader of the exec summary wanted more information about a point, they would know where to go in the source document to find it.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Fish, it would be fine to include (page 6) just a few page numbers in the way I just showed. If you felt you needed many such citations, a table of contents would make more sense.

I apologize for the delay in responding. I am traveling in Central America and staying away from the Internet.


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