Skip to content

How to Write an Executive Summary

Whether you work in banking, real estate, insurance, manufacturing, law, education, or another profession, you’ve likely had or will have to write an executive summary. In this article, we’ll discuss tips for writing relevant and useful executive summaries.

Let’s dive in!

What is an Executive Summary?

An executive summary is a concise summary of a longer document or proposal, intended to give readers an understanding of the main points without having to read the entire document. It’s an important tool in business and academic settings, used in reports, business plans, research papers, marketing proposals, and more.

Executive summaries are not background and not an introduction. People who read only the executive summary should get the essence of the document without fine details. 

What Should be Included in an Executive Summary?

An executive summary should be tailored based on the document’s content and intended audience. Components of an executive summary may include:

Introduction: Begin with an introduction that provides context about the document or project. This could be a brief description of the company, project, or proposal the summary is derived from.

Example: “XYZ Corporation, established in 2010, is a leading provider of sustainable energy solutions targeting mid-sized industries.”

Project or Business Summary: Clearly state the objective or mission of the business or project. This should succinctly convey the main goal or purpose.

Example: “Our new project, ‘Green Future’, aims to revolutionize the energy sector by providing affordable, efficient, and eco-friendly energy solutions to 50 industries within the next three years.”

Problems and Solutions: Highlight the primary challenges or problems addressed in the document and outline the proposed solutions or strategies to overcome them.

Example: “The industrial sector contributes to 40% of global carbon emissions. ‘Green Future’ proposes to reduce these emissions by 20% by integrating solar and wind energy sources.”

Background Information: Offer relevant background details that can help the reader understand the context, such as the history of the project or the motivation behind a business idea.

Example: “Over the past five years, XYZ Corporation has collaborated with top energy researchers to devise a hybrid energy model that is both sustainable and efficient.”

Market Research and Competitive Advantage: Summarize market research findings, emphasizing what sets your product, service, or project apart from competitors.

Example: “Our market analysis indicates a 25% increase in demand for sustainable energy in the next decade. Unlike our competitors, our patented energy conversion technique ensures a 95% efficiency rate.”

Business Model: Briefly explain the business model or strategy that will be used to achieve the objectives stated earlier.

Example: “We operate on a subscription-based model, allowing industries to receive continuous energy updates and maintenance services for a fixed monthly fee.”

Key Findings or Results: If applicable, present any significant findings or results derived from the main document, especially if they validate the approach or solution proposed.

Example: “Pilot testing in five industries resulted in a 15% reduction in energy costs and a 10% decrease in carbon footprints within a year.”

Conclusions or Recommendations: Depending on the nature of the main document, wrap up the summary with conclusions drawn from the data or any recommendations for future actions.

Example: “To achieve a greener industrial future and meet global carbon reduction targets, adopting the ‘Green Future’ model is not only beneficial but essential.”

As for length, while there’s no strict word count, the summary should be concise enough to be skimmed in a few minutes but detailed enough to deliver the main points. Typically, it should be about 5-10% of the length of the original document, ensuring it doesn’t overwhelm the reader with too many details.

Tone and Language in an Executive Summary

Tone and language can have a meaningful impact on how your summary, or any written communication, is received. Some things to keep in mind:

  • True to Your Company and Audience: Tailor the tone of your executive summary to reflect your company’s culture and the intended audience. For instance, if you are a startup addressing young entrepreneurs, a slightly informal and energetic tone might be appropriate. Conversely, a report for corporate stakeholders should be more traditional and formal.
  • Balanced: While it’s essential to be optimistic and highlight the positive aspects, avoid overselling or making unsupported claims. Strive for a balanced perspective that gives an honest and realistic view of the situation or proposal.
  • Clear and Understandable: Not all readers might be experts in the field. Avoid technical terms or industry jargon unless necessary and, if used, provide brief explanations. The language should be simple, straightforward, and free from ambiguity.
  • Engaging: While brevity and clarity are essential, it’s also important to engage the reader. Start with a strong opening statement that captures attention, and use persuasive language to emphasize the importance and relevance of the content.

Tips for Writing an Executive Summary

  • Identify the Problem or Need: Before diving into the solution, clearly articulate the problem or need your project or proposal addresses. This sets the context and justifies why your solution is necessary.
  • Keep it Concise: The executive summary should be a standalone piece that summarizes the key points. It should provide brief context about the document or project but should not repeat the background or introduction sections. Avoid directly copying content from the body of the document into the executive summary. 
  • Prioritize Key Points: Focus on the most vital aspects of your report or business plan. It’s about selecting the most impactful information that will drive your primary message home.
  • Use a Logical Structure: Organize your summary in a manner that flows logically. Begin with the problem, followed by the solution and benefits, and end with expected results or a call to action.
  • Engage Your Reader: Use persuasive and clear language. Your goal is to convince stakeholders, so your tone should be confident and authoritative.
  • Don’t Overuse Jargon: While some technical terms might be necessary, overloading your summary with jargon can alienate readers who might not be familiar with specific industry terms.
  • Align Content: Whatever the executive summary highlights must be included in the report. Likewise, the report should not contain major points that did not appear in the summary.
  • Call to Action: Don’t forget to include a compelling call to action if you’re presenting a proposal or solution. This is where you encourage the reader to take the next steps, be it funding your project or approving your proposal.

Examples 

Fictional Example 1: Here is a fictional summary of a proposal on sustainable housing design.

Executive Summary

Purpose of Report

GreenTech Innovations, a pioneer in sustainable technology, is excited to present a proposal for its latest project, “Eco-Safe Homes”. This proposal aims to revolutionize the housing sector by integrating eco-friendly technology into the architectural designs of residential homes.

The current housing market often overlooks sustainability in favor of short-term profits. This leads to wasted energy, higher bills for homeowners, and increased carbon footprints. Our mission is to create residential spaces that not only serve as comfortable homes but also contribute positively to the environment. 

Greentech Innovations’ architectural designs use solar energy, rainwater harvesting, and other sustainable technologies to combat these challenges. We plan to collaborate with real estate developers and offer them our sustainable designs. 

Findings and Conclusions

Our research indicates a growing demand among consumers for sustainable housing options. Unlike our competitors, who often integrate just one or two green features, our designs encompass a holistic approach, making them both eco-friendly and cost-efficient in the long run.

Pilot projects have shown a 60% reduction in energy bills for homeowners and a 40% decrease in carbon emissions compared to traditional homes. Furthermore, 85% of our surveyed customers expressed higher satisfaction living in an “Eco-Safe Home”.

Recommendations

We recommend real estate stakeholders to adopt and invest in our sustainable designs. By doing so, not only will they cater to a growing market demand but also play a pivotal role in driving the change towards a sustainable future.

 

Fictional Example 2: Here is a fictional, one-page summary of a report on the participation in the newly-implemented recycling program by the city of Bloomington, IN.

An example of an executive summary of a report on participation in the newly-implemented recycling program by the city of Bloomington, IN

Helpful Resources

Other helpful resources on writing executive summaries:

 

Posted by Avatar photo
By Lyna Nguyen

Lyna has 15 years of experience working in the financial services industry. She has deep experience producing a wide range of business communications, including research reports, business plans, training presentations, memos, and investor communications.

Lyna's professional experience includes roles at several large financial institutions, including global banks and asset management firms. She has both Master's and Bachelor's degrees in Accounting.

49 comments on “How to Write an Executive Summary”

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    Lynn

  • 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?

  • 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?

    Lynn

  • Jan,

    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.

    Maria

  • 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

  • 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.
    Lynn

  • 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.

  • 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.

    Lynn

  • 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.

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

  • 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.

    Lynn

  • 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

  • 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!

    Lynn

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

    Lynn

  • 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!

    Lynn

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

    Lynn

  • Thanks Lynn, this is one of the better articles I’ve come across in my research about writing an Executive Summary.Good suggestions in the comments also.One “trick” I sometimes use with our staff is “How would you explain this to your grandma. She loves you, but not enough to endure five or ten minutes of confusing and boring jargon.”

  • Hi Larry,

    Thank you for the compliment. I like the grandma suggestion. I would not take it too far though because the audience for the executive summary may be experts. Rather than simplicity, the key may be a focus on the essential point or points.

    Lynn

  • Thanks for the information about How to write and prepare an executive summary and it was very relevant to what I was looking for. at first i did know i thought that an executive summary is like a paragraph or some many sentences one should write thank you so much.

  • mam!!! its great . to have this information . but what should we do in a executive summary for a business report where we already received a template for the whole document … it would be grateful if u reply me

  • Silpa, I’m not sure I understand your question yet. If the template includes a place for an executive summary, include it. If it doesn’t, I’m not sure how you might handle it. Perhaps another term is used to describe the section, maybe just “summary”?

    Lynn

  • All this talk telling people who to write something, and yet you don’t even provide one example document? That’s not very good teaching practice.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *