How to Write an Executive Summary
  • 3-minute read
  • 5th April 2019

How to Write an Executive Summary

Whenever you write an in-depth business document, you should include an executive summary. This, as the name suggests, is a brief summary of the report itself. But how exactly do you write one?

1. What to Include in an Executive Summary

The precise format of an executive summary will depend on what you are summarising. However, as a general guideline, try to include the following:

  • A brief explanation of the subject matter and why it is important.
  • The results or findings of the report (plus methods used if applicable).
  • Any conclusions that can be drawn from the findings.
  • Any recommendations or proposals for what to do next.

Keep in mind that the executive summary needs to make sense by itself, as you cannot assume the reader will find time to read the full report and fill in the gaps. It must therefore contain any key details or facts that you need the reader to take away from the report as a whole.

2. Know Who You’re Writing For

Given the space available in an executive summary, it can help to write with a specific reader in mind. Before you begin, then, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Who will be reading this? What do they already know about the issue?
  • Are you simply summarising an issue or are you recommending an action?
  • How did you gather information? Did this affect your conclusions?
  • What key details should readers take away from the summary?

These questions will help you narrow down what to include in your document. If you are writing a report that many people will read, or you do not know who will read the summary yet, moreover, think about what the average person in your industry would need to know.

3. Keep It Short!

The key word in ‘executive summary’ is ‘summary’. As such, make yours as clear and concise as possible. Think about it as like the written version of an elevator pitch. The idea is to communicate the vital details and, ideally, to convince the reader to read the full report. Ideally, then, your summary should be no more than 10% the length of the overall report.

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4. Format for Skim Reading

If possible, include charts, graphs and bullet points in the summary. These can highlight key details so that skim readers do not miss anything important. You can also break up the summary into sections with clear headings, which will help readers find information at a glance.

5. Avoid Unnecessary Jargon

When you’re trying to make your point clearly, industry jargon can get in the way. This isn’t to say that you can’t use technical language when necessary. But, whenever possible, try to express your ideas in simple terms (the complicated stuff can go in the full report).

Summary: How to Write an Executive Summary

When writing an executive summary, keep the following tips in mind:

  1. Make sure your executive summary makes sense by itself, and that it includes all of the key details you need your reader to take away.
  2. Think about who will read the summary, then tailor it accordingly.
  3. Make sure it is no more than 10% as long as the overall report.
  4. Use formatting, bullet points and section headings to boost readability.
  5. Keep the language used simple and avoid jargon wherever possible.

And make sure to get it proofread before you finish. That way, you can be 100% sure your executive summary is typo free and ready to use!

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