How to Write an Executive Summary

The executive summary serves as a concise overview of a more extensive report, business plan or proposal. It covers the main essence of the document, offering key insights, objectives, and recommendations. Crafting a compelling executive summary requires clarity and precision as the writer needs to distil complex information to highlight the most pertinent points of the report. 

The executive summary provides decision-makers with the key takeaways from the document. It can help provide a first impression of the purpose and objectives of a project or research report and help the target audience save time when digesting the report. 

Why is an executive summary important?

The executive summary lets readers understand what they will learn from the document. It offers a concise way to share your main points without losing the reader's attention. Sometimes, decision-makers use the executive summary to decide whether to invest further attention in a project or outcome.

A summary can also provide all of the vital information your stakeholders need without them having to read the entire report. This is critical because in today's fast-paced business environment, leaders often need more time. The brief nature of the executive summary helps to inform decision-making and create engagement with the whole document.

What are the benefits of including an executive summary in a business proposal?

In summary, the benefits for readers include reduced time, clarity, actionable insights and recommendations.

How should an executive summary be structured?

An executive summary will vary in length depending on the problem, but an effective report typically comprises several key components, including:

  • The Introduction: Good executive summaries start by introducing your project. Include a brief, engaging overview of the document's purpose and scope to capture the reader's attention.
  • Problem or opportunity: Clearly state the issues or opportunities being addressed.
  • Main points: Summarise the main findings, solutions, or recommendations presented in the document and highlight the key point in the sequence.  
  • Key Metrics: Highlight the most significant data, learnings or outcomes to justify the findings. 
  • Conclusion: Offer a concise summary of the key points and actionable insights.  

What are the key components of an executive summary?  

  • Identify the need or problem to solve

Identify the need or problem the report or project aims to solve. Outline the scope of the issues the report or project addresses, how important they are to the organisation, and their current impact.

  • Outline solutions and recommendations

Give an overview of the possible solutions to the issue and the key recommendations from the report for the project. Give a description of the solution and an overview of what would be involved in the implementation and how feasible it is. You can provide more detailed information in the actual report itself and refer to the location of the detail. 

  • Summarise the benefits and impacts of the recommendations

Give an overview of the solution's potential value and benefits, such as improved ROI, speed, or increased sustainability.

  • Conclusion

Give a short summary of the recommendations, implications and resources needed. Direct the reader to parts of the report that expand on the summary. 

Best practices for writing a compelling executive summary

  1. Complete your overall business plan or project plan first:  It’s essential to complete the plan before the summary to establish your main points and recommendations.
  2. Target Audience: ensure you have an understanding of the target audience for the summary and their requirements. 
  3. Ensure you accurately describe the problem, the solution and the benefits: All executives must define the original problem to help readers quickly understand the issue, the solution you are proposing and the benefits of that solution.
  4. Check your executive summary length: As a general rule, it should be about 10% of the length of the entire document.
  5. Be concise: The summary is intended to save time for busy executives, so make sure each point is as short and transparent as possible.
  6. Include supporting research: Support the claims you make in your summary with data or research. You can cite these sources of research as footnotes in the summary to refer to later in the document. 
  7. Create the story: Rather than just a list of data and facts, you need to create the whole story clearly and concisely with a compelling introduction and background to your company or business and the problem you are solving.
  8. Maintain Consistency: Ensure tone, style, and formatting consistency throughout the summary.
  9. Proof and edit: Remember to proofread and edit before sharing with stakeholders.

What common mistakes should be avoided?

  1. Making it too long or too short: it’s common to make these too long or too short. Ensure you accurately describe the problem you aim to resolve, the solution, and the benefits.
  2. Forgetting key information: Ensure that you have referenced supporting data and include the feasibility of the solution and benefits.
  3. Lack of clarity: Make sure your summary is clear and concise, and don’t use flowery language or jargon.

If you need to send your report to the board of directors or stakeholders, you can use Docusign to ensure they have received it. You can also create a template to send a report. Find out more about creating an executive summary template.