Writing an Executive Summary

Executive writing is different than academic writing! An executive summary is a “quick preview” of a report’s contents. It is often the only source of information used by decision-makers to reach significant decisions.

Executive summaries are literally written for an executive, or decision-maker, who most likely DOES NOT have the time or inclination to read the original document.  They will be reviewing your findings and looking at your recommendations. 

So, make sure your executive summary includes all the pertinent information. Think about what an executive would need to know in order to make a decision about changing a policy, undertaking an action, or spending money and then provide that information as specifically and concisely as you can.

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Purpose

An Executive Summary aims to:

  • Provide a brief overview of the whole document so that executives or managers could read the executive summary alone without the accompanying document
  • Allow the reader to quickly understand the information contained in the document
  • Help readers draw conclusions and make decisions based on the data
  • Persuade the reader that the document is worthy of being read

Simple Rules

  • Give readers the essential contents of your document in a small quantity of pages (typically 5-10% of the total document). Check with your instructor concerning the word length.
  • The summary should be original: don’t copy and paste sentences from the full report
  • Use bullet points, subtitles, or selective bolding to improve clarity and to make it easier for the reader to skim
  • Use active verbs, “we will do it” not “it will be done by us”
  • Be concise: remove all unnecessary words; omit lengthy transitions and examples
  • The summary should not have reference citations
  • The language should be for the general, educated reader, not for the technical expert
    • Avoid highly technical language, and briefly define any technical terms you must use
    • Spell out any uncommon symbols, abbreviations, or acronyms
    • Avoid jargon, legalistic words, and bureaucratic language
  • The summary should communicate independently of the report. Ask someone not familiar with the report to read your executive summary to see if it makes sense.

Format

Executive Summaries are provided on a separate page at the beginning of the report before the Table of Contents.  They should cover in brief statements the aim of the report, methods used, major findings and conclusions/recommendations.

1. State the purpose/aim of the report. For example:

The main purpose of this report is to…
The main objectives of this report are …
It is the purpose of this document to …

Make sure you present the main message of the document.

2. Describe the procedure that you used. Outline the methods you used to analyse the situation.

3. Provide the results of the study. The major findings may include a number of sentences.  What did you observe, discover or understand?

4. Conclusions and recommendations should also be provided.  This is the most important part of your Executive Summary.  Provide a concise statement of the conclusion you reached after conducting your analysis and/or research.  Provide a specific recommendation for action geared toward your audience.

Examples and Additional Resources

Executive Writing (UBC)

Executive Summaries (Texas A&M University)

Good and Poor Examples of Executive Summaries (UniLearning, University of Wollongong)

Writing an Executive Summary (Griffith University)

Writing Guide: Executive Summaries (Colorado State University)


Last updated April 5, 2017