An executive summary is a concise and well-written summary of a longer document or report, usually written for business purposes. Every business writes long documents—proposals, business plans, marketing reports, financial reports, etc. But sadly, because of their length, these are the ones that no one wants to read.
Decision makers usually don’t have time, or even interest to read the report. They scan the page, pick out individual words and sentences that they find useful, and leave. That is when a business executive summary plays a big role. Without having to go through the entire report, the summary presents readers with the important details that support the main ideas.
An effective executive summary should be clear, concise, and engaging, capturing the essence of the report’s main points in a compelling and easy-to-understand manner. It should help companies save time and resources by allowing decision-makers to quickly assess whether the full report is worth reading or not.
Hence it’s critical for a business to know how to write an executive summary that is conveying, attention-grabbing, and engaging. And we’ll cover the how, in this blog.
What is the purpose of an executive summary?
An executive summary is a concise overview of a longer business plan. An effective executive summary should present the key points and recommendations of the document in a clear and compelling manner, enabling decision-makers to quickly grasp the main ideas and make informed decisions.
An effective summary quickly educates the reader about the content of the document and its significance. They get the gist of the most important points, conclusions, and recommendations without going through the entire document.
The importance of an executive summary in a business context cannot be overstated. With the growing volume of information available, decision-makers face increasing pressure to process information quickly and make informed decisions. An executive summary helps them to do so by providing a brief and easy-to-understand summary of the most important information, allowing them to quickly assess the relevance and value of a particular document.
While an executive summary is usually written at the end of the process, it should be placed at the beginning of a document, immediately following the table of contents, but before the main body of the document. This ensures that the summary is easily accessible and provides the reader with an overview of the document's contents before delving into the details.
Key elements of an effective executive summary
An effective executive summary should be written in a clear and concise manner, avoiding jargon or technical language, and should be formatted in a way that is easy to read and visually appealing. The key elements of an effective executive summary include clarity and conciseness, relevance and key information, and a clear call to action, which we will explore in more detail in this section.
1. Clarity and conciseness
The executive summary should be structured logically, with the information presented in a clear and understandable manner. By keeping the summary brief and to the point, decision-makers can easily grasp the most important information and make informed decisions. The business executive summary should be free of any technical jargon or acronym.
A concise and clear summary strengthens your argument and demonstrates your understanding of complex research, which helps readers in decision-making. Clarity and conciseness also maintain the reader’s interest, ensuring the summary is engaging and easy to read.
2. Relevance of key information
Since the executive summary is the precise version of a complete business plan, it should offer the readers sufficient information for a clear understanding of what the document is about without being overboard.
Only necessary details or information (key findings, conclusions, and recommendations) that contribute to the main idea should be added to the executive summary. Irrelevant details or tangents distract readers from the main message and should be avoided. The executive summary should be tailored to the intended audience, their goals, and their objectives.
3. Call to action
An effective executive summary should assist decision-makers to take the necessary steps based on the data presented. A call to action could be a request to schedule a meeting, approve a proposal, or take any other action that will move the project forward. It should be clear, specific, and actionable, leaving no doubt about what the reader is expected to do.
The words and messages should be strong and persuasive to encourage the decision-makers to take action. Emphasize the timeline or deadline for decision-making, or explain the benefits of taking action at the right time. Does the action increase revenue, or improve efficiency? Make it clear.
What should be included in an executive summary?
Structuring an executive summary is critical to its effectiveness. A well-structured summary guides the reader through the key points of a longer document, making it easier to understand and act upon. The structure should include an introduction, background and context, problem statement, proposed solution, and conclusion, which we will explore in more detail in this section.
The start of an executive summary must capture the reader’s attention immediately. A captivating introduction can pull readers in and sets the tone for the rest of the summary. Remember, most readers just scan the document before they move any further. So make the introduction enticing and hook your readers by explaining what your proposal is and its significance. The introduction should establish the context of the document, setting the stage for why it is important and how it relates to the reader’s needs and priorities.
2. Background and context
Now that you’ve managed to captivate your readers, it’s time to provide the necessary information to understand the significance of the document’s topic. The background section should provide a brief history of the issue or problem, highlighting the key events or factors that have led to the current situation. It should highlight any external factors or trends that are relevant to the reader’s understanding of the issue.
3. Problem statement
Mentioning problems and challenges in the executive summary will make it easier for stakeholders to understand the context and urgency of the situation. A well-written problem statement clearly articulates the nature and scope of the problem, highlighting its significance and impact. Highlighting the problems will set the guideline for the rest of the report and help readers understand the need for solutions and actions.
4. Proposed solution
Now concisely explain your proposed solution and how it will deal with the problem you mentioned earlier. A well-crafted proposed solution should be based on a thorough analysis of the problem and be supported by relevant data and evidence. It should also be feasible and realistic, taking into account any constraints or limitations. A clear and actionable proposed solution helps decision-makers to evaluate the document’s relevance and effectiveness in addressing the problem.
Now finish your executive summary with a conclusion that recaps your findings, makes recommendations, and proposes solutions to problems. If you want your readers to make any decisions, add a call to action section in the conclusion. A strong conclusion can leave a lasting impression on the reader and increase the likelihood of the document’s success in achieving its intended purpose. End your executive summary with a strong statement that forms the central message of the story you mentioned in the report.
What are the five major tips for writing an executive summary?
Writing an effective executive summary requires skill and attention to detail. To ensure your executive summary is impactful and informative, it's essential to keep it brief, use simple language, tailor it to your audience, and use subheadings and bullet points. These tips can help you craft a compelling executive summary that communicates your key messages clearly and concisely.
1. Keep it brief
Readers usually hunt for key points and walk away. They have a limited attention span or lack of time or patience to go for a lengthy summary. Hence, keep your summary brief to hold your reader’s attention.
Each sentence of your summary should consist of short sentences, each containing a basic piece of information, concept, and idea. Since tables and figures have a higher impact than text, present your findings and statistics in tables and figures, which can convey a great deal of information.
2. Use simple language
If you want your executive summary to be accessible to a wider audience, using simple language makes it easier for everyone to understand better.
Using complex language or jargon can repel the readers, especially those new to the subject matter. A simple message will get your message across in the shortest time possible. There’s less chance that your summary will be misunderstood.
3. Tailor it to your audience
An executive summary that reflects the reader’s interest and concerns is more likely to grasp their attention and encourage them to read on. It reflects the unity of purpose and style
A well-tailored executive summary helps build a connection with the readers regarding why the report is relevant to them and why it is important to take recommended actions. It shows that you care about the reader’s needs and put effort into creating a document of value. It builds trust and credibility with the readers.
4. Use subheadings and bullet points
To summarize the key points of longer and larger reports, subheadings can be used to draw readers’ attention to the main points. Subheadings frame the information in an easy-to-follow structure, making it easier for users to navigate the main information.
Likewise, bullet points are very useful to break down the text into smaller and more manageable chunks that improve readability. It eliminates unnecessary details. It’s Quick to scan and draws a lot more attention to key details.
5. Leverage electronic signatures
The use of electronic signatures is an important part of executive summary creation, providing a secure and convenient way to sign and send proposals to decision-makers. Rather than having to wait for a physical signature, eSignatures allow decision-makers to sign off on proposals quickly and easily, reducing the time and effort required to get things done.
Electronic signature software also allows you to create templates of frequently used documents. By leveraging this technology, businesses can streamline their processes, save time and money, and communicate important information more effectively.
Common mistakes to avoid
While writing an executive summary, it's important to avoid common mistakes that can undermine the effectiveness of the document. Common mistakes include repeating information, lack of focus, inadequate research, and poor formatting. By being aware of these potential pitfalls, you can ensure that your executive summary is well-crafted and persuasive.
1. Repetition of information
The whole purpose of the executive summary is to provide a concise overview of larger documents. Repeating the information can be redundant and take up valuable space that could have been otherwise used for crucial information. It represents the writer's lack of organization and understanding of the original document.
However, at times, repeating certain information in the executive summary can be critical. In such a case, make sure that the repetition is brief and to the point and adds value to the overall summary.
2. Lack of focus
An executive summary that lacks focus can hinder users from understanding the key points and also cause the user to lose interest in the document altogether. The unfocused executive summary reflects the author’s need for more clarity on the main message or purpose of the document.
To avoid an unfocused executive summary, create an outline or bullet points of major information to be included before writing it down. This will help the summary stay focused. Also, revise the summary multiple times.
3. Inadequate research
If you write an executive summary without sufficient research, the summary will turn out to be incomplete, inaccurate, or even misleading. Since it is the first document readers go through, the information fetched in the document can cause them to make the wrong decisions.
To avoid such a situation, you must gather all the necessary information and conduct comprehensive research before writing the summary. Include reliable data, statistics, and research to make the summary effective and impactful.
4. Poor formatting
An executive summary with poor formatting makes it difficult to read, understand, and navigate. Moreover, it doesn’t look visually appealing. Messy text instantly makes readers feel exhausted. Though the summary might have interesting content, no one will read it.
Make your summary easily digestible and a pleasure to read by using headings and subheadings or breaking up the text into sections. Using a legible font and appropriate font size also makes the text easy to read. Include charts, graphs, and images to illustrate key points and make the executive summary visually appealing.
Writing an effective executive summary is essential for any business seeking to communicate key information to decision-makers in a clear, concise, and persuasive manner. By following the key elements of an effective executive summary, including clarity, relevance, and a clear call to action, businesses can ensure that their message is conveyed effectively and efficiently.
With eSignatures, businesses can securely and conveniently sign and send executive summaries to decision-makers, allowing them to sign off on proposals quickly and easily. This can save businesses time and money, as well as ensure that important information is communicated effectively and efficiently.
If you are interested in learning how Signeasy can help you streamline your business documents, get quick signatures and improve team productivity while creating and managing documents, try our free 14-day business trial to get started.