How to Write an Executive Summary

  Reviewed by: Jayne Thompson, LLB, LLM
  Written by: Beverly Bird      Updated October 25, 2018
Businessman typing on laptop

You might have a great idea for a worthy project, but it could go nowhere if the report you've prepared to support your pitch remains unread. An executive summary condenses the report into a succinct overview, bringing the most important information to the forefront – literally. It’s a separate document that goes along with your report, placed right in the front.

Win Over the Audience Right at the Start

The ultimate goal of an executive summary is that it will win over your audience before the reader even gets to your report or if he doesn’t want to read the whole thing. It shouldn’t exceed 10 percent of the length of your report, and in no case more than 10 pages. You want your reader to be able to get through it without investing a lot of time that he may not have at his disposal. Make your writing as compelling as possible because this may be your only chance to state your case if your audience doesn't read on to the details contained in your report. Your every sentence has value – each one should pique your reader’s interest.

Highlight the Key Points

Write your report first. As you read it over, make note of the most important information in each section. You’ll want to devote a small section of your summary to each of the sections already contained in your report. The sections should appear in the same order so your reader can easily find more in-depth information if he’s interested. Devote a bullet point or few sentences – at most a paragraph – to each section, explaining the information you’ve chosen to highlight. Avoid repeating the same statements you made in the report – put a new spin on the information.

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Consider Your Business Idea

Depending on your project, the sections of your report – and, by extension, your summary – will differ. You’ll want to begin with an introduction and end with a conclusion, both of which should serve as bookend sales pitches. But the meat of your report and summary will be dedicated to your specific project. If you’re asking for funding for a project, for example, your report will include a section giving details about your company and a mission statement, both of which should be reduced to a few lines in your summary. Another section of the report might be dedicated to a financial statement. Use your summary to give bottom line figures without the details and state what financing you need from your reader.

If your goal is to merchandise a new product, your report should include a description of your market research and your findings, so devote a section of your summary to trimming this information down to manageable readability as well.

Promote a Policy Idea

If your project involves making policy changes, your report may include an explanation of the issue at hand, your suggestions, research that helped you arrive at your suggestions and considerations for implementation. You would not have to include a section that highlights your finances, but it should still address costs if your change is going to involve some expense to the company or institution. State your projected dollar amount in the summary and devote a sentence or two to explaining why it’s so important that the company make this expenditure. You can also make suggestions as to where the funding might come from.

About the Author

Beverly Bird has been writing professionally since 1983. She is the author of several novels including the bestselling "Comes the Rain" and "With Every Breath." Bird also has extensive experience as a paralegal, primarily in the areas of divorce and family law, bankruptcy and estate law. She covers many legal topics in her articles.

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