The executive summary and introduction are two parts of a company’s business plan, research paper or other important document. The introduction is the first section of the document. It explains what the document is about and why you have written it. An executive summary is the full document, which can be 20 to 30 pages or more, condensed down to a few bullet points or paragraphs. You should be able to get the gist of the entire document simply by reading the executive summary.
An introduction explains what the document is about and may contain your aims and objectives. An executive summary is a condensed version of the entire report and can be read as a standalone document.
The main difference between these two sections is their purpose. The introduction to the document is like the first 10 minutes of a movie in which you find out what the story is going to be about. The remainder of the document provides the full story. The executive summary, in the other hand, is the entire movie script, condensed to a few short paragraphs. It is prepared for busy executives, lenders and investors who may not have the time to read the entire document. Instead of having to study 20, 30 or more pages, the reader just has to digest this extremely condensed version presenting the most important aspects of the document and why the subject matter is relevant to them.
The executive summary generally contains a series of bullet points or paragraphs that present the other sections of the document in brief. In the context of a business plan, for example, it might contain a summary of the sections pertaining to market need, the company’s exciting solution to that need, target customers, marketing plan, milestones reached, competitive advantage, key management team members and capital needed. A business plan's executive summary would then end with a table showing the projected profit and loss statement in summarized form.
The introduction introduces the document and explains what it is about. Again in the the context of a business plan, the introduction would discuss what business the company is in and describe the products or services the company offers. It might also include pictures or drawings of the company's products. The introduction merely sets the scene. You cannot understand what the entire document is about simply by reading the introduction.
The introduction is normally written first because it covers the most basic information about the company and does not require research or financial projections to complete. It should be written in an engaging manner that clearly shows the writer's aims and objectives in writing the document. The executive summary is written last, after the full document is completed. The writing style for the summary is focused on brevity, providing highlights rather than lots of details. Include as many key points as you can using as few words as possible. The reader can find further explanations and answers to questions he may have in the full document.
A lack of clarity diminishes the effectiveness of both the executive summary and the introduction. Don’t assume the reader has just as much knowledge as you do, and will instantly get the points you're making. In the case of the executive summary and the introduction – and for that matter the full document or report – ask experienced business people to read them and provide feedback regarding any concepts that aren’t completely clear. The executive summary in particular has to be sharp, to the point, and compelling enough that the reader understands all the important elements of the text.