Writing an executive summary for reports, proposals and other business documents is an important step. An executive summary makes it easy for readers to get a quick overview of the document and can create the interest so it gets read.

Writing an executive summary does not have to be a frustrating experience? By following these tips the next time you need to write an executive summary, you will take the stress out of the task.

Woman executive at a desk writing an executive summary.

1. Start the executive summary after the document has been finalised.

The objective of the summary is to review what is contained in the rest of the document. So make sure you have a final version of the document before you begin writing the executive summary. I remember someone suggesting that the executive summary should be written first and act as a guide for writing the rest of the document. But this does not make sense because you will often change the content and structure after you complete a draft of the document and begin reviewing it. If you want to create a guide before writing, create an outline.

2. Keep it short when writing an executive summary.

The executive summary should convey the objective and key points of the document in the fewest words possible. It is often recommended that the maximum length of the summary not exceed one page.  For some academic publications, the rule is that the executive summary should not exceed 10 per cent of the word count for the rest of the publication. In a business environment, where decision-makers are overwhelmed with information, the shorter the better.

3.  Make it easy to read

As with the rest of the document, write the executive summary so that it can be read easily. This means avoiding complicated words, long sentences, jargon and corporate buzzwords. You can also make the summary easy to follow by using bullet point lists.

4. Be consistent

Use the same terminology and order of content in the executive summary as in the main part of the document. For example, if one of the main sections is called Project Goals in the document, don’t write this as Project Objectives when referring to this section in the executive summary. Also, keep the information in the same order. If one part of your proposal covers Objectives, Challenges, Proposed Solutions and Benefits, keep these in the same order in the executive summary.

5. Don’t include new material when writing an executive summary

The summary should only include what is covered in the publication. You should not try to embellish and add new material. Also, the executive summary should not be an introduction – if you think the document needs an introduction, then it should be a stand-alone section. Typically, the introduction would come after the executive summary.

The executive summary is an essential component in many business documents and publications. Writing an executive summary is probably the last thing that you feel like doing after completing a long document. But following the tips outlined will make the task easier and enable you to create an effective summary.