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 interest so it gets read. Here we provide some tips and an executive summary example.
What is an executive summary?
An executive summary is a summary of the key points of your document, whether it’s a business plan, a marketing plan, an academic paper, or a business proposal. By reading the summary, you get the most important information found in the full report. For example, an executive summary of a business plan highlights the key points found in the full business plan. It won’t have detailed information on your products or services, target market, market strategy, management team members, and the future course of action for the business. These details are found in the main part of the business plan.
How to write an 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. The following steps can help if you’re not sure who to write 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 that you will use to write the larger document.
2. Understand your audience
Tailor your executive summary to the interests and level of understanding of your audience. Consider what they know, what they need to know, and why they should care about your document.
3. 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, but this will depend on the overall length of your document. Aim for brevity, keeping it to about 5-10% of the document’s length. 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. People who have limited time can read your executive summary first and read the rest when they have more time. An executive summary should be a standalone document that can be understood independently of the full report. Use simple, clear language and avoid jargon. If your executive summary is for business and includes financial information, only highlight the key points that are found in the longer document.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
An effective executive summary should be written with your target audience in mind. For example, what’s important for a small business might not be important for a large business or government agency.
Executive summary examples
Here’s an executive summary example from a larger business proposal. It mentions the key points in the document so that a busy decision-maker can quickly get the information and read more later.
Eastern Brands supplies hosiery at competitive prices throughout Australia. The company is owned and operated by Michael Warner, who has extensive experience in a range of industries including corporation apparel and transportation and logistics. The products are sold through vending machines in multiple workplaces and public locations.
With over one million customer journeys on Melbourne Trains each weekday, the demand for vending machine stockings will be significant. To meet the needs of female commuters, Eastern Brands is proposing to place hosiery vending machines in Melbourne Trains stations, beginning with Flinders Street and Melbourne Central stations as a trial, before rolling out the service to more stations. With a warehouse in Melbourne, a reliable supplier and backup suppliers, we are able to ensure that the machines will be adequately stocked at all times. Each machine holds 250 pairs of stockings and will be stocked weekly. Vending machines are electronically monitored and can be re-stocked more regularly if needed.
Eastern Brands is dedicated to customer satisfaction. Should a problem arise with dispensing stockings, a customer service contact number will be displayed prominently on each machine. Stock can be dispensed remotely or other actions can be taken to resolve any issues that arise. Machines are stocked with our Ooh Laa La branded product. They come in average, tall and extra tall sizes, and are 50% to 60% less expensive than comparable stockings sold in retail outlets.
Several marketing initiatives will be undertaken to ensure that commuters know about their availability in stations. These include a launch where free samples will be given out, advertising within the stations and attention-getting vending machine designs.
Eastern Brands has policies and procedures in place to ensure safe operation of our staff while stocking and maintain machines. In addition, we have public liability insurance covering our machines and employee activities.
Melbourne Trains will benefit by improving customer convenience and adding a revenue stream from the machines through a commission of 40% on all merchandise sold. Requirements from Melbourne Trains are minimal and include a small amount of space in a high-traffic area with power point access, and access to the machines when stations are open so that machines can be stocked. On acceptance of our proposal, we will install one vending machine in each station within 30 days. Upon completion of the trial period, we propose to install additional machines at other stations that have passenger volumes to support the machines.
Here’s one from an IT company’s proposal to a major bank:
The XYZ Bank of Australia (the Bank) needs IT systems that offer industrial-strength reliability and flexibility that enable users to choose their services. To gain a competitive advantage in the changing marketplace, where traditional financial institutions are challenged by new, cutting-edge entrants, basic IT offerings need to facilitate the development and use of innovative solutions. The pricing of these offerings needs to reflect the value individuals gain from their choices.
TFG signed the Charter with the Bank to move to a new master services agreement structure. This pre-negotiated contractual framework has enabled TFG to proactively consider the additional value it can provide to the Bank in 2006 by transforming the desktop and service desk functions currently delivered by TFG and other parties, including in-house departments.
TFG is now able to provide a formal contractual offer that incorporates the following elements:
- a convenient desktop and help desk services medium-term contractual arrangement under which TFG will transform existing services, operate them and then provide a flexible contractual agreement where the Bank can in-source, transfer to another supplier, or leave the services with TFG
- a new desktop and workplace services environment
- contracted service quality improvements
- significant savings on current operating expenditure at competitive market rates (supported by an independent benchmark attached)
- consolidation of multiple help desks into one leveraged facility run by TFG
- a firm commitment to continued innovation.
TFG guarantees to deliver $x million of savings to the Bank in the financial year 2006/07 under this proposal and a guaranteed $x million in savings over a three-year contract period.
And here’s an executive summary for a case study:
As a multidisciplinary practice, organisational structure and design is essential for improving organisation performance. This is illustrated in the Training4Work case study. Training4Work is a training organisation that delivers short courses and ongoing training programs. The goal of the company is to become a ‘training organisation of choice’.
Despite having an innovative approach and highly skilled professionals on staff, enrolments are not increasing. The CEO has requested that the HR Manager identify the reasons behind the organisation’s problems and how these are related to organisational structure. Based on these findings, the Senior HR Manager’s role is to develop recommendations to resolve the issues that are hindering growth.
Issues at Training4Work
The organisation has a number of cultural and organisational issues that are impeding performance.
- Cultural issues. It is believed that cultural issues generally arise from the organisational structure. At Training4Work, for example, employees from one division believe they are superior to employees in other divisions and there is a lack of clearly defined roles and procedures.
- Communication and vertical linkages. Changing technology has affected the way people communicate. These new challenges are evident at Training4Work, where there is a lack of communication between departments.
- Information fulfilment. This is defined as having access to complete knowledge to undertake a task. Course information provided to administrators at Training4Work is incomplete, so employees lack information fulfilment.
- Poor accountability and decision making. A well designed structure enhances efficient decision making in organisations. At Training4Work there are several layers of management, which results in poor accountability and decision making.
Current Organisational Structure
As demonstrated in the literature, organisations need structure to effectively achieve common goals. Training4Work has a mechanistic structural design — a functional structure applied with vertical linkages. In this structure, units are created based on a common function or process, such as sales, training and marketing.
At Training4Work the functional structure creates an advantage by allowing for skills development which maximises functional performance. But the structure also has many drawbacks, such as slow response times, as only top level management has broad knowledge and decision making authority. Poor accountability is another shortcoming – due to weak links between products and functional units, it is nearly impossible to correlate profits of individual products to the expenses of individual departments. Others drawbacks of the structure at Training4Work are lack of innovation and a restrictive organisational view.
A configurational approach identifies patterns and relationships within the complexity of organisational elements, such as strategy, structure and processes. Using this approach, it appears that Training4Work has characteristics of a ‘professional bureaucracy’. This type of organisation is characterised by the size and power of the technical core, which generally has highly specialised professionals.
The functional structure at Training4Work inhibits authority and control, impedes communication and decision making, and doesn’t allow room for innovation or creative thinking.
This report recommends that Training4Work consider addressing current issues by restructuring the organisation to improve its growth and effectiveness. The company has been structured to operate mechanically, but a flatter structure that does not have clearly defined boundaries separating employees and management (such as a hybrid structure) would be more suitable and effective. Research has shown that a hybrid structure enables the transfer of knowledge between departments. This can have a positive impact at Traning2Work. In addition, co-ordination between departments will become easier and employees will gain skills used in other departments.
For organisational strategy, this report recommends that Training4Work set clear and focused goals, and the strategies to achieve them. To do this, top management could implement a differentiation strategy to provide a unique product or service that adds value, so customers see the company as the ‘training organisation of choice’. In addition, the report offers a number of recommendations that could improve organisational strategy and help Training4Work become the ‘training organisation of choice’.
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