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, management team 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.

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. People who have limited time can read your executive summary first and read the rest when they have more time. 

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.

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 example

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. 

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