Writing a Good Executive Summary - Guidelines for Students

Published: 26th January 2006
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Writing an Executive Summary is very similar to writing any other sort of Summary, in that its main purpose is to condense, simplify and highlight a larger document. An Executive Summary, however, is usually written intended for an audience that does not have time to read the entire document. It is usually read by key decision maker/s, such as Executives or policy makers, regarding whatever the proposal or report addresses, and the Summary aims to convince or persuade the audience to take certain actions.

An Executive Summary is sometimes referred to synonymously with a scholarly Abstract, although an Abstract differs slightly in its purpose and function. An Abstract in a scholarly report is simply a shorter version or overview of the entire document. It is like an extraction of the whole document and retains the general sense of unity as the original. The Executive Summary, on the other hand, does more than give a Summary or overview.  It lends more insight into the significant messages in the proposal or report, and the conclusion and justification of that proposal. The Executive Summary informs the reader what is being proposed in the report, makes recommendations, and tells the reader what response is instigated by the report.

The Executive Summary is usually no longer than 10% of the main document, which can be anywhere from 1-10 pages, depending on the length of the entire report. It will most often follow a cover page, and will include several elements. The elements used in or omitted from any given Executive Summary will vary according to each proposal or report's intended audience and purpose. Elements commonly included in Executive summaries include purpose and scope of document, methods, results, conclusion, recommendations and any other supportive information. Again, the Summary will highlight the proposal recommendations for action by listing or outlining various goals and objectives, and making justifications for the recommendations. The conclusion will summarize research findings and analysis of the research that then lead to the reasoning for specific recommendations mentioned in the proposal or report.

In order to write a good Executive Summary, you must understand the function of the Executive Summary. To reiterate the guidelines above, the Executive Summary's function is to give readers essential contents of the main document in 1-10 pages. The Summary will preview the main points of the document and enable readers to build a mental framework for organizing and comprehending the details of the document. It will help readers determine key results and recommendations in the document, and hopefully induce an initial response. 

Writing a strong Executive Summary is quite feasible if a student is careful about preserving its traditional purpose and function to aid readers in comprehension and cause initial persuasion.  Executive summaries should not be written until after research is complete. Before writing an Executive Summary, scan research to determine what the content, length and structure of the report will be. Highlight key points or main ideas, and determine the central theme or purpose of the report. Review research and determine what the major concepts and ideas are. Group ideas in a logical and coherent way by constructing a point form outline of the Summary before proceeding to the actual Summary. Edit the outline several times before going on to the actual Summary, eliminating any secondary, irrelevant or inconsequential points or ideas. Decide when bullets, subtitles and bolding or some other form or organizational structure will help "clean up" the Summary or make it easier to read. Remember to make the Summary clear, and use personal judgment upon reading it. Write it in your own words but use a professional style, as Executives and policy makers will be reading it.

For more information about writing a custom executive summary you may visit the Executive Summaries Writing section.

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Emma on September 14, 2011 said:
Good advice for students, very useful.

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