An effective executive summary will be able to stand alone, because decisions may be made based upon the strength of the executive summary alone. The best strategy for writing the executive summary is to organize it according to the sequence of information presented in the full report.
Other things to consider include:
- Do not introduce new information that is not in the report.
- Write the executive summary last, after you have completed the report and decided on your recommendations.
- Make the length of the summary proportional to the full report it summarizes, typically 10-15 percent. Most executive summaries are one to two pages.
- Write the summary at the lowest level of technicality, translating specialized terms and complex data into plain English.
- Avoid personal comments such as “this report was very interesting” or “the author seems to think that….
- Organize the summary according to the sequence of information presented in the full report.
- End the summary with a one- or two-line recommendation for action along with the justification for the proposed action using terms the audience will consider important.
Look at first and last sentences of paragraphs to begin to outline your summary. Find key words and use those words to organize a draft of your summary; look for words that enumerate (first, next, finally); words that express causation (therefore, consequently); words that signal essentials (basically, central, leading, principal, major) and contrast (however, similarly, more than, less likely).
Sample Executive Summary
The following example of an executive summary is from the Colorado State University online Writing Studio:
Susie’s Cookies began as a small business in Cleveland, Ohio, which has expanded to include 45 stores throughout the Midwest. Plans have already been instituted to expand sales nationwide, using the same “mall-concept” marketing strategy, which has proven successful in the Midwest. Despite these plans, Susie’s Cookies may be in danger of bankruptcy.
Susie’s quadrupled its sales in the last two quarters, realizing a profit of $750,000 in the current year, an increase of $250,000 over the previous year, due to its increase in advertising. To realize equivalent sale figures nationwide, however, it is projected that advertising costs will increase by 200% for the first two years of the national expansions.
Further, construction costs for the new stores are estimated to be 20 million dollars. The result of increased advertising and construction costs will put a substantial debt burden on Susie’s cookies, an estimated $750,000 to 1 million a year. Given that sales did not reach current levels in the Midwest until the 45 stores had been operating for five years, projected sales nationally will not cover expansion costs. As a result, Susie’s Cookies is likely to show a loss of almost $2 million for at least the next five years.
Due to the high advertisement and development costs of national expansion, Susie’s Cookies may not be able to continue doing business in the future. Therefore, we recommend that Mrs. Field’s does not participate in the hostile takeover under consideration because the threat of competition will not be realized.