The Quick and Easy Guide to Executive Summaries

An executive summary is a distinct part of a report that provides an overview of the project. The executive summary is meant to guide readers, especially non-technical readers, through your main points while persuading them that your report is valid. As the author, you direct the readers' attention to highlights that strengthen your "argument."

The reader of an executive summary is likely a different audience than the full document. Often managers use the executive summary as their primary decision making tool. Non-technical audiences may use the summary only, rather than read the complete report. Even technical readers may read the summary in full, and only go to the individual sections of the report that interest them.

Executive Summary Formats

There are two primary ways to organize your executive summary. Both provide an overview of your report. Both set audience expectation and aid evaluation of the project. But each has a different focus and strategy.

The Mini-Document format organizes the summary using the same order as the body of the report. After a brief introduction, each major heading or section of the report is quickly summarized. (The headings should match those in the report exactly.) The Mini-Document summary works well for technical experts familiar with your subject matter and used to reading reports. It also balances methodology with analysis and recommendations.

The Brochure format is organized to highlight those sections of the report most relevant to the audience. It does not try to provide on overview of the complete document. Rather it prioritizes those section most important to persuading the reader of the validity of the report's conclusions and recommendations. The Brochure summary works well for non-technical audiences or for readers who want to come to a quick decision based on a few highlights of analysis.

Style Tips

Executive summaries are shorter than a full report, but should function as a "stand alone" documents. While the author may hope the audience will read the full report, in reality, sometimes only the executive summary is read. The writer should maximize the effectiveness of the shorter summary. Some suggestions:

Written By: George Knox © 2017
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