A guide to writing an executive summary.
Not sure how to sum up your large business document? Learn how to write an executive summary and what information to include for best results.
Business leaders are busy — they like to know what they’re getting into before diving in. An executive summary is a great way to introduce a larger business document that will keep all parties interested and invested. If you’re looking to convey the most important aspects of a business plan or report, learning how to write an executive summary is crucial.
What is an executive summary?
An executive summary is a brief description (summarization) of a larger business document, and it’s usually the very first section of the paper. It can even be a standalone presentation or document you send to interested parties in hopes of encouraging them to take a more in-depth look at the rest of your document. An executive summary can span anywhere from a few paragraphs to several pages.
The goal is to summarize each section of the document that follows and provide any key information about the company, project, individual, or department. That way, you can share your executive summary with others to entice them to read the rest of your paper.
Why writing an executive summary is important.
An executive summary is an essential component of writing any business document, from business plans to research reports. Here are some of the key reasons why an executive summary is beneficial for different types of reports:
- Business plans. An executive summary in a business plan provides an overview of the business, including its objectives, target market, competition, financial projections, and growth plans. The summary helps investors and stakeholders quickly understand the business idea, evaluate its potential, and make informed decisions.
- Research reports. It’s essential to have an executive summary in a research report to summarize the research objectives, methodology, findings, and recommendations. The summary helps readers to quickly understand the research topic and its significance, assess the credibility of the research, and apply the insights to their work.
- Proposals. In a proposal, an executive summary summarizes the proposal’s key features, benefits, costs, and expected outcomes. The summary helps decision-makers quickly understand the proposal’s value proposition, assess its feasibility, and make informed decisions.
- White papers. An executive summary in a white paper provides an overview of the problem, the proposed solution, and the benefits of the solution. The summary helps readers quickly understand the issue, assess the credibility of the solution, and determine if the paper is worth reading in full.
Options: How to write an executive summary.
Now that you understand what should be included in an executive summary, let’s explore how to write one effectively. Depending on the type of document you’re creating, there are specific strategies to keep in mind. Below are some tips on how to write an executive summary for a proposal, business or marketing plan, and a research paper or case study.
How to write an executive summary for a proposal.
- Understand the purpose of your proposal, and tailor your executive summary format to that purpose.
- Begin with an attention-grabbing statement that summarizes the main idea of your proposal.
- Summarize the key features of your proposal, including the problem it addresses, the proposed solution, the benefits of the solution, and the costs and timeline involved.
- Emphasize the unique aspects of your proposal and the advantages it has over competing proposals.
- Include a call to action that encourages readers to take the next step, whether it’s accepting the proposal or scheduling a meeting to discuss it further.
How to write an executive summary for a business or marketing plan.
- Understand the purpose of your business or marketing plan, and tailor your executive summary format to that purpose.
- Begin with an attention-grabbing statement that summarizes the main idea of your plan.
- Summarize the key points. Your key points could include your target market, marketing objectives, strategies, tactics, budget, competition, financial projections, and growth plans.
- Emphasize the unique aspects of your business or marketing plan and the advantages it has over competing plans.
- Include a call to action that encourages readers to take the next step, whether it’s approving the plan, investing in your business, or requesting more information.
How to write an executive summary for a research paper or case study.
- Understand the purpose of your research paper or case study, and tailor your executive summary format to that purpose.
- Begin with an attention-grabbing statement that summarizes the main idea of your case study or research paper.
- Summarize the key points. For a research paper, the key points should include the research objectives, methodology, findings, and recommendations. For a case study, the key points should include the problem, solution, implementation, and results.
- Emphasize the unique aspects of your case study or the significance of your research and its potential impact on the field.
- Include a call to action that encourages readers to take the next step, whether it’s applying the lessons learned to their own situation, requesting more information citing your research, or conducting further research on the topic.
What to include in an executive summary.
Since you can use executive summaries in a wide variety of applications, there’s not always a standard format to follow. When writing an executive summary, consider which information to include based on the type of executive summary. For example, resume executive summaries might have different information than a business proposal executive summary.
Despite the variety, most executive summaries should cover at least a few key components:
- Summary or mission statement
- Problems and solutions
- Background information
- Market research
- Business model
- Financial information
- Recommendations to proceed
Some of these sections might not be relevant to your particular document, so you’re welcome to add or remove sections as needed. Just make sure you do include your paper, proposal, or resume’s essential information.
How long should an executive summary be?
The length of an executive summary can vary depending on the purpose and type of document it is summarizing. As a general rule of thumb, an executive summary should be no longer than 10% of the length of the entire document. For example, if your business plan is 20 pages long, your executive summary should be no more than 2 pages.
However, for certain types of documents, such as research papers or case studies, the executive summary may be shorter, spanning only a paragraph or two. The length of an executive summary for these types of documents will depend on the complexity and length of the original document, as well as the intended audience.
When is writing an executive summary beneficial?
Knowing when to write an executive summary can be as important as knowing how. A variety of business documents use executive summaries. Here are just a few of the most common applications:
- Business proposals
- Financial reports
- Sales reports
- Marketing proposals
- Professional resumes
If you have a business document that’s several pages long, it’s not a bad idea to include an executive summary to let interested parties know what the document is about before they take time out of their busy schedules to read it in its entirety. A summary can be especially useful when pitching your ideas to potential investors or clients.
Executive summary template.
Here is an example template for an executive summary:
Briefly introduce the purpose of the document and provide context for the reader.
- Table of contents
Write these in the form of a bulleted list.
- Problem or opportunity
Identify the problem or opportunity the document addresses and why it’s important.
- Solution or recommendation
Provide an overview of the proposed solution or recommendation.
Describe the potential benefits of the proposed solution or recommendation.
- Market analysis (for business plans and marketing proposals)
Discuss the target market, competition, and marketing strategy.
- Financial analysis (for business plans and financial reports)
Present financial projections and analyses, including cash flow, profit and loss, and balance sheets.
Summarize the key points of the document and emphasize why the proposed solution or recommendation is the best option.
- Call to action
Encourage the reader to take the next step, whether that be to invest in the business, approve the proposal, or continue reading the full document.
This is just an example template. The sections can be modified to fit the specific needs of the document. The key is to ensure that the executive summary provides a clear and concise overview of the larger document, highlighting the most important points and encouraging the reader to continue reading.
Making your document presentable when writing an executive summary.
An executive summary is, in a sense, a kind of presentation. To make it more engaging, many professionals choose to make executive summary presentations in Microsoft PowerPoint. That way, you can formally present the information and increase interest from all parties.
PowerPoint files aren’t always great for sharing. If you need to email or share your executive summary presentation, it’s best to convert your PowerPoint to a PDF first using an online PDF editor like the one found in Adobe Acrobat online services. How? Simply follow these three easy steps:
- Visit the PDF converter tool.
- Upload your executive summary PowerPoint.
- Download your converted PDF file.
Once downloaded, you can send your PDF executive summary to anyone without worrying about formatting or compatibility issues, no matter which device they use.
More resources on business reports and documents.
Now that you’ve learned how to write an executive summary, here are more resources on business reports and documents:
- Learn how to digitize documents.
- Learn how to collaborate on documents.
- Learn how to send secure PDFs.
- Learn how to redline a document before signing.
Discover what more you can do with Acrobat online services to simplify business document creation and management.