How to write a winning executive summary
By definition, an executive summary is a small component of a larger report. The executive summary is supposed to be written as a concise document which summarizes the highlights of and extracts key information from the long report. If you need to write an executive summary, your best bet is to learn the proper format and understand what it means to summarize. Often the hardest part is determining how many of the key points to include, but once you get the hang of this, learning how to write a winning executive summary should be a piece of cake.
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Write the Summary LastEven though the executive summary is located in the beginning of a longer report, you should always write your summary last. This is probably one of the most important tips for writing an executive summary. Don't even consider writing the summary until your report is completed and ready to go. This ensures you only have to write it once and not have to redo the summary if the original report changes.
Since executive summaries should be designed to concisely go over the main points of the report, completing this piece as your final step ensures all revisions and important components are included to maintain integrity and accuracy. Writing the summary early on isn't logical because it's probable your report will go through many revisions during the process of writing it.
FormatThe executive summary should be written in an easy to read and non-technical format. The main point is to design the summary so the executives and/or audience can understand the information at a glance. The summary should not be long and should be written as basic as possible without missing any important key points.
Select Key PointsWhen writing an executive summary it is important to be sure to make every word count. One of your objectives should be to balance brevity with useful information. Often trying to accommodate the two can be a tricky equilibrium because you don't want to be overly wordy, yet still need to include the most valuable information to your readers. A general good rule of thumb is after you select your key points, add a sentence or two to state the intent of these purposes. Another guideline to follow is to methodically go through your key points, be sure your highlighted points are written in the same order as the long report.
Summary LengthTheoretically, an executive summary should not contain more than 10 percent dialogue of your total report. If you write your executive summary any longer than this, you'll lose your audience and defeat the purpose of the summary. And today some experts suggest no more than one or two pages.
In reality, some executives may not read all the details contained within the pages of the long report because other managerial members are responsible to do this but, on the same token, executives do need to garner enough information to get a crisp picture of the information located in the report. Keeping to the 10 percent rule ensures your piece is attractive and, if the right hook is provided in the executive summary’s intro, the full report will actually be read.
Proofread CarefullyJust as you would with any kind of business writing, you want to carefully proofread your final product. If you submit an executive summary which contains errors, typos or, worse, inaccurate and erroneous information, this can be both costly and embarrassing. It's best to avoid this potential scenario and proofread carefully. Then when you're finished, proofread it again.
If you can get a second set of eyes, this is also helpful. Often executive summaries contain numerical or statistical data and it is important this information be double checked to ensure integrity and accuracy. If there is a colleague can help you do this, ask for help. Two sets of eyes are always better than one.
By following general guidelines, writing an executive summary should be a relatively easy task to complete. Just remember to hit all your key points, list them in order, concisely describe each one, and proofread carefully. In the end, you'll have completed a solid executive summary.