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How to Write an Effective Executive Summary for 2022

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Wondering how to write an executive summary? This tutorial breaks down the process into five easy steps and explains the importance of an executive summary template. 

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Business proposals look professional when you create them with a premium proposal template like this one from Envato Elements.

People are busier than ever, including the readers of any document you create. So, learning how to write an executive summary has become an essential skill in today’s workplace. Some experts even say that many people only read the executive summary of a document. And so, if you write proposals and reports for work, it’s a good idea to master how to write an executive summary.

In this tutorial, learn how to write an effective executive summary that engages the reader. Discover tips and specific examples for how to write an executive summary for a business plan, project, or report. Plus, find the answers to the most frequently asked questions about writing an effective executive summary.

The design and layout of the entire document affects how well it communicates. Make sure you create an attractive document by starting with a premium executive summary templates for Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or other formats. 

5 Steps to Write an Effective Executive Summary

It can be daunting at first to write an effective executive summary. You’re wondering:

  • What should I include in the executive summary?
  • How long should it be?
  • Do I even need an executive summary?

We’ll cover all these questions later in this tutorial.

For now, let’s make it easier by breaking down the entire process, step by step. To make a well-written executive summary, follow these steps:

1. Read the Entire Document Through

You can’t write an effective summary if you don’t fully understand the document in the first place. And so, the most logical way to begin is by reading the entire document straight through.

Don’t take notes, and don’t worry about having to summarize everything yet. Just focus on gaining a solid understanding of the document.

You can be sure you’ve done this step right if, after reading the entire document, you know:

  • the goal of the document
  • its intended reader
  • the style and tone
Don’t skip this step even if you wrote the document yourself! When you’ve been working on a document for too long, it’s easy to be too immersed in the project. That means you have a hard time seeing the bigger picture. And the big picture is exactly what you need to show in a summary. So, if you wrote the report or proposal itself, step away from it for at least a day before writing the executive summary.

2. Deconstruct the Document’s Structure

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A well-designed business plan proposal template visually shows the hierarchy of the content.

The next step is to deconstruct the structure, narrative hierarchy, or outline of the document. The table of contents, if there is one, reflect this. So, it’s a great place to begin.

If the document doesn’t have a table of contents, then go back to the writer’s outline. But keep in mind that the final document often deviates from the original outline of a piece. This means you’ll have to cross-reference the outline with the final document.

By the end of this step, you should have a clear picture of how the document is organized. You should know what its main ideas are and the supporting details of each main idea.

3. State the Document’s Purpose in One Sentence

Now it’s time to start writing! A great place to begin is to write the document’s purpose or goal in one sentence. If you understand it well, then you should be able to do this easily. Below are a few examples.

For a business proposal:

"This is a proposal for the establishment of an indoor commercial greenhouse within the premises of Acme Corporation."

For a project:

"This report covers the results of the 2021 rebranding campaign."

For a research study report:

"Is YouTube advertising effective? That’s the question this research endeavored to answer."

4. Express the Main Points

Now that you’ve stated the objective of the document, go ahead and cover each of its main points, one by one. What these specific points will be depends on the nature of the document. Below are some specific examples of how to write an executive summary for a business plan, project, and report:

How to Write an Executive Summary for a Business Plan

The main points of a business proposal executive summary may include:

  • goal of the proposed project
  • components of the project
  • budgetary requirements
  • responsible persons
  • timetable
  • next steps

How to Write an Executive Summary for a Project

The executive summary of a report may have these components:

  • project goals
  • activities implemented
  • outcomes and results
  • recommendations

How to Write an Executive Summary for a Report

And the executive summary of a research study report would have these main points:

  • research goal
  • methodology
  • key findings
  • further research

5. End With the Document’s Conclusion and Call to Action

When you’ve covered the most important points of the document, you can end the executive summary by stating the conclusion. Again, the exact nature of the conclusion depends on the document itself. It could be a statement, a call to action, a recommendation, or a combination of these.

Below are possible ways of ending different types of executive summaries.

For a proposal:

Given its potential benefits and minimal costs, the Green Committee calls on the Management Team to approve this proposal.

For a report:

We conclude that the 2021 rebranding campaign was a success. We also recommend that the lessons learned from the campaign be shared with other branches so that they can apply them in their own projects.

For a research study:

The researchers concluded that YouTube ads can be an effective way to achieve advertising goals. However, more research needs to be done to determine which factors are most important to increase their ROI.

Putting all these steps together, here’s a complete executive summary example:

Is YouTube advertising effective? That’s the question this research study endeavored to answer. The researchers conducted an online survey among randomly selected YouTube advertisers. A total of 80 advertisers responded. The main findings of the study are: (1) The majority (65%) of YouTube advertisers spend 10% of their advertising budgets on YouTube ads. (2) The average ROI of YouTube ads was 20-30%. (3) Almost all respondents (92%) will continue to use YouTube ads and, in fact, 94% plan to increase their spending on YouTube ads. The researchers concluded that YouTube ads can be an effective way to achieve advertising goals. However, more research needs to be done to determine which factors are most important to increase their ROI.

5 Tips for Writing an Executive Summary

You now have the steps to writing an effective executive summary. But before you follow the steps, keep these tips in mind:

1. Write It Last

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Read the entire document through first and write the executive summary last. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Even though the executive summary is placed at the beginning of a document, you should write it last.

Why? Because it summarizes the entire piece. Make sure to finish the whole document first before attempting to write the executive summary. Otherwise, you may end up with a summary that doesn’t fully align with the rest of the document.

2. Follow the Document’s Tone and Style

Stay true to the writing style and tone of the document. If it’s a formal document, then the executive summary should have a formal tone. If the document is more conversational, then the executive summary should be conversational as well. It would be jarring to your reader if the executive summary was casual, and the rest of the document had an academic style.

3. Make It Scannable

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Choose a scannable layout, like these premium proposal templates from GraphicRiver.

The executive summary is meant to be digestible and easy to read. Stick to short sentences and paragraphs to make it scannable.

Design and layout plays a big role in making your document scannable. Choose executive summary templates with plenty of white space. And use typography to make the structure and hierarchy of the document clear.

4. Don’t Go Into Details or Discussion

Because an executive summary is a synopsis, don’t include details or any in-depth discussion of ideas. Include only the most important details that support the key ideas. Keeping in mind that your reader may not read past the executive summary, which details do they need?

As an example, the executive summary for a research may need to mention that an online survey was conducted, and 80 YouTube advertisers responded. It’s not necessary to include the specific online survey platform the researchers used.

To be fair, it takes work to judge which details are required and which are unnecessary. As a wise man once said:

Perhaps the best test of a man's intelligence is his capacity for making a summary. - Lytton Strachey, writer

5. Don’t Confuse an Executive Summary With the Introduction

Because they both appear in the beginning of the document, it’s easy to mix up an executive summary with an introduction. One way to distinguish them from each other is by remembering their purposes.

An executive summary’s purpose is to encapsulate the entire document. It gives the gist of the full “story” and can stand on its own.

But the purpose of the introduction is to draw the reader into the rest of the document. It does not make sense on its own. And you don’t want to give away the conclusion in the introduction.

Learn more about how to write an effective business proposal or report from these tutorials:

Commonly Asked Questions About Executive Summaries (FAQs)

As you write an executive summary, many questions may come to mind. Below, we’ve compiled the most frequently asked questions about executive summaries as well as the best answers for them.

1. What Is an Executive Summary?

An executive summary is a section of a longer document that gives an overview of it. Documents that are more than a few pages long need an executive summary for the benefit of its readers. It’s usually a required section in business documents, such as:

  • business plans
  • proposals
  • reports
  • business cases

Academic reports may also need an executive summary.

2. What Are Other Names for Executive Summary?

Synonyms for executive summary include:

  • management summary
  • summary
  • brief
  • abstract

3. How Long Is an Executive Summary?

An executive summary can be anywhere from one paragraph made up of five sentences, all the way to four pages long. It all depends on the length of the original document. The rule of thumb seems to be that an executive summary should be 5-10% of the original document’s length.

For documents that are less than 20 pages long, a one-page executive summary may be excessive. Decide on the final length of the executive summary based on the needs of your readers. And remember, even a 500-page tome can be summarized in one paragraph.
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Consider that some readers may only read the executive summary and skip the rest of the document. ( Image source: Envato Elements)

Create Impressive Documents With Premium Templates

A terrific executive summary is just one aspect of what makes an effective document. Another key component is the design and layout of your project. Instead of starting from scratch, make your job easier by using a premium template.

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Make the rest of your proposal stand out by using a premium proposal template from Envato Elements.

Envato Elements is a great source of premium templates. You can get unlimited downloads of templates and other creative assets for a small subscription. The Elements library is made up of professionally designed digital assets. You don’t have to be a graphic designer to produce impressive-looking documents!

Another benefit of using Elements templates is that they’re designed for easy customization. With fundamental skills in Word, Google Docs, or other applications, you can make an executive summary template truly your own.

Finally, Elements has a single license that allows you to use anything you download for both personal and professional purposes. There’s no need to worry about attribution or paying extra for a commercial license.

But if you only need a single document template, consider GraphicRiver. You'll get a professionally designed document you can pay for on a one-time basis without the commitment of a subscription. 

Make Your Next Executive Summary Your Best One Yet

You now know everything you need to know to write an effective executive summary. You know what an executive summary is and why you need it. We’ve covered what to include in an executive summary and tips for writing it well.

You also know how to make your entire document impactful and easy to read. Just start with a professionally designed premium template. For unlimited downloads at a flat monthly fee, get your templates and other creative assets from Envato Elements. For the one-off project, go to GraphicRiver for premium templates on a pay-per-use basis.

Now you know how to write an executive summary for a project, business plan, or report. Go and make your next one your best one yet!

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