How to write an executive summary that wows the right people
Get the funding or approval you need with a stellar executive summary
So you’ve completed an 83-page report about your company’s IT systems, and it is loaded with insightful information. This was a big project, and it feels good to have it done. You must now get your company’s top-level brass to buy into your findings and suggested solutions.
That’s where the executive summary comes in.
What is an executive summary?
An executive summary is a short, easy-to-digest section at the beginning of the report that lists your process, findings and suggestions.
Your executive summary should be more than just an introduction to your report. It should give anyone who reads it a fair understanding of the report and the inspiration to read it in its entirety.
What is in an executive summary?
OK, now you know what an executive summary is, but you must also know how to put it together. Here is the basic executive summary format and how to make each section work for you.
List the main points of interest
At its very core, the executive summary needs to hit the main points of your report.
To do this in an easy-to-read manner, create a heading for each primary point and follow it up with a brief paragraph describing the point.
Review your findings
After you’ve addressed the main points of the report, you’ll want to discuss the results or findings, including:
- What did you learn about your company during this study?
- What was good?
- What needs improvement?
You don’t need to go into great depth here. Simple bullet points of what the study found will suffice.
Introduce and justify your conclusion
Your report likely led to favorable and unfavorable discoveries that can lead to changes in how you operate moving forward. Did your good discoveries tell you where you should ramp things up? How will you address the bad?
This is where your execs will really tune in. In fact, they may jump right to this section, so you want to make it shine.
Don’t simply state what changes you want to make. Use the report’s findings to back up your conclusions and, if possible, make projections on how this will improve the company.
Whatever you suggest will take money, manpower or both. This is where you can communicate with the people who must sign off to make it happen.
How to make a good executive summary great
If you haven’t figured it out by now, your executive summary is arguably the most important part of your entire document. If it’s not done well, the people who matter most may never bother to dig into the rest of the report.
Here’s how to make your executive summary shine.
Write it last
Even though your executive summary will be the first part of your document, you want to save it for last. If you try to write it first, you’ll likely have to go back and update it as you make new discoveries throughout your report.
Write the report in its entirety and take notes of the most essential points. These essential points will be the skeleton of your summary. That way, when the report is complete, you’ll know what the most critical pieces of information are and how much room you can dedicate to each in the executive summary.
Like a great novel or any other piece of writing, you’ll want to hook your reader from the beginning. If there is an amazing statistic, finding or projection relevant to the study lead with it. Pique their interest.
Don’t be afraid to bring up profits, losses or other things you may think are “sensitive.” These are exactly what the top-level executives must focus on.
Once you’ve hooked your readers with a great opening, keep the writing interesting throughout the summary. It doesn’t have to read like Shakespeare, but it should flow naturally and be interesting to read.
Don’t give everything away
While you want your executive summary to highlight the most important parts of your report, you want people to read the rest of the report too.
Keep the spoilers to a minimum to entice them to read the whole report. Think of a great movie trailer: It tells you what the movie is about through great snippets, but it makes you want to buy a movie ticket to see the whole thing.
We know. This may sound contradictory to our earlier point of keeping the writing interesting, but the two are not mutually exclusive.
Succinct writing can be very interesting because it stays on track. A great way to do this is to not worry about succinctness during your first draft but go back and cut your word count by 25% afterward.
You’ll find it’s easier than you think, and your writing will be a lot better when you’re done.
Remember your goal and knock it out of the park
The biggest key to writing a great executive summary is to remember why you are writing it in the first place.
You’re writing to get the executives and others to read the summary, learn what they really need to know and want to learn even more from the rest of the report. You want them to understand why you’ve come to certain conclusions and why you are making the suggested changes.
As long as you keep that in mind, you’ll do fine. But add in a few of our other tips to refine your writing and focus, and you can knock your executive summary out of the park.
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