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Writing an Executive Summary in Business Docs (+ Examples)

How to write an executive summary for business documents like a business plan, report, marketing plan, proposal, case study, or a project to hook readers.

Jackie Plaza

8 minute read

What is an executive summary
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Short answer

What should an executive summary include?

  1. Introduction
  2. Problem or Challenge
  3. Objective and goals
  4. Solution or Strategy
  5. Implementation
  6. Results
  7. Conclusion
  8. Lessons Learned or Call to Action

There’s an inherent risk to writing a poor executive summary

A poorly written executive summary can lead to missed opportunities, lack of clarity, lost investment, diminished credibility, ineffective decision-making, and wasted time and effort.

I’ve seen it happen too many times… But stick with me and this post will help you avoid these consequences.

Writing an executive summary is an art form. It involves defining a clear objective, condensing key information, writing a great hook, enhancing visual appeal, managing the reader’s expectations, and leaving a gap that piques their interest.

We’ll cover all this and more. Let’s go!

Why are executive summaries important?

An executive summary holds immense significance in effective communication and decision-making processes. It serves as a concise overview of a longer document, capturing the attention of busy executives, stakeholders, or investors.

Let's explore why the executive summary is so crucial and the key reasons you should pay careful attention to its creation:

  • Concise Communication: An executive summary condenses the main points of a document into a concise format. It allows busy readers to quickly grasp the essential information without having to dive into lengthy reports or proposals.

  • Capturing Attention: Executives and stakeholders often have limited time and attention spans. An engaging and well-crafted executive summary hooks their interest and encourages them to delve deeper into the details.

  • Decision-Making Tool: Decision-makers rely on executive summaries to evaluate proposals, make informed choices, and allocate resources. A clear and persuasive summary can significantly impact their decisions and support your desired outcomes.

  • Alignment and Clarity: An executive summary ensures that all parties involved have a shared understanding of the document's purpose, objectives, and key findings. It helps align perspectives and facilitates efficient collaboration.

  • Time and Resource Optimization: By providing a succinct overview, an executive summary saves time and effort for both the writer and the reader. It helps streamline communication processes, ensuring that everyone is on the same page.

  • Standalone Value: An executive summary can also function as a standalone document. In situations where a full report might not be required or feasible, a well-crafted summary can effectively communicate the main points and key takeaways.

An effective executive summary is a strategic component that encapsulates key information concisely, maximizing communication impact and achieving desired outcomes.

Executive summary writing best practices

If I could only tell you one thing about writing executive summaries it would be this: there’s no single winning approach to writing those.

Every time you sit down to write an executive summary, you have to reinvent the wheel and make it 100% tailored to that one customer, that one investor, or that one board member.

That said… There are some general tips you should always have at the back of your mind.

  1. Personalize, personalize, personalize.
  2. Write it last.
  3. Avoid cliche phrases.
  4. Use the right language.
  5. Keep it as short as possible (but not shorter).

How long should an executive summary be?

The ideal length of an executive summary ranges from 1 to 5 pages or around 10% of the full document's length. This depends on the document's complexity and length. But regardless, the goal is to provide a succinct but comprehensive overview that excites the reader to delve deeper.

How to start an executive summary

To start an executive summary, provide a clear and concise overview of the main document. Begin with a compelling introduction, summarizing key points, goals, and outcomes.

Engage the reader from the start, highlighting the document's significance and setting the stage for the subsequent sections.

How to conclude an executive summary

The best way to conclude an executive summary is by highlighting the significant impact and unique value proposition of your business.

Then end by reiterating what the reader has to gain by reading the rest of the document using concrete language tailored to your target audience.

Executive summary format and outline

There’s no one template for executive summaries you can just copy and fill out.

Depending on what your key selling points are, you’ll need to structure each of your executive summaries differently (much like you’d create different versions of project proposals, business plan introductions, or business reports for different audiences).

1. Introduction: Briefly introduce the company or organization involved in the case study. State the industry or market context.

2. Problem/Challenge: Clearly define the problem or challenge that the company or organization was facing. Discuss the implications of the problem or challenge.

3. Objective: Outline the goals or objectives that the company or organization set out to achieve in response to the problem or challenge.

4. Solution/Strategy: Describe the solution or strategy that was implemented to address the problem or challenge. Discuss why this solution or strategy was chosen over others.

5. Implementation: Detail how the solution or strategy was implemented. Discuss any obstacles or difficulties encountered during the implementation and how they were overcome.

6. Results: Present the results or outcomes of the solution or strategy. Use quantifiable metrics where possible to demonstrate the success of the solution or strategy.

7. Conclusion: Summarize the key points of the case study. Discuss the implications of the results or outcomes for the company or organization, and for the industry or market more broadly.

8. Lessons Learned: Discuss any lessons learned from the case study that could be applied to similar situations in the future.

For proposals a Call to Action instead of Lessons Learned:

Encourage the prospect to get in touch or start a free trial to create the email signature their company needs.

Each building block works together to create a concise, impactful executive summary that compels the reader to further engage with your content.

Make sure that you provide a comprehensive overview while remaining enticing and easy to understand.

Example of how to write an executive summary for a case study

We used this template in Storydoc for our Start-Up Nation Central case study:

1. Introduction: Start-Up Nation Policy Institute (SNPI), a think tank operating under Start-Up Nation Central, an NGO aimed at fostering the development of high-tech companies.

2. Problem/Challenge: SNPI was dissatisfied with the presentation of their business analysis reports, which were primarily produced and distributed as static PDFs.

They felt this format was outdated and ineffective for their tech-savvy audience.

Additionally, they lacked any form of report analytics, leaving them in the dark about who was interacting with their reports and how.

3. Objective: SNPI aimed to modernize their reporting system, seeking a more engaging, interactive format that would appeal to their audience and provide valuable analytics.

4. Solution/Strategy: SNPI adopted Storydoc, a platform that allowed them to transition from static PDFs to interactive reports, enhancing reader engagement and providing valuable content performance analytics.

5. Implementation: The implementation of Storydoc enabled SNPI to produce multiple reports per year, access full reader analytics, and perform easy A/B testing to optimize reader engagement.

6. Results: The transition to Storydoc resulted in positive feedback from stakeholders, increased reader engagement, and valuable insights from report analytics.

The platform's flexibility allowed SNPI to customize their reports to meet their exact needs and use cases.

7. Conclusion: The adoption of Storydoc has significantly improved SNPI's reporting capabilities, reinforcing their branding as a high-tech innovation think tank and providing them with valuable insights into reader behavior.

8. Lessons Learned: The case study highlights the importance of adapting to modern technologies and the needs of your audience.

It also emphasizes the value of analytics in understanding reader behavior and optimizing content for maximum engagement.

Example of how to write an executive summary for a proposal

Here's an executive summary structure based on an amazing proposal by WiseStamp, one of our SaaS clients.

1. Introduction: Introduction to WiseStamp, a centralized email signature manager solution designed to enhance the impact and efficiency of your company's emails.

2. Problem/Challenge: The challenge of unifying the brand, logo, and messaging across all employees' emails, increasing brand awareness, boosting marketing campaigns, and driving sales and lead generation content.

3. Objective: The objective is to provide a solution that saves time and money while leveraging your emails, leading to more email replies, an increase in leads, and increased social reach.

4. Solution/Strategy: WiseStamp offers a solution that allows you to design, generate, manage, and analyze stunning, customized email signatures for your company in less than 5 minutes.

5. Implementation: The implementation process involves a few simple steps: designing a signature customized to your brand and needs, generating a beautiful email signature in a matter of clicks, managing the signature with an advanced email signature manager, and analyzing the signature's impact to turn it into a powerful marketing tool.

6. Results: The use of WiseStamp has led to a 32% increase in email replies, a 15% increase in leads, and a 10% increase in social reach. It has been trusted by over 5,000 companies worldwide and has a rating of 4.6/5 on Capterra.

7. Conclusion: WiseStamp helps companies create unified, professional, and on-brand signatures, offering a solution from a single signature to an entire company solution.

8. Call to Action: Encourage the prospect to get in touch or start a free trial to create the email signature their company needs.

Essential steps for crafting a compelling executive summary:

Crafting an effective executive summary requires careful attention to certain key steps.

By following these guidelines, you can ensure that your summary captures attention, communicates key information, and leaves a lasting impact on your readers.

Let's explore the essential steps for creating an executive summary that gets results.

Step 1. Understand Your Purpose: Before you begin writing, clarify your objective. What message do you want to convey? What are the main points you want to highlight? Understanding your purpose will help you maintain focus throughout the process.

Step 2. Capture Attention with a Strong Introduction: The opening of your executive summary is crucial. Consider using a thought-provoking question, a captivating statistic, or a brief anecdote to engage your readers from the start. Make them eager to continue reading.

Step 3. Highlight Key Information: Identify the most critical points, findings, and recommendations from the full document. Focus on the key takeaways that your audience needs to know. Conciseness is key. Keep your summary brief and to the point.

Step 4. Structure and Format for Readability: Organize your executive summary in a logical and coherent manner. Use headings, bullet points, and white space to enhance readability.

A well-structured summary allows readers to quickly navigate and grasp the main points.

Step 5. Craft a Persuasive Conclusion: End your executive summary with a strong concluding statement that reinforces the main message. Highlight the value and benefits of your proposal or document. This is your last chance to leave a lasting impression.

What should an executive summary include?

An effective executive summary should include the following components:

1. Background Information: The first section of an executive summary should provide some background information about the topic at hand. This section should give the reader a basic understanding of the context in which the report or proposal was created.

2. Purpose and Objectives: Next, the executive summary should clearly state the purpose and objectives of the report or proposal. This section should explain why the document was created and what it aims to achieve.

3. Methodology: The methodology section should explain how the report or proposal was developed. It should describe the research methods used, the sources consulted, and any data collection techniques used.

4. Key Findings: One of the most critical sections of an executive summary is the key findings section. This section should summarize the most important findings from the report or proposal.

5. Recommendations: After summarizing the key findings, the executive summary should present the recommendations. This section should outline the action that needs to be taken based on the findings of the report or proposal.

6. Conclusion: Finally, the executive summary should end with a conclusion. This section should provide an overall summary of the report or proposal and reiterate its purpose and objectives.

Common mistakes to avoid in writing an executive summary

Writing an effective executive summary can be challenging, and there are common mistakes to avoid.

1. Failing to understand the audience: When writing an executive summary, it's crucial to know your audience. Understanding their needs and interests will help you tailor your summary to meet their expectations.

2. Overlooking the purpose of the summary: An executive summary should provide a brief overview of the main points in the longer document. It should not include any new information or ideas. Make sure to keep the summary focused and to the point.

3. Including too much information: An executive summary is not meant to be a comprehensive document. It should only cover the essential points, so avoid including any unnecessary details.

4. Failing to highlight the main takeaways: The primary goal of an executive summary is to highlight the key points of the document. Make sure to emphasize the most critical takeaways to ensure your audience understands the main message.

5. Neglecting to edit and proofread: Just like any other document, an executive summary should be well-written, error-free, and easy to read. Neglecting to edit and proofread can result in a summary that's confusing or difficult to understand.

Benefits of using templates to create designed executive summaries

Using StoryDoc templates can be a game-changer when it comes to creating visually appealing executive summaries.

  1. Consistency: Templates ensure a consistent and professional look across all your executive summaries, strengthening your brand image.

  2. Time-Saving: Templates provide a framework that streamlines the process, saving you valuable time while maintaining quality.

  3. Visual Impact: Pre-designed templates offer visually appealing layouts, graphics, and typography, making your summary visually engaging and easy to digest.

  4. Customizability: Templates can be customized to fit your specific needs, allowing you to highlight key information effectively.

Don’t waste time - grab a template!

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Jackie Plaza

Hi, I’m Jackie, Creative Marketing Specialist at Storydoc, I write on everything business presentations. I love to research and bring to light critical information that helps marketing, sales, and design teams get better results with their collateral.

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