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Six top practical tips for a great executive summary

Six top practical tips for a great executive summary

When you are writing an executive summary for the first time or are looking to improve what you do now, here’s some tips to help you from Sara Royle, Director at Goldcrest Academy.

Whilst a great executive summary looks easy, simple and quick to do, there are some steps that are useful to consider.  These tips focus on how you can you maximise your and your readers’ time with a great one.

Image shows a path across fields
(C) Sara Royle, Goldcrest Academy

Six practical tips to help:

It’s a summary of the whole report

The executive summary is a one page view of the whole report, containing the most pertinent points.  Its role is to encapsulate the key elements.  But which do you include?

It’s right to write it at the end of the report

Whilst presentationally it comes at the start of the report, you must write it at the end, when the report is finalised. The practical point is that you can then identify the most relevant information to summarise.  Remember, you only have one page in total, so concise writing is required.   You can direct the reader to specific content in the full report or hyperlink to a key section.

How do you decide what to include?

The one-page summary must reflect the key sections of the report, for example, audit, goals, findings, conclusion, recommendations, so include a section for each.   The audit and appendix content are important, but typically play a supporting role or for depth of insight.  Remember to focus on the key insights.

They need to make a decision

A manager or director might only read the executive summary and skim the sections of the report that are of interest to them.    So be careful to ensure that you guide them about key information they need to know to help them make a decision. Recommendations must be justified and link to the audit section, so the reader understands how you came to your solutions.

Allow time to write one

The report will take a lot of your time to research, develop and write.  So make sure you build in time to write the executive summary.  It might be tempting to rush it but given it is a key skill, do build in time to write a great one.  The practice will be useful.

Is a report relevant or should it be a slide deck?

It’s tempting to jump straight into the material to present, post report activity.  But the reader may be presented with a destination, rather than understanding how you arrived there.  The report and the executive summary need active and objective language, rather than being narrative or descriptive.  A presentation is the culmination of the report, summarised to include the key findings, insights and next steps ie the executive summary.  So one great executive summary could help you write the presentation too.