A well-written executive summary also allows your reader to decide: “Is this worth reading further?”
Whether you’re writing a proposal or preparing a white paper, an executive summary is an integral part of any lengthy or complex report. An executive summary allows the reader to quickly understand the scope of the report, your major finding and your conclusions. It is a succinct wrap-up of the report or proposal’s contents. Because time is such a precious commodity, people who should read an entire report may only skim it. The executive summary allows the readers to know, in one or two paragraphs, what to expect in the report. A well-written executive summary also allows your reader to decide: “Is this worth reading further?”
The executive summary should be very near the beginning of your document and set out by a heading and unique formatting. If you know your presentation will be read by many employees, for example if you’re responding to a Request for Proposal (RFP) for broker services, write the executive summary to the highest ranking person who will read your report.
In the executive summary, avoid the nuts and bolts of how to implement a project, but provide an overview of the problems being addressed, what action to take, and what the benefits of taking that action are.
Your executive summary should be a call to action. Use action phrases such as “We recommend” or “The problems you have faced in prior data conversations can be avoided by utilizing our project management experts.”
Broadly speaking, an executive summary should do the following:
1. Tell your readers what your report contains or what it evaluates.
2. Explain any method of analysis you used.
3. Summarize your findings.
4. Succinctly state your recommendations.
5. Briefly state any limitations you encountered that might have impacted the results of your report.
It may be a good idea to write your executive summary after you have written your report. When you have completed your report or proposal, use a voice recorder and summarize each section of your report. For example, in a white paper, you may have headings such as “problems of integrating technology,” “what to look for in a claims management system,” and “what to expect during data conversion.” Briefly describe the findings of each major section in your white paper, with a strong emphasis in your executive summary of the conclusions that your company, of course, is best positioned to solve. Keep your summary brief — an executive summary should probably be fewer than 1,000 words.
If you’re pitching your product or service to a large organization in your document, the executive summary may be the only part of the presentation that the decision makers read. From there, your report may be passed to lower-level managers to determine whether your proposal has merit. You may only get one shot at convincing a senior executive that your company or product is worth further exploration. A strong executive summary can mean the difference between winning that new account or losing it to your competitor. The extra efforts you apply to develop this summary can reap huge rewards.
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