Every project involves a lot of details as it gets off the ground. You won’t have to share the details with anyone or worry about articulating them if you’re funding your project on your own or developing it single-handedly. But if your project requires the agreement or assistance of others, you’ll have to convince them to come on board with you. An executive report is a broad, encompassing document that explains all the nuts-and-bolts details of whatever project you’re trying to achieve. It tells your target audience why they should get involved.
Ideally, by the time the reader has digested your report, he won’t have any questions because you’ve addressed everything he could possibly want to know. An effective executive report leaves nothing out, but you must structure this information for ease of readability. Begin your report by acknowledging anyone who contributed to it, such as if others helped you do research. Write an introduction, ideally no more than a page or two, identifying your project, stating your goal, acknowledging potential problems and explaining how you intend to handle them if they crop up. You don’t have to go into a lot of detail -- other parts of your report will do that. Use your introduction to make your reader interested enough to keep reading the entire report. Let your own enthusiasm show.
The following sections of your report will depend somewhat on the nature of your project. If you want to solve a specific problem, devote a section after your introduction to identifying it. Then, in a separate section, explain how you intend to solve the problem and what the effort will entail. If you did research to support why your solution will work, include this in a section dedicated to your findings and explain how your data was collected. If you’re asking for funding, include a financial statement in another section, showing your personal or company’s assets and liabilities. Explain how much money you’ll need, when you’ll need it, and what it will be spent on. Wrap up with a section concluding your argument. Tell the reader why he should get involved and help you.
The Abstract or Executive Summary
Executive reports typically include an abstract or executive summary, a separate document that prefaces the rest of your report. Abstracts typically address academic issues, devoting a single sentence or bullet point to each of your report’s sections, and they rarely run longer than a single page. An executive summary is geared toward the business community. It can run more than a page, but not too much more or its length will defeat its purpose -- you want your audience to get an accurate feel for your project without having to read the whole report. Both abstracts and summaries are similar to your introduction because they highlight the same information you included in that section of your report, but they're more in depth. Avoid cutting and pasting segments from your report to create a summary. You don’t want to just repeat yourself but rather explain your project -- without all the detail your report contains -- in an engaging way to capture your audience.
The Finishing Touches
You can have the best idea in the world but it may hit a brick wall if you don’t explain it well. If you’re an expert in your field, avoid talking over your reader’s head by using jargon or technical terms he won’t understand. But don’t go too far in the other direction, either, writing as though you’re discussing your project over coffee or cocktails -- you’ll want to be reasonably formal. Proofread it when you’re finished, then proofread it again. You might want to have someone else read it over as well to make sure your position is understandable. Fresh eyes are often better at catching typos, too.
- Clayton County Public Schools: Blue Ribbon Commission on School Discipline -- A Written Report Presented to the Superintendent and Board of Education (PDF)
- The Owl at Purdue: Online Writing Lab -- The Report Abstract and Executive Summary
- Texas A&M University: University Writing Center -- Executive Summary
- California State University Northridge: Executive Summaries Complete the Report
- Photo Credit Klaus Tiedge/Blend Images/Getty Images
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