Components of an Executive Summary

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An executive summary highlights the key points of a document.
An executive summary highlights the key points of a document. (Image: document case image by Maya Kruchancova from Fotolia.com)

An executive summary is an overview of a document, highlighting the main points of the document in a condensed form. This differs from an abstract, which is commonly used in scientific research and provides a neutral overview and background to the research, as opposed to a summary of the main points. executive summaries for a research paper are typically one to five pages long and written in easy-to-understand language, with limited use of technical terms. The executive summary is the gateway to the document and needs to be interesting and engaging to encourage the reader to continue onto the main text.

Background

The executive summary should briefly introduce the authors of the document, for example, in a business plan, the executive summary would state the company’s name and location. The summary puts the document into context, explaining why it is being written and gives a short statement outlining the idea or problem that forms the crux of the document.

Important Points

The executive summary needs to whet the readers' appetites to encourage them to read the full document. Use an engaging tone to summarize the document’s most poignant points or findings. These should be highlighted in the order they are introduced in the document for easy referral. This section could include key charts or graphs that support the main points although it is important that this remains a summary, and not a detailed analysis of the document, otherwise the reader will not continue onto the main document. If you are unsure of what to include, refer to the executive summaries of well reputed firms for ideas. These can usually be downloaded from the organization’s website.

Conclusions and Recommendations

A well-rounded executive summary finishes by outlining the main conclusions and recommendations given by the document. This section should not go into details as to the methods of data collection or analysis used, but simply provide an overview of the main conclusions reached. If the executive summary is for a grant, funding or investment request this section should highlight the exact amount of funds or resources required, including the percent of equity ownership offered in return. The technical details of the request should not be included in the summary. This introduction allows the grant giving or investing organization to consider the request as they read the full document.

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