How to write an executive summary

10 July 2020

Knowing how to write an effective, attention-grabbing executive summary is an essential skill to have in all areas of business. Whether it's communicating with stakeholders, seeking funding, or writing strategies and plans, an executive summary tends to be the initial contact between you and your proposed audience of potential investors, partners or senior members of staff. Therefore, it's crucial that you make the best impression possible in your written communication.

Instead of being bogged down in business details, a strong executive summary is without unnecessary information, illustrating the most salient facts and information in a bold, impactful way. If effectively conveying what you can do and how you're going to do it is something you've struggled with in the past, then our guide to writing an executive summary is sure to make the reader stand up and take note next time.

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Why do you need an executive summary?

Whoever your audience is, it's important to consider the fact that they have their own duties and tasks to attend to throughout the day. Put simply, investors, executives, directors and managers are all busy people, and perhaps don't have the time to pore over an 80-page proposal or business plan. If such a document lands on their desk, they're unlikely to read it.

That's where your executive summary comes in. Since it might be the only thing that gets read, a strong executive summary could well be the difference in giving your proposal some legs.

executive summary

What should an executive summary include?

Before moving onto the body of your summary, most agree that a strong hook in the form of an impactful opening paragraph is the best way to go. There's no need to try and be creative or humorous here; a simple, effective opening that explains what it is what you want, or what your company does, is the best way to go.

Something that the audience will find compelling and eager to read on is essential. If you've found a problem in the marketplace that you feel your business or service can rectify, now's the time to show how you're going to do that.

Broadly, your executive summary needs to touch on the following:

  • A description of your product or service and the problem your business solves
  • Your target market
  • Your competition
  • A financial overview, including charts/graphs that show sales/profit margins, for example
  • Your team and why they're the right people to build the business
  • An indicator of the kind of investment you’re seeking

writing business documents

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How should you present your executive summary?

Use language that resonates with the audience

An executive summary is like a job interview in writing. The language you use should reflect who you're going to address, so do some research into their background and tailor your verbiage as appropriate. For example, if it's a particularly corporate client, then you might consider leaving the humour out altogether.

Though you'll want to keep things professional, you don't want things to sound stuffy or sterile either. Using personal pronouns ("we", "you") in favour of general ones such as "the company" can help to establish a relationship with the reader, who will, in turn, feel connected with you, your brand and your idea. 

Detail your competitive advantage in positive terms

If your company holds patents or intellectual property, then mentioning them will offer  a huge advantage. And don't be afraid to bring up your competition; if you assert you have no businesses competing alongside you, it might look like you haven't done the appropriate research or there's no market. When bringing these things up, do so in positive terms; what matters here is what you can do as opposed to what others cannot.

Outline any potential investor return

Illustrate the potential return on investment, then highlight realistic financial projections, including future revenues, expenses, losses/profits, and cash. The business decision has to be one that'll be worth it for all involved; the level of success should ideally exceed the required capital and, ultimately, make the company a lot of money.

Make sure you proofread everything

It should go without saying, but an executive summary that's not been read and re-read might end up hamstringing itself. Proofread the finished document for any mistakes, and if there are any glaring errors or unnecessary sentences then be sure to get rid of them.

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Things you should avoid in your executive summary

Nailing an executive summary is often a case of ‘less is more’. Below, we list some of the things to avoid when penning this form of business statement: 

  • In your efforts to get your summary as concise as possible, you should also avoid making broad, sweeping statements. By pinpointing issues, the narrow focus serves you well; providing a big solution to a small problem is far preferable to attempting to chip away at a large one.
  • Don't be tempted to use clichéd phrases and words. In the business world, there are myriad terms that may sound impressive but ultimately add nothing of real substance. What's more, your audience has more than likely heard them all before.
  • It might be easy to exaggerate but if you misrepresent yourself, you might find yourself in a sticky situation when queried further. Sell your skills truthfully and skilfully and the rest will follow.

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The views, opinions and positions expressed within this article are those of our third-party content providers alone and do not represent those of Gazprom Energy. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. Gazprom Energy accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.

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