Chat with the Rasmussen Library

Chat Hours

Monday-Thursday

12pm-8pm CT

Friday Offline
Saturday Offline
Sunday 4pm-8pm CT

Chat Expectations and Guidelines

Submit a Question

Submit Your Question
Your Info
Fields marked with * are required.

Answered By: Kristie Keuntjes
Last Updated: Sep 07, 2018     Views: 1168

What is an executive summary?

An executive summary provides an overview of a larger document or research and is usually the first thing your reader will see.  Oftentimes, executive summaries are the only place decision makers will go to determine if action is warranted on a particular action or idea.  Executive summaries will analyze a problem, drawn conclusions, and recommend a course of action in a complete but brief synopsis.  Remember, the people who are reading the summary often do not have much time, so your executive summary must grab their attention and entice them to read through the larger, more in-depth documentation.


Preparing to Write an Executive Summary

It is important to keep in mind to whom you are writing your summary.  Your audience may not be versed in the technical language of your profession and may only focus on specific business needs.

The executive summary should address these main points:

  • Purpose
    • What is the point of the document?  Are you trying to influence management?  Are you trying to make a change in a hospital?  Make sure you have a purpose when writing the summary.
  • Problem
    • What issue needs addressing?  Why is it an issue?  Why are you where you are? 
  • Problem Analysis 
    • What can be changed or improved?
  • Results of analysis
    • What did you find while researching the issue?  What methods did you use?  How do you know your resources are valid, reliable, and credible?
  • Recommendations
    • What can you do to address this issue?  How will you achieve your recommendations?  How will this help?  What action can be taken?

Writing the Executive Summary

Keep in mind that the executive summary is the first thing your reader is going to see and may be the only thing your reader will look through before making a decision about action or inaction.  Be sure to use concise language and bullet points to present your ideas.  Here is an example of a way to organize your summary:

  • Define the problem, need, or goal
  • Define the decision that needs to be made
  • Define the expected outcome and provide the reasons why they should choose the option that you want
  • Define the solution and how you reached the solution
  • End with a call to action

Remember, your summary should grab the reader's attention.  Lay out why this is so important and how it will benefit/impact them and/or the business.  Be sure to use language that relates to them and avoid any technical jargon.


Common Mistakes

An executive summary is NOT:

  • An abstract
  • An introduction
  • A preface
  • A random collection of highlights

An executive summary is a stand-alone document and should make sense without any other information.  You will want to avoid these common mistakes when writing your summary:

  • Do not get too lengthy or wordy - keep it to 3-5 pages
  • Do not cut and paste information
  • Avoid excessive subtitles and lists
  • Do not get too technical
  • Do not use passive or imprecise language

Do you have examples of executive summaries?

Check out the links below for examples of executive summaries and presentations.


References

Frederick, P. (2011). Persuasive writing: How to harness the power of words. Retrieved from http://www.pearsoned.com/

James, G. (2007, July 25). The art of the executive summary. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-art-of-the-executive-summary/

Markowitz, E. (2010, September). How to write an executive summary. Retrieved from http://www.inc.com/guides/2010/09/how-to-write-an-executive-summary.html

UMUC Effective Writing Center. (n.d.). Writing the executive summary. Retrieved from http://polaris.umuc.edu/ewc/web/exec_summary.html

University of Maryland University College. (n.d.). Executive summaries: Learn about executive summaries and how to write them. Retrieved from http://www.umuc.edu/current-students/learning-resources/writing-center/writing-resources/executive-summaries/index.cfm?noprint=true

USC Libraries. (n.d.). Organizing your social sciences research paper: Executive summary. Retrieved February 7, 2017, from http://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide/executivesummary

Vassallo, P. (2003). Executive summaries: Where less really is more. ETC: A Review of General Semantics, 60(1). Retrieved from http://www.generalsemantics.org