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UMGC Effective Writing Center Writing an Executive Summary

An executive summary is a brief document typically directed at top-level managers who sometimes make decisions based upon a reading of this summary alone. As a result, the executive summary must be concise but comprehensive, meaning that it must present in summary form all major sections of the main report:

  • purpose
  • problem
  • methods of analyzing the problem
  • results of analysis
  • recommendations

To repeat, because of the critical role it plays, the executive summary is often the first and only part read by key decision makers. Therefore, it must be designed so that it can be read independently of the main document. Typically, figures and tables are not referenced in the executive summary. Uncommon terminology, symbols, and acronyms are avoided. If the executive summary is sufficiently persuasive, the entire proposal will then be read in full.

Therefore, your summary is key to the success of your proposal and should reflect these characteristics: 

  • Perfect Miniaturization. The executive summary should contain the same sections in the same order as the full report.
  • Major Findings Only. Because it is a distilled version of the full report, the summary should include only the proposal's principal points and major evidence. Most charts, tables, and deep-level analysis are reserved for full proposal. 
  • Proportional. The executive summary should typically be only 10% the length of the full proposal it distills. Therefore, the executive summary for a 10-page proposal would be 1 page or less.
  • Stand Alone. The summary should be written in a way that it can be read as a stand-alone document. Before submitting it, allow a test subject to read the summary. The subject should be able to give to you the basics of the full proposal from one reading of the summary.
  • Flawless. Like a job resume, even the most minor error of proofreading or grammar can spell rejection.

Sample Executive Summary:

Parts of this Sample Executive Summary:

Subheadings: The summary's subheadings should reflect the report's main divisions. Subheadings of the executive summary should not be the same as those of the main report.

Purpose: The summary provides a purpose of the report in concise format using present tense.

Results: Findings and conclusions are reported in condensed form without reference to tables or appendices. Lists are used when possible.

Recommendations: These should be in list form whenever possible.

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