What Is an Executive Summary?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Executive summaries are short overviews of more detailed documents that are used in business. An executive summary may be prepared to provide a quick synopsis of a quarterly financial report, a proposal, or progress report related to an upcoming project. The main function of this type of document is to make it possible to quickly review the most important facts or points related to the larger document without having to read through what may be a substantial amount of data.

Businessman with a briefcase
Businessman with a briefcase

While there are some similarities between the executive summary and an abstract or an outline, the function of each of these documents is very different. An outline is normally a forerunner of the larger proposal or informational document and serves as a guideline for the creation of that larger document. The abstract, like the summary, is a document prepared after the larger document is completed, but is usually shorter and not quite as detailed as the summary. In addition, the abstract may include technical language that is normally excluded from the summary.

A well-crafted executive summary is usually anywhere from three to twelve pages in length and includes several important sections. This type of executive report will usually contain a brief introduction to the reason for the project or larger report, provide essential background data about the project, and then move on to providing brief summaries of the analysis associated with the project. As a final element, the summary will present the conclusions reached in the larger document and suggest possible courses of action based on those conclusions.

Because some projects may involve more than one report, it is possible to use a single executive summary to cover the key points found in all the associated documents and research. This can be very advantageous, since a properly prepared summary will include enough information to allow decision-makers to determine what should happen next with the project. In general, this summary is presented with the supporting documents in hand, creating a true executive portfolio that addresses the project or proposal completely. This creation of a fully detailed executive proposal using the summary as a cover document allows the decision-maker the option of exploring a particular point in more detail if he or she wishes to do so.

While often considered a tool in big business, the concept of an executive summary can be employed in any organization that embarks on a project of any kind. Small businesses designing a marketing strategy can make use of this document model. Non-profit organizations may also find that the preparation of this type of summary is very helpful when addressing issues with a governing board of some type.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


Like any sort of writing, many websites and even some word processing programs will include executive summary templates, as well as tips on different tweaks that might work better for variations on the format.


As this article points out, a good sample executive summary would lack the technical language and general jargon that could be part of the full paper's abstract. This is especially important because summaries might be read by potential buyers, investors, or other key people who may not understand all of the technical information, but need to know what the plan is and how a business idea or product is going to work.

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