How to Write an Executive Summary

Many venture capitalists and other investors never read your whole business document. They read the executive summary and (if you’re lucky) skip to any other section they’re interested in – usually the financial parts. So, the executive summary is the most important part of whatever you’re writing for them. It is the first (and sometimes the only) thing they’ll read and the last thing you should write. It is simply a brief summary of the document.

Here’s your step-by-step guide:

  1. Write everything else about your document. If you haven’t done this, stop reading right now and go write it first. Whether it is a report, business plan, proposal, manual, or other piece, you can’t write a summary without having the thing you’re summarizing already done.
  2. Review the document, looking for its main ideas. Hopefully you already have a table of contents and know what you’re trying to get across to your reader, so this shouldn’t bee to hard. Your headings and organization will help to guide you. For instance, a business plan may have four main components: Technical, Marketing, Finance, and Human Resources.
  3. Include a brief introductory statement and a short, one sentence summary of each of the main ideas you’re communicating in the rest of the document. Be persuasive and make it interesting.
  4. Write a simple, declarative sentence for each point but avoid technical jargon.
  5. Mention your conclusions or recommendations. The goal is to inform the reader as quickly and completely as possible about what your document is trying to convey.
  6. Reread your summary and consider your audience. Make sure the language is clear to someone who might not know the industry vernacular. Think like the layman.
  7. Ask for someone to proofread it for consistency, grammar, and spelling errors.
  8. Ask a non-technical person to read it to see if they understand what the document will be explaining. If they don’t get it, it’s probably either has too much industry-specific knowledge in it, or it’s simply not summarizing the point very well. Rewrite until they get it. Don’t explain what you’re trying to get across verbally as you’ll be defeating the purpose of this point.

Executive summaries may vary with the length of the document, but they should always be relatively brief. Your aim is to pack as much information into a minimum amount of reading. If you do include details in your summary, place the most important points, such as your conclusions and recommendations, first.

The busier the executive, the less he or she will probably read. Write accordingly.

Nate Ritter lives in the Pacific Northwest (U.S.), popularized the #hashtag and creates web applications for a living. He also does miles and point hacking to enable cheap travel for his family. More here →

One Comment on "How to Write an Executive Summary"

  1. Excellent article on the basics of the executive summary. I especially enjoyed the point – “Write a simple, declarative sentence for each point but avoid technical jargon”

    This is vital to a successful executive summary. Also you should make sure to intrigue the reader, because you probably only have one chance to make a first impression and get them to read your entire business plan.

    Check out, a website dedicated to writing executive summaries. There are great free resources and helpful tips.

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