Perfecting the executive summary

22 August 2017

Often the most challenging part of a report to write, the executive summary is possibly the most important. The executive summary provides a quick overview or synopsis of your report and may be the only part of your report that gets read. So it’s important to get it right.  

1. Start with a clear opening paragraph. Don’t leave your reader to guess what you are writing about. Tell them in the first paragraph what your report is about, why you’re writing it, and the scope of your project or investigation. Grab your reader’s attention with a strong opening sentence such as a startling fact or statistic, or other interesting information relevant to your report.

2. Make it meaningful. Many people make the error of filling the executive summary with background, leaving out the most important information. The executive summary needs to summarise the whole of your report. This includes detail of the analysis, a summary of important findings and issues raised in the discussion, your conclusions and any recommendations.

3. Don’t lose your reader to technicalities. Your aim with the executive summary is to say as much as possible with the fewest number of words. Get to the point with clear, concise language suitable for the reader. While acronyms, jargon and technical terms may come naturally to you, unfamiliar language will quickly turn off your reader.

4. Write the executive summary last. This tip is key. You will save yourself a lot of time and headaches by writing the summary after you’ve completed the main part of your report as you will have a better appreciation of the content of your report.

A strong executive summary will help ensure that your report is acted upon. Allowing time to revise the executive summary several times before you submit it will give your report that extra professional polish.

For training in report writing skills or for help writing your report, contact Concise Writing Consultancy on 61 2 9238 6638.

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