What Is an Executive Summary?
An executive summary is a component of a business document (for example, business plans and project proposals) or research documents used in academia, government, and the healthcare industry.
The goal is to summarize the important information found in the rest of the document and is often listed in the table of contents as a separate section. When not listed as a formal section, it is the reader’s first introduction to the purpose of a plan, report, or proposal. An executive summary might be a paragraph, a summary memo, or occasionally the first page. When it is written well, it tells a story quickly and efficiently with a clear purpose. Its format and length depends on the type of communication.
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Essential Elements Of The Executive Summary
The executive summary is concise, typically one to two pages long, and presents the main points in a formal tone. It’s purpose is to pique the reader’s curiosity by presenting facts from the content it is summarizing.
You will determine the components of each executive summary you write based on the reason for writing it and your target audience. For example, a business plan for an external audience includes financial information and details on the size and scale of a company. Startups seeking funding and investors treat the executive summary as a way to get the reader’s attention by highlighting specific financial requirements and how it impacts the business strategy. Summarize the information you’re presenting in a manner that keeps the reader engaged and motivated to continue reading. Executive summaries vary in the content they cover, but a common framework might include the following:
- Introduction: The opening statement, paragraph, or section should clearly state the document’s purpose and the content to follow. Deciding on how to use this section comes down to the desired outcome for the reader or audience. They want to immediately find value in the information you present, so the details included in the introduction should grab and hold the reader’s attention.
- Company Information: When writing an executive summary for an external audience, include your company name, a description of your mission or purpose, contact information, location, and the size and scale of your operations. In some cases, the summary introduces the founders, investors, and corporate leadership. It might include background information of each that outlines previous industry or startup experience, or historical context on the current state of the company. When used in a presentation or research report, introduce the team presenting or responsible for the report’s findings.
- Products and Services: The executive summary is the place to highlight the problem you solve or the need you fulfill. For a report, this is where you might highlight what you researched and what the reader should know about your findings. For a project proposal, include what you’re planning to accomplish and what you need to make it successful. For marketing plans or product launch presentations, tell the reader why your service or product is relevant at this particular moment in time.
- Market Analysis: The executive summary of a business plan might profile the target customer and explain the market opportunity for a product or service. Consider answering questions like: Is there a five year plan for this market? How do you anticipate growing the customer base and improving market share? What stands out from your research about your customers that the reader should know before you summarize the rest of the business?
- Competition Analysis: This section should include answers to the following questions:
- What is the competitive advantage of your proposed solution or product and who or what do you compete with in this market?
- What are the opportunities now and in the future?
- What are the risks in your market and your product or service?
- Do you have relevant experience with major competitors?
- What are the future plans for growth and what obstacles do you anticipate addressing?
- Financials: The executive summary might summarize key financial data that is relevant to the reader or data that supports your research. If the purpose is to seek funding, include the specific amount you are requesting here. Be sure to provide context for the financial data or any number you highlight in the executive summary. This section is a great way to highlight growth, or to use metrics to provide perspective on the company.
- Conclusions: Recap your findings, the problem and solution discussed, or the project and work proposed. If there is a decision the reader or your audience needs to make, ask about it. Make the outcomes obvious, but leave enough intrigue for the rest of the content to follow.
To learn more about crafting and executive summary for your business needs and to see relevant examples, read “How to Write an Executive Summary.”
The Benefits of a Strong Executive Summary
A well planned, well written executive summary accounts for the user’s time and by doing so, serves as a valuable tool.
Decision makers don’t have the time to read everything, and the average time an online user spends actually reading content is already at a premium. If you’re creating business plans, project proposals, product launch presentations, or making a sales pitch, the executive summary is an opportunity to convey the most important aspects of your content to the reader.
Even if it is the only thing your target audience reads, a well written executive summary creates value if the reader takes action without having to read the rest of your content word for word. If there is a business case for your document, a strong argument to make, or a story to tell, do it in the executive summary first.
Executive Summary Outline Template - PowerPoint
Use this free template to outline your next big presentation or keep it updated as a live meeting record that documents your evolving internal business plans or funding needs. The customizable PowerPoint slides feature an executive summary template and an outline that you can turn into the separate sections of your presentation. The customizable slides are formatted to outline the important elements of a formal business plan summary.
Download Executive Summary Outline Template
Executive Summary Templates
It is difficult to convey everything you want the reader to know about your business, product, or plan in a concise format. Sometimes getting started can be overwhelming.
The following executive summary templates will help you start planning and organizing your reader’s first — and sometime only — impression. There are templates formatted for Microsoft Word, Google Docs, and PDF. The templates are designed to highlight only the important facts typically addressed in communications popular in technology, marketing, finance, and project management professions, as well as in research-heavy sectors like law, academia, and healthcare.
Business Plan Executive Summary Template
This executive summary template is designed to get your business plan noticed and reviewed. This document helps you present key information to an external audience and ensure you include more attention to detail than a standard business plan document. Use bullet points and clear, formal language to guide the reader to the most important information about your company.
Download Business Plan Executive Summary Template
For additional resources, visit "One-Page Business Plan Templates with a Quick How-To Guide."
One-Page Executive Summary Template
This template is designed to fit your executive summary on one page. Take advantage of the short sections and bullet points to keep it concise and hook the reader with the most attention-grabbing information. Organize and emphasize the most important information by customizing the subheadings based on your document’s purpose.
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Startup Executive Summary Template
Startups seeking funding online on platforms like AngelList and Gust use investor profiles to spark interest and earn social proof for their venture. This template acts as a one-page pitch that serves as your company profile on these platforms. You can repurpose this template and save it as a customized PDF summary memo to land your next meeting with investors.
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Healthcare Executive Summary Template
Summarize the formal communications common in hospitals, non-profit organizations, and government agencies. This template is designed to accommodate longer research-based plans and proposals that target a broad audience of management, outside investors, or the general public. Customize the template and use your executive summary as the outline for your published report, and cover relevant items such as policy changes, new programs, budget requests, or to suit the context of your research content.
Download Healthcare Executive Summary Template
Proposal Executive Summary Template
Project proposals outline the required resources and project objectives, and summarize key information from the main body of content. This template highlights the specific purpose for your proposal and the compelling points the proposal introduces. Use the executive summary to kickstart your project planning.
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Marketing Plan Executive Summary Template
The marketing plan is a type of business plan that outlines the strategy and tactics for specific marketing activity. This template emphasizes marketing-specific data and strategy information about product and service development, branding, customer and market data, competitive analysis, and marketing budgets.
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Product Launch Executive Summary Template
Keep stakeholders in the loop at every step of your marketing campaigns and launch your product with confidence. This template will help you communicate a product marketing strategy and activity. Organize the subheads in order of importance for the stage of product development or the audience for the content.
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Research Report Executive Summary Template
Use this template as a synopsis of the research results for reports. This executive summary is formatted to accommodate in-depth reports that need space to use charts and tables to illustrate research data. The template is designed to summarize technical information in a concise manner, and features clear subheadings that communicate key findings to readers of various expertise and interest.
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Project Executive Summary Templates
Keep all of the project stakeholders in the loop with this project management summary template. You’ll find space to highlight project milestones, monitor new requests, and provide brief status overviews. For more information and resources on how to create a project plan, read “The Top Excel Project Plan Templates.”
Download Project Executive Summary Templates
Construction Project Executive Summary
This template summarizes the the construction project plan and highlights the important schedule milestones, budget data, bid estimates, and timeline details. Use this executive summary to report on the essential detail from the construction plan and keep all of the various stakeholders informed on the critical project information. Learn more about construction project management by reading “Construction Project Management 101.”
Download Construction Project Executive Summary Template
Seamlessly Track Executive Summary Templates with Real-Time Work Management in Smartsheet
Executive summary documents are essential to moving projects forward for a variety of industries including construction, healthcare, technology, research, and project management. They play a vital role in engaging stakeholders and gaining buy in. To make the most of these efforts, you’ll need a tool that can help you monitor and record feedback, store corresponding documents, and provide access to key players when needed.
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