Executive Summary Format: A Guide to Business Writing

Businessmen constructing an executive summary.

In a fast-paced business environment, entrepreneurs and business leaders must be able to convey their main ideas and persuade decision makers. This idea is illustrated through an executive summary, which prefaces a business plan or an investment proposal. The executive summary can capture and maintain the reader’s attention, ultimately leading to a successful pitch or proposal.

What does an executive summary format look like? And what should it include? The following sections explain how to write an executive summary.

The Doorway to a Business Plan

“The most important reason to include an executive summary is that in many cases, it is the only thing the reader will read,” Pablo Bonjour, founder and CEO of SMG Business Plans, told Inc. Investors, lenders, executives, managers and CEOs will read the executive summary to determine if the rest of the business plan is worth reading.

An important thing to remember is that an executive summary is not necessarily a summary. Its purpose is not to simply describe the contents within a business plan; it should focus on selling a solution to a stakeholder.

“First and foremost, it should grab the reader’s attention. It has to briefly hit the high points of your plan,” according to Entrepreneur. “It should point readers with questions requiring detailed responses to the full-length sections of your plan where they can get answers. It should ease the task of anybody whose job it is to read it, and it should make that task enjoyable by presenting an interesting and compelling account of your company.”

Executive Summary Format

An Intriguing Introduction

The first paragraph should be the strongest part of the executive summary. Similar to an elevator speech, the introduction needs to have a strong hook that explains what the company does. This is where you capture the reader’s attention.

Identify the Issue

A business is founded on solving some type of problem. Identify and explain the issue that will paint your business in a positive light.

Propose a Unique Solution

How does your business solve the problem? And if there are similar companies, how is your organization different? This is where you “explain why your idea has merit and how it can solve a common problem by making things easier, faster, or cheaper for the prospective customer(s),” Entrepreneur says.

Prove It

Back your claims with evidence. Use stats and research to support how your business will solve the issue.

Ask for What You Need

How much will it cost? Include the amount you’re seeking, along with details like what the return on investment will be and over what period of time.

How to Write an Executive Summary: The Nuts and Bolts

Keep it Short

There is no set length that an executive summary should be. Rules of thumb include making it no longer than 10 percent of the original document or keeping it to one or two pages.

Use Accessible Language

Avoid complicated language, unless your audience is familiar with technical terms. Also leave out business buzzwords and jargon.

Use Bullet Points and Subheadings

Clean formatting practices help readers scan the executive summary and find what they’re looking for.

Avoid the Use of First-Person Pronouns

Write for your audience. Using “I” statements makes the summary less personal and undermines your persuasiveness.

Proofread and Edit

Readers may immediately discard important documents with simple spelling and grammatical errors, as well as unclear or sloppy writing. Seek professional editing services.

Developing as an Entrepreneur or Business Leader

Entrepreneurs and business leaders can gain the knowledge and skills needed for success. Alvernia University offers an online MBA that prepares graduates for entrepreneurship, management-level positions and other roles. This program is taught by faculty members and instructors with real-world business experience. It is offered fully online, allowing students to maintain their work and personal schedules.