“We are moving from a world where computing power was scarce to a place where it now is almost limitless, and where the true scarce commodity is increasingly human attention.”
These lines from Satya Nadella, the Chairman and CEO of Microsoft, formed part of their 2015 attention spans report. Here, they found the average human attention span to be 8 seconds, 1 less than that of a goldfish! Technology and smartphones were the drivers for this fall, which went from 12 to 8 seconds in just a decade and a half.
We’re now in 2023, and the way technology has risen thanks to the work-from-home culture, we won’t be surprised to see even lower attention spans. This is exactly why an executive summary becomes crucial. Whether you have a business or marketing plan, a project proposal, report, or a research paper to present, an executive summary is how you attract eyeballs.
So, executive summaries are important. Period. But what they are, how to write one, and things to check before sending them, are what needs discussing. And that’s what we’re gonna do here. Before we start, you’ll really enjoy this read with a hot cuppa, you know. Go, get it.
What Is An Executive Summary?
An executive summary, as the name suggests, is a summary condensing a larger document with all its details, takeaways, and analysis. In simple terms, it gives the readers a gist of what they’ll find in the document. So naturally, it’s included at the beginning of it.
A well-written executive summary grabs readers’ attention and quickly tells what they’ll find in the document. As we saw, getting noticed in a world with lowering attention spans is tough. Therefore, the ‘how to write an executive summary’ question becomes more significant, and that’s what we’ll address first.
How To Write An Executive Summary in 2023?
Do you know why 2023 is included in this heading? C’mon, you can guess it. We’ve already talked about it. Yes, …(drumrolls)… attention span is the answer. It’s continuously lowering with each passing year. So, how can an executive summary work without changes? The changes might not be drastic, but they can’t be ignored. Hence, let’s understand how to write an executive summary that gets attention in 2023.
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#1 Start With A Bang!
If someone is reading your executive summary, they wish to find what’s in it for them. And they want to find that out in the first 2 paragraphs. Your summary, thus, needs to start with a bang. Start talking in the interest of your readers. Don’t give out the complete problem statement and solution here. That’ll come later. But you and your team need to first get readers to that stage.
Like, for a business plan, the start can be something like this:
“[Company Name] is gearing to reach greater heights in the “salad” food category. Why? Because over a million Americans (give the market researched statistics) want them, and nobody is serving them the right way.”
Straightaway, an investor reading this has an idea about the problem statement, the market size, and would want to know how this is being solved? This way, his attention is kept, and in times like today, where technology can give people something to read, watch, and listen to every second, this is no small feat!
#2 A Clear Problem Statement
When the readers have some idea about the problem, it’s time to show the complete problem statement. Right after the start, this can come. This will reiterate, in the reader’s mind, that the problem is real and he’ll be more willing to look at the solution.
One clear mistake people make here is they write long paragraphs describing the problem statement. They don’t use statistics, graphs, or give references anywhere. This is the perfect way of sending people away. The entire problem can’t be defined with pictures, graphs, or stats, we agree, but some of it surely can be. Do that, and for the rest, write in a lucid, jargon-free language.
#3 Create Some Hype
When we were researching on the ‘how to write an executive summary’ question, nothing came up about hyping the solution. Yet, we feel, in 2023, this is as much a crucial part as the solution itself. The executive summary, for whatever reason you’re drafting it, won’t be over 2 pages. In that case, the readers don’t have to wait long before finding the solution, but who said you can’t popularize your solution in the reader’s mind?
Have you seen those teasers and end-credit scenes from the Marvel movies? They truly are the masters at hyping upcoming movies. Well, apply the same in your summary. Use words like “our solution” after referring to a part of the problem, and give readers a sneak peek at how you’re solving a particular part of the problem. Again, don’t give the entire solution, just a teaser will do!
#4 Time For The Solution
Time to give the solution! Talk about the solution to each part of the problem, give relevant statistics, graphs, and references, and don’t go into too much detail. After all, this is the executive summary. The document containing the detailed solution comes after this. So, keep the solution crisp, and balance it with the right numbers and presentable stats.
#5 The Expected Outcome
Any investor, business head, or professor would want to know the expected outcomes all proposed solutions will generate. Depending on the project, use the right parameters to define those outcomes. For example, with a marketing plan, the parameters where outcomes will be expected are around sales, time, cost, brand growth, and cost-per-sale, basically the efficiency of the marketing plan.
There can be more outcomes, for sure. But it’s important to talk about the results for these parameters, as that’ll define the chances of success for the proposed marketing plan. Keep it high-level while giving the reader things to be excited about.
#6 Mention Your Expertise
When people think about how to write an executive summary, they focus primarily on the problem and the solution. But what makes you and your company equipped to handle the problem? You need to talk about that, too.
Mention similar projects from the past, or your company’s experience in handling a variety of projects. You wish to develop trust in the client, professor, or your boss’ eyes about why you’re the right fit for the project. So, talk about your strengths but refrain from lying or exaggerating things. Include the correct numbers, even if they’re small. They tell the right story, and that’s what truly matters.
#7 Fall Back On Research
For your business, marketing plan, or research paper, if you’ve done some market research survey, and it came out in your favor, use that in the executive summary. To be honest, if the title would’ve been ‘how to write an executive survey in 2020’, we won’t have talked about market research. But as things stand, market research is playing a crucial role for almost every growth-focused company in 2021, and the trend is going to continue. Hence, carry out relevant market research. It’ll help.
#8 An Actionable End
This is a no-brainer. Just as you started on a high, you gotta end on an actionable note, too. This is because the reader’s final decision to fully analyze the document comes after reading the call to action at the end of your executive summary. Moreover, the focus of an executive summary is to sell, not describe. For that, giving an actionable end is highly important.
Here are a few examples:
- Given its visibly massive benefits and minimal costs, [Company Name] calls on the [Investor Group] to approve this proposal.
- 2021’s winter marketing campaign was a success. The key parameters were all achieved. We will take the lessons from it to apply to this campaign and make it a success, too.
- The researchers concluded advertisements were indeed an effective way to achieve key KPIs. However, further research will determine which factors will increase the ROI maximally.
What Specific Sections To Include In An Executive Summary?
Students and professionals remain in doubt about the specific sections to include in their executive summary. They know the pattern but are doubtful about how to include that using different sections. We’ll help you with this, as the sections included in a business plan differ from the ones included in a research paper or a project proposal. With no further ado, time to let the cat out of the bag.
For A Business Plan
A business plan is a document describing every aspect of a business, from the business model, products, growth prospects, a market gap, and a marketing plan. Startups use business plans to pitch in front of investors and get funded. Not just new businesses, but even the older ones looking to expand into a new industry and get funded prepare a business plan document.
Here are some of the commonly included sections in a business plan:
- Company & Problem Statement Description: Talk about the company briefly and address the problem statement.
- Market Gap Analysis: Show the numbers that prove the problem is real and there to be solved.
- Proposed Solution: Give high-level information about your solution. Talk just enough, so the investor can’t wait to read the entire solution with all its numbers.
- SWOT Analysis: This part is where investors give the most time, as they want to understand your solution in every way. No need to exaggerate or hide anything here.
- Market Research Analysis: Carrying out market research will show investors you’ve already market-tested your solution and know what the ground reality is.
- Marketing Plan: Include this to show how you’re planning to deliver the solutions to the target market and grow.
- Financial Projections: This’ll show the cost and profitability associated with the business plan.
- Funding Request: A formal request to the investors to support your solution financially.
For A Project
The question about how to write an executive summary for a project revolves around the project management perspective. This can be an initiative from a particular team within a company or can be about a new project or tender. In both cases, there’s very little difference in the sections included. Let’s look at it:
- Introduction: Mention the purpose of the project. Answer why your team/company wants to take up this project with all its problems?
- Company/Team description: Explain why the project should be awarded to your team/company.
- Solution: How will you solve the mentioned problems? If possible, give a glimpse of how you’ll do it differently than others.
- Credibility: Show why you and your team/company are the best fit for the project
- Resources Required: Mention the required resources with brief detailing.
- Return on Investment: Talk about the profitability of the project.
- Market Research: This section backs the ROI numbers predicted about the project.
- Marketing Plan: Describe the marketing plan, stating how sales, partnerships, and ultimately the growth will happen?
- Budget Planning: Mention the budget needed.
- Timeline: By when can the project be completed or goals accomplished? Answer this.
- Team: Who are the team members/key personnel for the project?
- Allotment Request: Formally request the authorities to give this project.
For A Report
A summary for a report is developed after a certain assignment or project is finished. The document containing the details is attached, but the summary tells readers what to expect from it while stating the results achieved without delving into the details. So, it’s an after-work assessment to find how the assignment/project was carried out. A research paper summary can have the same sections, too.
The different sections to include in a report summary for 2023 and beyond are:
- Introduction: The introduction tells readers what is to come and in what order.
- Background: This highlights the circumstances in which the work/experiment was carried out. These circumstances can be the criterias or constraints faced while doing the work.
- Problem Statement: What’s the problem that the report highlights?
- Solutions & Recommendations: The solutions and recommendations are explained in pointers for different parts of the problem with a final verdict.
- Research/Work Methods: This is where you explain how the project or research work was undertaken.
- Work Evaluation: This is where you point out the degree to which the work was accomplished, and the work that’s still left.
- Contributions: Which team member did what? This is what you’ll briefly talk about here before ending with a call to action.
For A Marketing Plan
When we talk about writing an executive summary for a marketing campaign, it’s very close to writing an executive summary for a new business. The research that goes into it is huge, which is why presenting it properly with the right sections becomes more critical.
Sections to include in an executive summary for a marketing plan:
- Market Research: No marketing campaign can work without this. You must’ve tested the market for your product or service, and included that in the marketing plan. Talk about it here. Show how you’ve researched the potential customers, target demographics, potential competitors, and the supply-chain environment for your industry in the target demographics.
- Mission: Explain what the mission behind your marketing plan is. Use words like ‘contribution’, ‘distinction’, and ‘key market player’ to do that.
- Strategy: Talk briefly about the strategy or strategies you’ll use to reach the target customers. Advertising, networking, organic content marketing, or direct brochure and flyer marketing. Whatever your strategy is, talk about it.
- Pricing: Explain how you’ve priced the products/services. The market research data will help you do that.
- Budget: What’s your budget requirement for the campaign?
- KPIs: Mention the key performance indicators on which the campaign can be evaluated for success or failure.
- Improvements: Survey campaigns that’ll allow you to pivot, make changes, and get better.
Wrapping It Up…
We’ve discussed the 2 crucial questions about executive summaries that’ll help you. But before wrapping up, we’ll give you a heads up about some small, important things which will allow you to send the best summaries. Here they are:
- Use extremely simple, jargon-free language.
- Keep the length of your executive summary as short as possible. Anything over 2 pages won’t retain attention.
- Include all sections in the same order as that in the document. It shows you’re organized with your thought process.
- Use numbers and financial projections, but don’t overdo it. Keep them to support your text, not the other way around.
- For solutions, use bullet points.
- And lastly, don’t confuse an executive summary with an introduction. The executive summary gives you the gist of the entire document, while an introduction draws the reader towards the rest of the material.
There you go. We’ve covered it all. Now, use these and create executive summaries that stick to your reader’s minds! For any help, we’re here. Rooting for your success.