Writing an Executive Summary

Author(s): Christina Kalel, M.A.

Originally posted: July 31, 2016

An executive summary can be a tough assignment when you're used to the rules of writing school papers. There's no specific format it should follow, it can range from one to three pages in length (longer, if it's a particularly huge report), and its content really depends on...well, what you're summarizing!

The main job of the summary is to condense a lot of detailed material (the problem, relevant research and recommendations/findings) into something that can be quickly skimmed for content. You might be familiar with this format from numerous articles and lists on the internet, like this cheat sheet for the 2016 Olympics.

As in most writing, your goal is to catch (and keep) the reader's attention so they understand what you're summarizing without having to read a long, detailed paper. Unlike writing for the internet, you will need to use a fairly formal tone and avoid using personal pronouns. Envision it as a PowerPoint presentation - you only have a certain amount of room on your slides, so your words HAVE to pack a punch!

Basic Guidelines

(Ashford University, 2013; University of Maryland University College, 2016)
  • 1-3 pages long, or 10% of actual report (unless specifically directed to write more pages)

  • Begin with the purpose of the report

  • Summarize any important facts (findings, results, recommendations)

  • Use headings that are unique to the summary - don't re-use report headings

  • Clarity and brevity are key - don't bore or confuse your audience

  • Keep in mind the thesis (main idea) of the report while writing and editing

  • Always end with a discussion of the costs and benefits of any recommendations


This report was commissioned to examine why the sales volume of Choice Chocolate has dropped over the past two years since its peak in 1998 and to recommend ways of increasing the volume.

The research draws attention to the fact that in 1998, the market share of Choice Chocolate was 37%. The shares of their key competitors such as Venus and Bradbury were 22% and 18% respectively. The size of the chocolate market then was $36 million. Over the next two years, although Choice Chocolate retained its market share the volume of sales in the whole market decreased to $29 million. Further investigations reveal that this market shrinkage coincided with an increase in health awareness amongst consumers who regard the milk and sugar ingredients in chocolate as negative; moreover, since the second half of 1999, an increasing number of rival ‘health candies’ had appeared on the market. These claimed to offer the consumers a healthy alternative. These factors appear to be the major causes of the decreased sales volume of Choice Chocolate.

Slim Choice is the latest chocolate range put forward by the R & D Department of Choice Chocolate. The report evaluates this range and concludes that it would be an ideal candidate to meet the challenge presented by the market and could satisfy the new consumer demand since it uses significantly reduced milk and sugar ingredients and is endorsed by renowned health experts. According to 97% of the 2000 subjects tested recently, it also retains the same flavor as the original range.

It is recommended:

  • that Choice Chocolate take immediate measures to launch and promote Slim Choice alongside its existing product range;

  • that Slim Choice adopt a fresh and healthy image;

  • that part of the launch campaign contains product endorsement statements by renowned health experts;

  • that Slim Choice be available in health food shops as well as in traditional chocolate retail outlets

See the links in the references for more information, or here's an additional example from UA students.

Happy summarizing!

- Christina

Image by Lum3n from Pexels.


Ashford University. (2013). Guidelines for writing an executive summary. Retrieved from https://awc.ashford.edu/tocw-guidelines-for-writing-executive-summary.html

University of Maryland University College. (2016). Writing Executive Summaries. Retrieved from http://www.umuc.edu/writingcenter/writingresources/exec_summaries.cfm