Book Summary for the book the End Of Leadership

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How to Write an Executive Summary

Being asked to write an executive summary, whether for a policy
paper, pamphlet, briefing paper or report, may be a daunting prospect if
you’ve never done it before.

However, ask a few questions, and keep a few simple rules in your
mind and it becomes much more straightforward. This page sets out the
questions to ask, whether of yourself or someone else, and a few
warnings and conventions to bear in mind.

Executive Summary Content

There are two key questions you need to ask before you start:

  1. Who is the intended audience for my executive summary?
  2. Which of the contents of the paper that I am summarizing do they really need to know?

These questions are important because they tell you what you
need to include in the executive summary, so let’s unpack them a little:

The Intended Audience

As with all writing projects it is important to know your audience (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site..
The intended audience for an executive summary may be quite different
from the intended audience for the longer document, whether it’s a
policy paper, report, or something else.

The executive summary serves several possible purposes.

People may read the executive summary to find out if they need to read the full report. This
group may include people within the organization and outside, but the
report is likely to touch on what they do every day. They will often be
subject experts; they just need to know if there is anything new that
they should read. This group will be looking for a broad summary of the
contents of the wider paper.

People may want to find out if they’d find the full report interesting and relevant,
even if not strictly essential. Again, this group is likely to be
subject experts, but may also include analysts searching for a
particular ‘angle’ on the subject. This group will also welcome a
straightforward summary of the contents.

They may read the executive summary instead of the full report.
It’s this group that you really need to worry about because they’re
likely to include the Board or executive team of your organization, as
well as journalists. What goes into the executive summary, therefore, is
the message that they’re going to take away, that may well be spread
more widely. For these people, the executive summary is their window
onto the subject and it needs to be transparent, not opaque, if they are
to understand it.

Think about your intended audience: who do you want to read your executive summary and why?

Don’t worry about other people who might read it; this is your intended audience,
the people to whom you or your immediate line manager are going to send
the summary. If the summary is for publication, which groups do you
most want to read it?

What Does Your Intended Audience Need to Know?

Once you have identified your intended audience, you can then think
about what they need to know or do as a result of reading your paper.
This can be split into two parts:

  1. First, categorize the document by whether it needs action or is for
    information only. This will determine the language that you use.
  2. Next, you need to identify what, when they have finished reading,
    are the key messages that you want your audience to have in their heads.
    Information and concepts that they did not have before.

Top Tip

A good way to think about the key content is to imagine meeting
your boss or CEO in the parking lot or at the coffee machine. What three
key points about your document would you want to tell them?

Work on reducing your key messages down to three, or at the most,
five bullet points of one or two sentences. Working on them before you
start writing will mean that they are absolutely clear in your head as
you write.

Writing your Executive Summary

When you are writing your executive summary, you should keep your intended audience in mind at all times and write it for them.

If your audience includes your boss or Chief Executive think: how
much do they already know, and how much do you need to explain?

If your audience includes journalists, you probably need to explain
everything. If it’s simply as a summary of a paper because you have to
publish one, then you simply need to summarize the paper.

If you find yourself getting bogged down in the detail at this stage,
it’s a good idea to talk to someone else about what to include.

The language you use needs to be fairly formal, whether or not the summary is intended for publication.

Executive Summary Structure

Broadly, an executive summary, as you might expect,
summarizes the main points of the underlying paper, and draws out the
key points. It usually has three sections: introduction, main body and

  • The introduction sets the scene and explains what
    the paper is about, including what action needs to be taken as a result.
    It doesn’t need to be more than one or two sentences. For an internal
    paper, you might write:

    • This paper explains the findings of the research about [subject]
      and its relevance to the organization. It notes five key findings and
      makes three recommendations for action within the organization. You are
      asked to take note of these, and decide whether the recommendations
      should be implemented.
    • For an executive summary of a published paper, it is not unusual for the first paragraph to be more attention-grabbing.
    • For example, from a recently-published report about green energy and the internet:
      • For the estimated 2.5 billion people around the world who are
        connected to the internet, it is impossible to imagine life without it.
        internet has rewoven the fabric of our daily lives – how we communicate
        with each other, work and entertain ourselves – and become a foundation
        of the global economy.
      • This example still sets the scene: the importance of the internet,
        but the idea here is to keep people reading, not just provide
        information. Again, it’s all about your audience and what they need or
  • The main body of the text outlines the key findings
    and/or recommendations from the report or paper to which this is the
    summary. The main section needs to focus on the interesting and most
    relevant bits of the report.

    • Most importantly, the main section of the executive summary needs to
      stand alone without the reader having to refer to the main body of the
      report or policy paper. This is worth checking by getting someone who
      doesn’t know much about the subject to read it over for you.
  • Finally, you need a conclusion, which outlines the
    take-home messages or action needed from the person reading the report.
    Bullet points are a useful form to highlight the key points, and this is
    where your three to five messages come in.

Once you’ve finished, check it against our checklist to make sure that you’ve covered everything.

Executive Summary Checklist

Checklist for writing an executive summary:

  • Have you kept in mind the audience at all times?
  • Have you addressed it to them?
  • Have you met any word count or structural requirements?
  • Have you clearly outlined the key messages and any action needed as a result?
  • Does the executive summary make sense by itself, without the report attached?

Final Words of Warning

An executive summary cannot be all things to all people. You
only have a few hundred words. You need to focus firmly on your intended
audience and their needs. Other people may find it useful; your
intended audience relies on it.

Find more information at (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site..

Remember for our paper – you will add key learning’s at the end of the summary in bullet format.

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