Skip to Main Content

EERL 801 Course Library Guide

Quick Links

Detailed Guidelines

Guidelines for this program...



(Adapted from:

An executive summary is a brief section at the beginning of a long report, article, recommendation, or proposal that summarizes the document. It is not background and not an introduction. People who read only the executive summary should get the essence of the document without fine details.

The executive summary for a business report is the written equivalent of what you would relate to the VP of your division while taking the elevator to the 30th floor or walking to the parking lot with him or her. It's the core of your document.  As a 30-second or a one-minute version of the entire report, the executive summary should answer the reader's questions in brief.   This summary is normally written last, when you are certain about the contents of the document.

For a business proposal or a recommendation, the summary might answer these questions:

  •  Briefly, what is this about?
  •  What do you propose or recommend?
  •  Why do you propose it? What is your rationale?
  •  What is the next step?


What are common mistakes writers make in executive summaries?

  1. Repeating the content of the executive summary almost verbatim near the beginning of the report. Repetition loses readers.
  2. Providing too much background in the summary. Background belongs in a background section or an introduction--not in the summary.
  3. Providing too much detail in the summary. Details belong in the body of the document.

4.    Using different terms in the executive summary from those in the report. If the summary mentions findings, the report should include findings--not observations. If the summary cites results, the report should describe results--not outcomes.

5.    Having a mismatch in content. Whatever the executive summary highlights must be included in the report. Likewise, the report should not contain major points that did not appear in the summary.

6.    Including too little or too much in the executive summary. Executive summaries should cover only the essential findings, results, or recommendations.  

7.    Repeating the executive summary almost verbatim in the conclusion. If a report contains a conclusion, it should be a wrap-up that drives home the main points--not an executive summary that highlights them.


Additional Information

  1. What did you study?
  2. Why?
  3. For your study:  What was the situation?  What decisions needed to be made?  What issues were at stake?  What problem(s) do you think needed to be solved?  What trade-offs were involved?
  4. What were the apparent underlying assumptions in the situation?
  5. Who might be interested in, or impacted by, the results of your study and the recommendations resulting from your study?
  6. What questions did you attempt to answer?  What information did you have and did you need?  How did you get the information you needed?
  7. What other resources could you identify, but were unable to get, that you think would have been useful for the study?
  8. What options or approaches did you have for conducting the study and why did you choose the one you did?
  9. Describe how you acquired and synthesized the information and data you used to formulate the recommendation(s), including interviews/information exchange with subject matter experts.
  10. What are your recommendation(s) for addressing the issue and informing the decision-maker?  What are several possible options?  What are the benefits and detriments of each option?
  11. What factors did you use when choosing an option?  What does that mean about your assumptions? 
  12. How did you create an impartial review and synthesis of the recommendation(s)?
  13. How might you communicate the results of the study and its recommendations to interested and potentially impacted parties (listed in number 5)?
  14.  How can the results of this study be used to illuminate analysis of similar situations?