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Executive Summary or Abstract?

Definition of an Executive Summary

An executive summary provides an overview of a larger document or research and is usually the first thing your reader will see.   Executive summaries will analyze a problem, drawn conclusions, and recommend a course of action in a complete but brief synopsis.  

Often the executive summary is the only item decision-makers will read to determine if action is warranted on an idea.  Therefore, the executive summary must grab their attention and entice them to read through the larger, more in-depth documentation.


Writing the Executive Summary

It is important to keep your target audience in mind as you write the executive summary.  Your audience may not be versed in the technical language of your profession and may only focus on specific business needs.

In general, the executive summary should address these main points:

  • Purpose
    • What is the point of the document?  Are you trying to influence management?  Are you trying to make a change in a hospital?  Make sure you have a purpose when writing the summary.
  • Problem
    • What issue needs addressing?  Why is it an issue?  Why are you where you are? 
  • Problem Analysis 
    • What can be changed or improved?
  • Results of analysis
    • What did you find while researching the issue?  What methods did you use?  How do you know your resources are valid, reliable, and credible?
  • Recommendations
    • What can you do to address this issue?  How will you achieve your recommendations?  How will this help?  What action can be taken?

Executive Summary for Business or Marketing Plan

If you have come here for guidance on writing an executive summary for a business or marketing plan, here are some tips.

The executive summary of a business or marketing plan provides a brief overview of the entire marketing plan.  Its primary purpose is to reduce complex topics and projects within your greater plan to the basics and show your short-term and long-term goals. 

The executive summary is usually written as a series of paragraphs, with each paragraph focusing on one section of the marketing plan.

  • Write an introduction
  • Write a paragraph on your company and/or team.
  • Outline market factors and trends.
  • Describe products or services; explain key features and benefits and their unique value propositions.
  • Define your target market, where you will find them, how you will reach them, and your promotional strategy.
  • Clearly define any financial information that relates to your plan, such as an overall cost.
  • Summarize your goals and end with a call to action that will get people interested in reading the entire plan.

Gargaro, D. (2023, November 16). How to Write a Marketing Plan Executive Summary. Business.Com.

Common Mistakes When Writing an Executive Summary

An executive summary is NOT:

  • An abstract
  • An introduction
  • A preface
  • A random collection of highlights

An executive summary is a stand-alone document and should make sense without any other information.  You will want to avoid these common mistakes when writing your summary:

  • Do not get too lengthy or wordy - keep it to 3-5 pages
  • Do not cut and paste information
  • Avoid excessive subtitles and lists
  • Do not get too technical or use jargon
  • Do not use passive or imprecise language

An Executive Summary is NOT an Abstract

Although an executive summary is similar to an abstract in that they both summarize some kind of research, there are several key differences. 

An executive summary and an abstract are both concise summaries of a longer document, such as a report, research paper, or proposal. However, they are used in different contexts and have slightly different purposes.

They are similar in the following ways:

  1. Concise Summary: Both the executive summary and abstract provide a condensed overview of the main points, findings, or arguments presented in the larger document.
  2. Positioned at the Beginning: Typically, both the executive summary and abstract are positioned at the beginning of the document to give readers a quick understanding of its content before delving into the details.
  3. Standalone: They are standalone sections, meaning they should be able to be understood independently of the main document. They should convey the key information even if the reader doesn't read the full document.

There are also some key differences.

  Executive Summary Abstract
  • target decision-makers, stakeholders, or busy professionals.
  • offer a comprehensive overview including purpose, key findings, recommendations, and conclusions.
  • aim to help readers quickly grasp the document's essence for informed decision-making.
  • allow understanding without needing to read the entire content.
  • serve academic or scholarly contexts.
  • offer a brief summary for researchers, academics, or scholars.
  • include details on research question, methodology, key findings, and conclusions.
  • assist readers in assessing relevance and deciding whether to read the full paper.
Length and Purpose
  • longer and more detailed than abstracts.
  • length varies from a paragraph to several pages.
  • depends on document complexity and length.
  • contains more contextual information, analysis, and recommendations.
  • shorter and more succinct than executive summaries.
  • typically limited to a single paragraph or a few hundred words.
  • focus on summarizing main points and findings.
  • less emphasis on providing extensive background information or analysis.
  • typically do not include recommendations.