How to Write an Effective Executive Summary for a Research Paper

How to Write an Effective Executive Summary

Executive summary is a term commonly used in business planning, however, in this article, we will look at how to write an effective executive summary for a research paper.

The executive summary is an initial summary of the research. A kind of appetizer that illustrates what the reader will find from there, if asked to continue reading the document. We’ll explain everything about the topic in this article.

What is an executive summary?

An executive summary is a small document or section of a research report or larger proposal. It is used to give the reader a quick overview of the larger body of material that follows. In other words, it summarizes a report, so executives don’t have to read the entire report to understand its purpose.

It contains a brief statement that addresses the problem or proposal detailed in the attached documents and provides background information, a concise analysis, and a conclusion. An executive summary is designed to help executives decide whether or not to take the proposal forward, making it extremely important.

What goes into an executive summary?

When writing an executive summary, there are guidelines to ensure you hit all the bases. According to the many books that have been written on executive summaries, as well as training courses, seminars, and professional speakers, the agreed length should be about 5 to 10 percent of the length of the entire report.

Appropriate language

The language used must be appropriate for the target audience. One of the most important things you should know before writing professionally is to understand who you are addressing. If you are writing for a group of engineers, the language you will use will be very different from how you would write for a group of funders. This includes more than just the words, but the content and depth of the explanation.

That said, regardless of the purpose of your executive summary, you should avoid being wordy. Keep your paragraphs short and concise. A block of text, no matter how elegant or engaging, can be daunting. Remember it’s a summary and people will read it to extract the main items quickly and easily.

Energetic introduction

You also want to capture the reader’s attention right away in the opening paragraph. Just as a speech usually starts with a joke to break the tension and leave people at ease to hear better what’s to come, a strong introductory paragraph can draw the reader in and make them want to keep reading. That doesn’t mean you start with a joke. Jokes are hard. Focus on your strengths but remember that most readers only provide a few sentences to win them over before moving on.

Don’t forget to explain who you are as an organization and why you have the skills, people, and experience to resolve the issue raised in the proposal. This doesn’t have to be a long biography, usually just your name, address and contact information will do, although you’ll also want to highlight your strengths when it comes to the proposal.

It may seem redundant, but start the summary with a very short, dotted list of what follows, like an index. Then, as you detail these points in the executive summary, be sure to write about the documents in the same order they appear.

Relevant information

The executive summary should not deviate from the material that follows. It’s a summary, not a place to bring in new ideas. Doing so would be confusing and undermine your entire proposal.

Establish the need or problem and convince the target audience that it must be resolved. Once configured, it is important to recommend the solution and show what the value is. Be clear and firm in your recommendation.

Justify your cause. Make sure you look at the top reasons why your organization is a perfect fit for the solution you are proposing. This is where you differentiate yourself from your competitors, whether it’s methodology, testimonials from satisfied customers, or anything else you offer that is unique. But don’t give yourself too much importance. Make sure you keep the potential customer’s name first.

Don’t overlook a strong conclusion, where you can wrap up and highlight the main points once again.

How to write an executive summary?

The general rule is that executive summaries should be as short as possible. Your target audience has limited time and attention and wants to get the details of your business plan as quickly as possible.

Try to keep your executive summary to 2 pages, if possible, although it may take longer if necessary. You can even write on one page using a lean plan format. You can learn more about this one-page business plan format and download a template here.

  • A description of your project or research proposal and the problem you intend to solve

Include a brief description of the research idea you carried out and why it’s needed. Your research paper doesn’t need to address a larger social problem, but it must address a lacuna or provide solution to an existing challenge.

  • A description of your target audience

Your target audience is who you think your research work will benefit. Sometimes, the name of the research paper itself defines the audience, such as “A Case Study of Traditional Institutions in Ogun State” or “Industrial Development of Lagos State”. Otherwise, just a brief description of the target audience – your main target audience or the people you think will spend money on your solution.

  • Competition

Assuming your research work has competition or opposing views, briefly describe how your research work stands out. Are you competing on theories or something else? Briefly describe what sets your research work apart here.

  • Your team

This is especially important for research proposal or grants. Funding institutions want to know who is behind the research idea and why you and your team are the right people to carry out the research. It can also be valuable to highlight your team’s gaps and how you plan to fill them. If you have potential partners or candidates in mind, mention them briefly and expand their qualifications in your full proposal.

  • Financing needs

If you are using your research plan to raise funds for your research work, your executive summary should highlight how much money you are looking for. Funding institutions want to know this in advance and don’t need to look for a grant to find these details.

Tips for Writing an Effective Executive Summary

No matter because you’re writing your executive summary, there are some general rules that make it easier and ultimately more effective. Here are some points to remember as you start:

1. Think of an executive summary as an argument

Think of an executive summary as something like an elevator pitch, but with restrictions. A good summary sells the rest of the plan, but it can’t just be a hard sell – it needs to summarize the plan. Readers expect it to cover, at a minimum, their commercial, product, market, and financial highlights.

Of course, you will highlight what will most interest the reader to achieve the immediate business objective of this plan. But your readers expect the main points covered. It’s a summary, not just an argument.

2. Write last

Don’t start writing your research paper with your summary. Although the executive summary is at the beginning of a completed research paper, many researchers choose to write the executive summary after writing everything else.

Ideally, the executive summary is short – usually just a page or two, five on the outside – and highlights points you’ve highlighted elsewhere in your research paper; so, if you save it for last, it will be quick and easy.

3. Keep your executive summary short

Be brief and concise. Some experts recommend a single page, or two, no more than five, and sometimes even more. We say less is more. Keep it as short as possible without missing the point. And because we read hundreds of papers every year – one page is better than two, and two is better than five, and more than five pages is too long.

4. Keep it simple

Form follows function; therefore, don’t overcomplicate or explain things in your summary. Most executive summaries are short texts, usually bulleted, divided into subheads. Illustrations such as an image of a product or a bar chart showing financial highlights are often a welcome addition.

5. Prioritize sections based on importance and strengths

Don’t bury the lead. Organize your executive summary so that the most important information is displayed first. There is no definite order of appearance of the different key items included, rather in fact – so use order to show emphasis.

Lead with what you want more attention and follow the items in order of importance. People tend to like summaries that start with an indication of a problem, because that can add drama and urgency that demonstrate the solution to your business.

6. Use it for your summary note

When done, reset it to a summary note. It’s the first chapter of a formal plan, but you can also use it as a standalone “summary note”. Investors often ask start-ups to submit a summary note rather than a full business plan.

It can be a short document, usually attached to an email, or simply a summary in an email. You can also use it again to fill out start-up profiles on investment platforms or to request an incubator or business plan contest.