The Most Common Pitfalls in Executive Summaries
In the previous article we described how you can create a short and concise summary of the business document, research report or client proposal and give it to the reader as an 'executive summary'.
When formatting and building such an executive summary, you should avoid the following pitfalls. They are badly written and badly planned executive summaries, which can discourage your target audience.
Fact or Conviction
Support your motives and the goal of the executive summary with the facts. Summarize a sales offer or a pitch, convince your readers in the executive summary with data and information, not with keywords and clichés.
By generalizing or expressing opinions that you do not include in your material with market research, project examples, independent data, testimonials, etc., you risk misleading the reader. Avoid persuading your target audience to make an unwanted recommendation or conclusion. Focus on the facts.
Relevance over Repetition
The executive summary naturally reflects the content. Therefore, add only the most relevant details - those that summarize the true purpose of the entire content. Use the entire document to cover topic-relevant background information in detail.
If you try to include too much information and context from your full business or research document in the summary, the details may overshadow the impression you want to leave on the reader. The background becomes an introduction, and you risk losing the attention of your reader - especially an online audience.
Consistency is Crucial
The executive summary highlights the essentials of the overall document. Do not use any information that is not contained in it.
In the executive summary and the complete document, you should use the same subheadings when structuring the summary and the main text. For example, if you write "project milestones" in the summary, you should not refer to them as "project goals" in the document itself.
Use the same tone and language in the summary that you use throughout the whole material. If you are addressing an audience without expertise, you should not switch to a highly technical analysis in the main text and vice versa.
Finally, if you cover something in the summary, cover it also in the main document. Don't make the reader search external sources for information about something you highlighted in the executive summary.
Draw a Clear Conclusion
Write an executive summary that leads to a result and supports your purpose in creating the document. Consider the reader's interest when summarizing a longer project proposal or report.
- Does the reader have a clear understanding of the solutions you propose?
- Can they identify the problems you are solving?
- If the summary is the only thing they read, can they respond to your recommendations or expect a desired result based on the information you provide?