When people work on organizing their research papers, they need effective guidelines on how to write an executive summary. This article provides insights students should grasp to create high-standard texts, including defining what is an executive summary, its meaning, and its basic structure. About the structure, the guideline teaches students all the sections of an executive summary (introduction, purpose statement, methods, findings, recommendations, limitations, implementation, and conclusion), the contents of each part, and how to write each element. Other insights include 20 tips for producing a high-standard executive summary, including 10 dos and 10 don’ts. Lastly, the article gives a sample outline template for writing a good executive summary and a practical example of this section of a research paper.
How to Write an Outstanding Executive Summary for a Research Paper & Examples
A habit of reading different types of papers is helpful to students’ mental preparation for course assessments but, more importantly, to their intellectual development. Reading various types of essays, reports, and research papers also induces the mental faculties of intellect, reason, imagination, and intuition, which are essential for academic discourse. Indeed, one can tell a writer who reads habitually by how they construct and defend arguments and ideas in their works. Basically, this guideline for writing an effective executive summary includes essential insights into what students should and should not do when writing this type of academic document. The article also defines what is an executive summary and its meaning, outlines its distinctive features, shows how to write each part of this section of a research paper, explains concepts, and gives helpful tips for producing a high-standard document. In turn, this guideline gives a sample outline of a project paper and an example of an executive summary.
Definition of What Is an Executive Summary and Its Meaning
From a simple definition, an executive summary is a text that accounts for the main points of a longer text, mainly a market study report, project report, and business proposal. In this respect, it serves the same purpose as an abstract, the only difference being that it is not used in research papers. Ideally, an abstract is a short and descriptive section of the essential details of a research paper, such as background, methodology, results, and conclusion. In contrast, an executive summary means writing a comprehensive overview of a report, research proposal, or project that explains the main points, including recommendations. Practically, an abstract is between 0.5-1 page, while an executive summary is about 5-10% of the document’s total word count. Since the purpose of an executive summary is to summarize the entire research paper comprehensively, it precedes the introduction of a report, proposal, or business plan.
Distinctive Features of an Executive Summary
An executive summary is identifiable by specific features that distinguish it from other texts, including essays and research papers. Essentially, all scholarly documents require the same level of mental preparation by writers to produce high-quality work. However, students must understand that some papers are demanding because of their contents, which underscore the basic essay outline. The main contents that earmark the distinctive features of an executive summary are an introduction, a purpose statement, methods, findings, recommendations, limitations, an implementation plan, and a conclusion.
The introduction of an executive summary highlights the document’s topic, which emphasizes the type of paper it is, such as a business proposal, project report, or market research report. In this respect, it must be short and precise. Because the focus is the topic, one should use a bridge sentence or short paragraph for the introduction.
2️⃣ Purpose Statement
The purpose statement of an executive summary communicates the document’s primary objective. In this respect, it provides a brief background of the topic to enhance the reader’s understanding of the essence of the document. The language in this part reflects an expected end, while common terms include ‘aim,’ ‘goal,’ ‘purpose,’ or ‘objective.’
In an executive summary, methods outline the writer’s approach to achieving the primary objective, such as examining official data, conducting a field study, reviewing the literature, or interviewing stakeholders. Students need to understand that this component differs from the research methodology of research papers. In this respect, it does not detail the methods one has used to complete the work. In essence, it outlines the strategies that help writers to better understand critical issues, such as challenges to a sector, stakeholder sentiments, industry insights, or potential barriers.
Findings in an executive summary are the outcomes of the methods, meaning it is what the writer has discovered about an issue, such as an industry, stakeholders, or a project. This component is crucial to readers because it offers a sneak peek into the outcomes that underscore the primary purpose of the entire document: project report, market research report, or business proposal.
Recommendations in an executive summary underscore the writer’s perspective regarding the issues that a research paper addresses as a challenge or problem. For example, if the paper is a report about healthcare status, the challenges or problems it identifies may be nursing shortages or medical errors. The recommendations should highlight what stakeholders, like the government and health institutions, must do to overcome these challenges or problems. In other words, the recommendations address what must be done to rectify a situation or make it possible to achieve specific outcomes.
Like a research paper, an executive summary must point out the limitations that the document’s author encountered in reporting about a project or business plan. For example, these limitations may include a lack of goodwill among stakeholders, sufficient time to investigate a matter, or resources to execute the task. This information is essential to the audience because it indicates the dynamics influencing the primary objective.
7️⃣ Implementation Plan
The implementation plan is the component in an executive summary that provides a framework for adopting and implementing the recommendations. Typically, this information includes claims and activities, people responsible, the timeframe, and budget allocation. Sometimes, an evaluation plan is also part of the implementation plan.
The conclusion part of an executive summary is a call to action about the project report, market research report, or business proposal. Unlike conclusion examples in other academic papers and essays that summarize the paper’s main points, the conclusion of an executive summary gives a direction about the document. Essentially, writers use this component to call to action the audience to adopt the recommendations or compel stakeholders to adopt a particular perspective. In turn, it persuades the audience to adopt a particular stance regarding the report or proposal.
The Length of an Executive Summary
Students should know the length of each of the above sections, except the introduction and conclusion parts, depending on the document’s total length, which determines the word count of an executive summary. For example, a long and robust project report or business proposal requires a long executive summary with an extended purpose statement, methods, findings, recommendations, limitations, and implementation, which means the length of 4-10 double spaced pages, or 2-5 single spaced pages, or 1000–2500 words, depending on the volume of the work. Typically, the introduction and conclusion sections take a statement or short paragraph of 0.5-1 double spaced page or 125-250 words, irrespective of a research paper or executive summary’s length. However, if a research paper is a long work of more than 10 double spaced pages, 5 single spaced page, or 2500 words, the introduction and conclusion parts should not exceed 5-10% of the whole word count. Besides, the body section of an executive summary must take 80-90% of the total word count of a research paper, not less. The word count of a title page, a table of contents, an abstract, a reference page, and appendix is not considered since these parts are technical and do not mean writing itself.
How to Write Each Section of an Executive Summary for a Research Paper
Writing an executive summary requires students to demonstrate an understanding of its purpose. This understanding means students should know when to write it, what to talk about, and how to write each of the sections above. Therefore, writing an executive summary is essential to approach carefully and with the utmost focus.
1️⃣ Writing an Executive Summary as a Last Action
Because an executive summary overviews the entire research paper, students should write this part after finishing their market research reports, project reports, or business proposals. However, one should read and reread the whole research paper to know the most significant points forming part of the summary. By writing an executive summary as a last item, one can have a mental picture of what to address to give the audience a comprehensive sneak peek into a research paper document.
2️⃣ Making Notes of Important Aspects
While reading and rereading a research paper, students should take notes of the most critical aspects of their work that must appear in an executive summary. These aspects must address each section above. Moreover, one should identify crucial information in an introduction, a purpose statement, methods, findings, recommendations, limitations, an implementation plan, and a conclusion.
A. Writing an Introduction Part of an Executive Summary
When writing a college essay introduction, students must refrain from going into details about the purpose of the text because they will have an opportunity to do so later. While one may mention the document’s background, one should make it concise to contextualize the topic. The most crucial detail is that the introduction part of an executive summary should be a sentence or brief paragraph.
B. Writing a Purpose Statement Part of an Executive Summary
When writing the research paper’s purpose, students should communicate the type of document, such as a business proposal, a market research report, or a project report. The next thing is to state the background; provide the reason for writing, like sourcing funds; recommend solutions; or report progress and challenges. However, one should avoid going into detail because they will do so later in an executive summary of a research paper.
C. Writing a Methods Part of an Executive Summary
When writing a methods section, one should focus on giving the audience a sense of the strategy that helps achieve the outcomes. However, writers should approach this part differently than the methodology section of a research paper. Instead, they should mention what they did to execute the work, such as interviewing stakeholders or analyzing official data. The best way to approach this section is to list everything one did to make a research paper.
D. Writing a Findings Part of an Executive Summary
Since the purpose of the findings section in a research paper is to narrate outcomes, students should write it in the past tense. Therefore, when writing this section of an executive summary, authors should see themselves as reporters educating the audience about what they have learned in executing the task. An essential detail students should note when writing the section is to refer to credible sources of information that lead to the findings. These reliable sources can be documents, organizations, individuals in leadership, or industry experts.
E. Writing a Recommendations Part of an Executive Summary
When writing a recommendations section in an executive summary for a research paper, students should focus on giving a clear summary of what should happen after the findings. Essentially, one should address the key decision-makers or stakeholders because they are responsible for creating change through policy. The best approach to writing recommendations is to interrogate each challenge or problem and related findings to understand what must happen to create positive outcomes.
F. Writing a Limitations Part of an Executive Summary
The best approach to writing a limitations section in an executive summary for a research paper is to interrogate the challenges one has faced in the project, such as a lack of goodwill among stakeholders or sufficient time, resources, or support. Ideally, writers aim to inform the audience of the factors that have complicated their work or may complicate the implementation of the recommendations.
G. Writing an Implementation Plan Part of an Executive Summary
When writing an implementation plan in an executive summary, students should focus on telling the audience the procedure for actualizing the recommendations. In this respect, the best approach to writing this section is to interrogate the recommendations to determine what must happen to actualize each. For example, some issues to consider may include people in charge of implementation, such as an organization’s human resource director, the time it would take to actualize (timeline), the budget, and how to measure success (evaluation).
H. Writing a Conclusion Part of an Executive Summary
When writing a conclusion part, students should aim to persuade the audience to adopt a particular stance regarding a research paper or proposal. Although one might reiterate the topic, it is not necessary to mention each of the preceding sections. Instead, writers should focus on sending a strong communication regarding it. The best approach to writing the conclusion section is to influence the audience’s perspective on the topic and the recommendations and implementation.
3️⃣ Explaining Acronyms, Abbreviations, and Key Terms
Since an executive summary is an overview of a market research paper, project report, or business plan, authors should write it clearly and precisely. The best approach is to use simple language and define all acronyms, abbreviations, and key terms. In turn, students should not assume that readers know what each acronym, abbreviation, and key term means when they read research papers.
4️⃣ Proofreading, Revising, and Editing an Executive Summary Section of a Research Paper
After completing writing a research paper, students should proofread it to identify grammatical and formatting mistakes and inconsistent arguments and ideas. For example, the best way to fix these mistakes and flaws is to revise the whole research paper by fixing mistakes, like missing punctuation and wrong citations, and editing it by adding or deleting words and sentences to create a logical order of thoughts and ideas. In turn, writers must be factual, not use word count fillers, and avoid unnecessary repetitions. Besides, students should know that the audience is not interested in stories but in factual communication that makes logical sense.
Sample Paper Template for Writing a Good Executive Summary
Like essays, executive summaries have a specific structure students should demonstrate in their writing. The sections above underscore this outline template, meaning students should know what each section of writing an executive summary for a research paper entails and how to write it. The best way to write a high-quality executive summary is to create a template and populate it with ideas for a project, a business plan, a proposal, or a report. This preparation helps writers to have a mental picture of the kind of document they want to have and the right attitude when writing.
I. Introduction: [Introduce the topic and state the kind of document, such as a market research paper, project report, or business plan].
II. Purpose Statement: [Explain the primary objective of a research paper, such as investigating a problem, souring some funds, or reporting its progress].
III. Methods: [Enumerate how the task is accomplished, such as examining official data, interviewing stakeholders, or reviewing the literature].
IV. Findings: [Provide the outcomes of the methods, such as what official data reveals, stakeholders’ sentiments, or what research says].
V. Recommendations: [State clearly what stakeholders or key decisions must do to address the challenges or problems that the findings reveal].
VI. Limitations: [Discuss the challenges or problems that were encountered in completing the task, such as poor time management, a lack of support, or absent goodwill by stakeholders].
VII. Implementation Plan: [Include what stakeholders or key decision-makers must do to actualize the recommendations, such as identifying a person responsible and establishing a budget and timeline].
VIII. Conclusion: [Persuade the audience to adopt the recommendations and work toward creating change by facilitating an implementation plan].
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Example of an Executive Summary for an 8000-Word Research Paper
Topic: A Need for Proactive Climate Change Initiatives
I. Example of an Introduction Section in an Executive Summary
Stakeholders in the climate change discourse must shift focus from discourse to practical, proactive measures to demonstrate seriousness in tackling the biggest threat of the millennium.
II. Example of a Purpose Statement Section in an Executive Summary
The purpose of writing this executive study is to examine the status of the climate change discourse, interrogate dynamics that make it unpromising as a practical solution to the crisis, and recommend what stakeholders must do to restore hope to millions globally who are afraid that climate change poses the biggest threat to the existence of current and future generations.
III. Example of a Methods Section in an Executive Summary
An executive report employs several data-gathering methods to achieve these objectives, including examining the climate change discourse over the decades to identify key themes: environmental policies, greenhouse gases, industrial pollution, natural disasters, weather forecasts, and others. Another method is interrogating research and official data on climate change by government agencies in the last three decades. The report also considers interviews with environmentalists, social justice advocates, government officials, and leaders of organizations that dedicate their mission to creating awareness about the need for environmental conservation and preservation.
IV. Example of a Findings Section in an Executive Summary
Overall, the methods above reveal worrying findings about the climate change discourse:
- Human activities, including industries and deforestation, have increased global warming to 1.1 degrees C, triggering unprecedented changes to the Earth’s climate. The lack of consensus on reversing human-induced global warming among the most industrialized countries suggests that the trend will worsen in the coming decades.
- The impacts of climate change are evident on people and ecosystems. Without urgent practical interventions, these impacts will become more widespread and severe with every additional degree of global warming.
- Developing and implementing adaptation measures in communities can effectively build and foster the resilience of people and ecosystems. However, stakeholders must interrogate their climate change funding priorities for effective proactive interventions.
- Communities will continue recording climate-induced losses and damages as long as communities cannot adapt to some impacts of this global problem. An example is 1.1 degrees C of global warming.
- Projections indicate global greenhouse gas (GHC) emissions will peak at 1.5 degrees C before 2025 in selected at-risk pathways.
- Burning fossil fuels remains the leading cause of the global climate crisis.
- Carbon removal is the most effective and practical solution to limiting global warming from peaking at 1.5 degrees C.
- There is a lack of commitment by key stakeholders to finance climate change mitigation and adaptation.
- Climate change and the collective efforts to mitigate and adapt to its impacts will exacerbate global inequity if stakeholders do not prioritize just transition.
These findings of a research paper confirm that the climate change discourse is alive to the threat the global problem poses to people and ecosystems and the weaknesses in the current interventions.
V. Example of a Recommendations Section in an Executive Summary
This executive report recommends that key stakeholders, including governments, communities, policy experts, and financiers, must adopt to prioritize practical solutions to the global climate crisis.
- Stakeholders must target a net-zero climate-resilient future through urgent, systemwide transformations.
- Adopt policies that enhance access to fresh produce by establishing a relationship between farmers and consumers.
- Improve awareness about the critical benefits of organic foods.
- Consider policies that promote regenerative farm practices to eliminate toxins and revitalize soils.
- Create infrastructures for transforming waste into compost manure for farm use.
- Develop policies that encourage communities to embrace a green neighborhood.
VI. Example of a Limitations Section in an Executive Summary
This executive report recognizes several limitations that have made the fight against climate change unproductive and threaten current and future endeavors to arrest the crisis. For example, stakeholders need to note that these limitations may undermine the implementation of the recommendations in this report. One limitation is a lack of goodwill among key stakeholders. The four leading industrial powers, namely the United States, China, India, and Brazil, contribute to significant global atmospheric temperature increases. Traditionally, these countries have refused to agree on how to cut back on industries primarily because they are the main drivers of their economies. Another limitation is the mis-prioritization of financing, where much focus is on theoretical interventions, such as agreements and seminars, at the expense of practical solutions like building infrastructures for transforming waste into usable products. While stakeholders agree on the essence of the 3R (reuse, reduce, and recycle) framework, there is little practical implementation at the community level.
VII. Example of an Implementation Plan Section in an Executive Summary
The implementation plan for the recommendations above recognizes government agencies as the most suitable implementers because official bodies are the key stakeholders who finance climate change initiatives. The business plan considers that, to shift the climate change fight from mere discourse to practical evidence, stakeholders must prioritize the following:
- A budget of at least $50 million annually at the country level;
- A period of between 2-5 years; and
- Periodic evaluation of progress through at least one annual seminar or conference.
VIII. Example of a Conclusion Section in an Executive Summary
This executive research paper calls on all stakeholders in the climate change discourse to reconsider the current focus by recognizing its failure to create meaningful change as evidence shows the crisis continues to worsen. Instead, they should focus on practical, proactive interventions focusing on communities because that is where much environmental damage happens. It is also where the adversities of the crisis manifest most powerfully.
4 Easy Steps for Writing an Executive Summary
Writing an executive summary is a technical undertaking requiring writers to consider each section’s basic structure and essential details. When writing a research paper, one must know when to write each section and what to say. In this respect, preparation, stage setup, writing a first draft of an executive section, and wrap-up are essential steps students should follow to produce a research paper document that meets quality standards.
Step 1: Preparation
As the first step in writing an executive summary, preparation helps writers to develop a proper mindset that involves knowing the basic structure and what to write in each section of a research paper. Therefore, the critical task for students in this stage is constructing the basic structure and stating what must happen in each section.
Step 2: Stage Setup
Setting up the stage is the second step in writing an executive summary. It involves reading and rereading the document to identify critical details to address in each section of the basic structure. The best approach to achieve this outcome is to make notes of the most vital data when reading a research paper.
Step 3: Writing a First Draft of an Executive Summary
The third step is to create a first draft of an executive summary by putting all the critical data into relevant sections. Ideally, people must start with a clear introduction where they point out the focal point of a research paper and then move to a study’s purpose statement, methods, findings, recommendations, limitations, implementation plan, and conclusion. Each research section must summarize and not explain the most critical data.
Step 4: Wrap-Up
Wrapping a first draft into a final version of a research paper is the last step in writing an executive summary. This stage involves proofreading, revising, and editing a first version of an executive summary to eliminate grammar mistakes and inconsistent statements. As a result, authors must perfect their executive summaries of research papers by fixing errors and flaws that affect the logical progression of ideas and thoughts and the overall quality of the text.
20 Tips for Writing an Effective Executive Summary
Writing an executive summary can be demanding, particularly for students who do not prepare well or do not know what is most important. The following tips can be helpful: begin an executive summary by explaining why the topic is important; state the purpose of a research paper by outlining the problem and why it is essential or relevant to the audience; explain the methods that help to execute the task; state the findings; enumerate the limitations by addressing dynamics that undermine the implementation of solutions; consider the recommendations and list them using numbers or bullet points; outline an implementation plan that identifies the person or entity that oversee the implementation, the budget allocation, and how to evaluate progress; and write a conclusion that persuades the audience to adopt a particular perspective about the topic. In turn, 10 dos and 10 don’ts that writers should consider when writing their executive summaries in their research papers are:
10 things to do when writing an executive summary include:
- reading a research paper thoroughly to identify the primary objective, methods for collecting data, key findings, recommendations, significant limitations, and an implementation strategy;
- considering the audience of an executive summary to determine whether to use simple or technical language;
- writing formally and avoiding jargon;
- outlining the structure that considers all the main sections (introduction, purpose statement, methods, key findings, recommendations, limitations, implementation, and conclusion);
- organizing an executive summary in a summary format;
- using a short, clear, precise, and captivating opening statement to hook readers;
- including each section to state the most critical details;
- focusing on summarizing a research paper rather than explaining its contents;
- reviewing a research paper for incorrect information;
- proofreading, revising, and editing an executive summary to eliminate all mistakes.
10 things not to do when writing an executive summary include:
- using jargon to simplify complex terms and phrases;
- explaining rather than summarizing a research paper;
- creating too many grammar mistakes, such as missing punctuation and confusing words with a similar pronunciation;
- ignoring the basic outline of an executive summary;
- writing a lengthy introduction;
- concentrating on some sections more than others;
- explaining ideas or concepts not discussed in the main research paper;
- providing a very short or long summary that does not align with the document’s total word count;
- beginning an executive summary with anecdote or irrelevant information;
- placing an executive summary at the end of a research paper.
Summing Up on How to Write a Perfect Executive Summary
- Tell an interesting story. Writers should approach an executive summary as a platform for inducing the reader’s interest in reading a research paper. As such, one should use each section to tell what is most crucial to the audience.
- Highlight critical data. Writers should focus on what is most critical in each section of an executive summary, emphasizing statistical data because it is visually captivating.
- Maintain a formal tone from beginning to end. Writers should avoid using jargon to simplify complex concepts or terminologies.
- Write an executive summary after completing an actual research paper. Writing an executive summary as the last element of a research paper helps one to approach this paper as a final summary of the main points. In turn, the mistake of starting an executive summary before writing an actual research paper is that authors can write about details they fail to address in the final version of a document.