What is an executive summary?

Most of the modules in a university degree programme, undergraduate or postgraduate, require students to write coursework as part of their assessment. This coursework is mostly in an essay, research article or a paper format which have an “abstract” at the start to give readers a brief insight into the work and its contents. Abstracts are not written to give a detailed insight into the work.

I teach accounting in a UK a university at both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes and my modules also use coursework as part of the assessment. However, my coursework requires students to write a business report rather than a research paper. A research paper follows a strict academic structure while a business report is more diverse and different from academic work.

One of the elements which is different in a business report in comparison to a research paper is an executive summary. As students mostly write abstracts for their coursework, I end up getting abstract in a business report as students confuse it with executive summary which causes students to lose few very easy marks.

The purpose of this article is to give a few examples on executive summary to make it clear to the students what an executive summary looks like and what should be the contents of it. All of these examples are not perfect and have areas which can be improved. Therefore, do not simply copy these. The idea is to give you the basics and a little inspiration so you can create something even better.

Lets look at the first one


This is a good one which presents the work pretty well and highlights the important findings in the last paragraph. The structure could be improved as the graphs are isolated form the work and given at the end. There is an equal weighting to introduction, objectives/ methodology and findings but findings should have more weighting. Bullet points should be used to highlight the important figures and reduce the word count.

Another example of a good Executive Summary


Excellent summary of the findings. Graphical presentation can add value here. When it comes to numbers, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Last example…


This one has too much data, looks too congested, there is no breathing space as paragraphs are too big. Graphical presentation can help to better structure this work.

And finally, how an executive summary should not look like​…

Feedback: The above is an abstract, not an executive summary.

Points to be taken from the above examples

  • Executive summary should be one page long (unless assessment brief says otherwise) and should make use of all the space on that page.
  • For Quantitative analysis, important data should be highlighted using tables and graphs.
  • Executive summary is a separate piece of work from the main report
  • Executive summary is written after the actual reports has been finalised.
  • Presentation and structure are very important elements of an executive summary.

I hope this clarifies all the confusion and I will stop seeing abstract when I am supposed to be reading an executive summary 😊

This article is written by Raja Mizan who is a senior lecturer in accounting & finance in a UK university. He is an ACCA member and also runs his own accountancy practice RMR Accountants & Business Advisors.

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