Executive Summary: How to State It Cogently

The executive summary is an important and useful tool for your readers when it is presented in a cogent or clear, logical, and convincing manner. Its purpose is to highlight the important facts presented in your report, so readers can effectively understand the main concepts of its content. Most often, the readers of an executive summary will be business professionals, such as company CEOs, managers, and other stakeholders in a company. Since time is valuable to such people, it is important for you to convey the meaning of your report in the executive summary as cogently as possible.

From My Own Experience

As a senior at the University of South Florida (USF), I have learned to develop an effective executive summary through business communication courses, the writing lab at USF, and writing research papers in various business courses throughout my college career. In achieving the desired results of a clear, logical and convincing executive summary, I have learned that an author must grasp a thorough understanding of the content presented in the overall report. Mimicking its outline can help you develop a coherent flow in your summary, because it already covers the main topics. However, it must convey the information without replicating the text of the report itself.


Keep It Focused   

Begin with a statement that clearly defines the purpose of your overall report. Then proceed to build on it by covering specific highlights such as quantifiable costs and Exec Summspecific benefits pertaining to a company project, or other information that would be important to decision makers. Remember, you are not writing an abstract which is very general in nature and usually contained in one paragraph. An executive summary can be a couple of pages long and “stresses results or conclusions” according to the Texas A&M University writing center.


Consistent Formatting is Important

In addition to the written flow of an executive summary, the formatting is also important. It should follow the same format of the report in respect to the main headings, subheadings, type styles, paragraph treatment, and the use of lower case Roman numerals in the footer of the page that follows in suit with the other prefatory parts of a report. A good example of an executive summary layout is shown in one of my textbooks, Business Communications Essentials. It presents a visual breakdown of a complete report that takes you through all of the parts from prefatory to textual and finally supplementary to give a broad understanding of how it all fits together with useful comments for each section.


Clearly Spell Out the Big Picture

When your executive summary fails to describe the major points of your report, it lacks direction and the reader does not grasp an understanding of the report’s content, as shown below:

Bad Summ

Treat your executive summary as a snapshot of the report that contains all the information your audience needs to understand the big picture. From this, they should be able to determine whether to read further for a broader understanding of its content.

Deborah Millett is a Senior at the University of South Florida working toward a bachelors degree in Accounting. While currently employed as a full-time Accounts Payable Clerk at Withlacoochee River Electric Co-op, she is striving to move ahead in the accounting department.

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