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Writing an Executive Summary that Emotes Confidence

This article illustrates a simple rhetorical strategy, to apply at the sentence level, to increase your readers’ perception of your executive ability. This is a very useful strategy for all executive writing, but it is particularly important when writing an executive summary.


Executive writing should embody both confidence and competence. If you write with a confident tone, it quietly affirms your leadership abilities to your readers. And, if you are smart and ambitious and aspire to executive level, you also want to present a confident voice in your writing tone because it will help you advance.

During a recent training, a new executive shared with me that she had received feedback that she needs to “own” her decisions more strongly in all her communication, but especially in her executive summaries. The leadership team in her company felt her writing came across as tentative. When I reviewed her writing, I saw a common rhetorical error.

Avoid Unnecessary Introductory Words

This often stems from the very common “I am writing to tell you” approach. It is superfluous (and feels a bit like a grammar school essay) to remind your reader you are writing.

I am writing to tell you that your order was shipped on Friday, January 26. You should receive it by Tuesday.

Better:

I am writing to tell you that Your order was shipped on Friday, January 26. You should receive it by Tuesday.

Executives often fall into this same rhetorical trap by including weak introductory recommendation words:

I believe closing our satellite office is the best decision. Enrollments declined 17% in 2012 and 9% in 2011. This accelerating decline reflects the program duplication with our satellite and main office programs.

Better:

I believe Closing our satellite office is the best decision. Enrollments declined 17% in 2012 and 9% in 2011. This accelerating decline reflects the program duplication with our satellite and main office programs.

Avoid Using Qualifying, Opinion-Based Introductory Words

Words like believe, think, or feel infer a less confident voice. Instead of calmly owning your decision, this construct sounds less sure. A reader will likely think your statement is based on opinion more than clear business analysis and decision.

Best:

There is one verb, however, that works powerfully to convey confidence. Do use it when you want to make a strong, decisive executive impression. It connotes real ownership of your decision:

I recommend closing our satellite office is the best decision. Enrollments declined 17% in 2012 and 9% in 2011. This accelerating decline reflects the program duplication with our satellite and main office programs.

Notice that the verb recommend is so decisive it eliminates the need for the supporting statement “is the best decision.” I recommend clearly connotes your confidence and assessment of a business situation. It sounds confidently authoritative, but not at all brusque.

Eliminate any tentative introductory clauses in your sentence structure when making executive assessments, and always eliminate them when writing an executive summary. This simple, yet very effective, rhetorical strategy will help you convey more confidence and executive tone in your writing.

Learn More in this Course: Writing an Executive Summary.

Mary Cullen

About the author

Mary Cullen

Mary founded Instructional Solutions in 1998, and is an internationally recognized business writing trainer and executive writing coach with two decades of experience helping thousands of individuals and businesses master the strategic skill of business writing. She excels at designing customized business writing training programs to maximize productivity, advance business objectives, and convey complex information. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Rhode Island, an M.A. in English Literature from Boston College, and a C.A.G.S. in Composition and Rhetoric from the University of New Hampshire.

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