Can you just write an executive summary?

If you’ve just finished your asset management plan or infrastructure strategy this request may not exactly be music to your ears!

That’s because writing an executive summary for an asset management plan or any other large council document is not necessarily something we have ever been formally taught how to do. Despite this, it’s a satisfying document to write because it’s about cutting through the details to what really matters — the guts of the larger document. And at least you know the executive summary will be reasonably widely read, which may not always the case for your larger documents.

The purpose of an executive summary

It’s fair to assume that a reasonable proportion of your readers won’t read your whole activity management plan. Senior staff and elected members have more than enough reading material in every agenda, and iwi and stakeholders are also pressed for time. Writing a high-quality executive summary can give the gift of time to the people who need to know the key points about your plan.

How long should an executive summary be?

Chris Pearce (Corporate Reporting and Planning Manager at Kāpiti Coast District Council) says if an executive summary is any more than four pages it can seem like you’re reading the whole document, not the summary.

Similarly Wikihow’s advice on executive summaries is to aim for a document 5% the size of the source document, and it shouldn’t be more than 10%. So for a 60-page infrastructure strategy, that gives you a target of three pages and a maximum of six pages. Given the size of the canvas you’ve got to work with, what must be included?


David Hammond, (Head of Tribe Leadership) provided me with this succinct, useful list for writing the executive summaries of activity management plans:

  • the right story/debate
  • overall costs
  • timing
  • the major projects
  • the overall impact.

I find the ‘strategic context’ section a useful place to start when looking for content about the challenges facing your council, and to build from there by writing about the most significant solutions to those issues, as outlined throughout your plan.

My method is to copy key content from the main document, then look at that as a whole, and rewrite it as one cohesive summary. It’s best not to copy paragraphs directly from the body of the document, as readers quickly tire of duplicated content. (This is particularly noticeable if a paragraph in the executive summary is repeated in the introduction!)


Chris Pearce says the summary needs to accurately reflect the tone and conclusions in the plan or strategy. This is why it’s important to write the executive summary after writing the full document, rather than beforehand, once you fully understand what the full document is saying.

Step-by-step process

Given that it is a challenging but essential piece of content to write well, it’s easy to find yourself dancing around the task rather than getting underway. That’s why I developed a nine-step process to help me overcome this resistance.

Click here to access my guide on How to Write an Executive Summary

Would you like help with an executive summary?

Please contact me if you would like help with completion of your LTP documents (such as activity management plans and strategies). This can include editing and/or writing the executive summary.

Phone: 021 215 4698