Short Guide to Executive Summaries in Expert Reports

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Who reads Executive Summaries?

It’s an obvious point but one worth remembering: decision makers in courts or tribunals are busy people. They may be sitting in a hearing all day, preparing the next case after it adjourns, writing decisions, reading submissions…and reading expert reports.

In some cases, they may not start reading a report until late at night, and it is in these time-poor situations that a good Executive Summary can be useful. Eventually, the decision maker will need to read the whole report but providing a way for the reader to quickly grasp the main points can allow a report to feel more structured and digestible. Executive summaries also provide the benefit of report clarity when the reader is a lawyer or expert on the opposing side.


What goes into an Executive Summary?

An executive summary is a brief section at the beginning of a report that, as the name says, summarises the document. If a reader only reads the executive summary, they should still be able to absorb the essential elements of the report, without excessive detail.

Consider the executive summary as a kind of one-minute outline of the whole report. The summary should include:

  • A brief introduction of the author and their area of expertise;
  • The purpose of the report;
  • A very brief overview of the solicitor’s instructions;
  • A short summary of the key findings of the report; and
  • A short summary of results and conclusions, with a brief synopsis of the expert’s response to each question from the letter of instruction.


Key Points to Remember 

Not all reports need an executive summary. If a report is relatively short with only a few conclusions then an additional summary may not be practical. Executive summaries are generally most effective for long, perhaps technical, reports with numerous questions for the expert to answer or conclusions they must reach.

Although it appears at the beginning of the report, there is no need to grapple with the executive summary at the beginning of the writing process. It is often written last, after you know the content of the rest of the report.

In addition, here are some common issues to avoid in executive summaries:

  • Including too much background to the matter. This belongs in its own section.
  • Including too much detail in general. Save it for the body of the report.
  • Mismatched content. The report should expand on highlights in the Executive summary. Similarly, the report should not contain major points that are not in the summary.
  • Repeating the executive summary in the conclusion. If the report contains a conclusion, it should wrap-up the report and its findings, not repeat all the executive summary highlights.


In conclusion, there’s no hard and fast rule about when to include an executive summary in an expert report, but the busy reader may find an opening snapshot of an expert’s overall report helpful.


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