WRITING THE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Executive summaries are much like other summaries in that their main goal is to provide a condensed version of a longer report's content. The key difference, however, is that executive summaries are written for someone who most likely DOES NOT have time to read the original. The dramatic increase in the sheer amount of information available on most topics has spawned a corresponding growth in the size and number of reports. Unfortunately, there has not been a similar expansion in the amount of time available to executives or policy makers to read these increasingly lengthy reports. The solution to this problem is the executive summary.

An executive summary may be called an abstract when it accompanies a scholarly document, although there are differences. The definition of an abstract is helpful: An abstract is a shortened form of a work that retains the general sense and unity of the original. Generally, this definition could be applied to an executive summary with one major difference. An abstract is basically a miniature version of the original...it looks like the original. An executive summary goes beyond this: it seeks to let the reader in on what the real significance of the report is--what is the reader expected to respond to? The reader is a decision maker who will have the responsibility of deciding on some issue(s) related to the report. The executive summary must be written with this need in mind.

The executive summary is usually no longer than 10% of the original document. It can be anywhere from 1-10 pages long, depending on the report's length. They are a self-contained, stand-alone document. Although this may not always be the case - for this assignment executive summaries make recommendations. Accuracy is essential because decisions will be made based on your summary by people who have not read the original.

 

 

Functions of an Executive Summary

 

         Gives readers the essential contents of your document in 1-10 pages.

         Previews the main points of your document enabling readers to build a mental framework for organizing and understanding the detailed information in your document.

         Helps readers determine the key results and recommendations reported in your document.


Processes for Writing an Executive Summary

Executive summaries are typically written for longer reports. They should not be written until after your research is finished. Before writing your summary, try to:

         Scan your research to determine what the content, structure and length of the report would be.

         Highlight key points; determine purpose/central theme of the report.

         Review your research and determine what the key ideas or concepts are.

         Group ideas in a logical fashion and prepare a point form outline of the summary.

         Edit the outline to eliminate secondary or minor points; use your judgement to keeping the summary concise.

         Determine whether subtitles, bullets, selective bolding or some other type of organizational structure will add to the clarity of your summary.

         Write the summary in your own words, using a professional style.

         Read it aloud or even tape record yourself reading your summary.


Elements of an Executive Summary

Following is a list of elements that may be included in an Executive Summary. The elements that you include in your Executive Summary and the amount of space that you give to each element will depend on the purpose and nature of your document. Therefore, you should choose the elements that make sense for your document and omit the ones that don't.

1. Purpose and scope of document

2. Methods

3. Results

4. Conclusion

5. Recommendations

6. Other supportive information
 

Questions to Ask Yourself as You Write

 

1.      What is your research about?

2.      Why is it important?

3.      What is included in the research?

4.      What is included in each section?

 

 

Concise Statement of your Findings

As a cover sheet to a document, an executive summary need not go into ANY mention of how you conducted your analysis and/or what you're basing your conclusion(s) on. Instead, begin with a concise statement of the conclusion(s) you reached after conducting your analysis and/or research in the paper that would normally be attached. How you word the conclusion will differ depending on your audience and what they care most about. The wording must change given an audience's needs.
 

Writing Recommendations

 

After beginning with a summary statement of your findings, the executive summary should go on to provide a specific recommendation for action geared toward your audience. Finally, an executive summary provides an analysis and/or justification for the proposed action in terms the audience will consider important. In many cases, this might involve an economic or ethical, but actions can be justified many ways, depending on the concerns of the audience and the topic of the research.

Include justification for the recommendation by referring to information summarized. A recommendation justification is usually based on a reference to material already provided in the summary. In other cases, the justification for the recommendation might be complicated enough to justify a summary of causes for the justification. In this case, the recommendation paragraph usually begins with a summary of how the writer reached the conclusion that leads to the justification.
 

For Writing Policy Recommendations

Key Elements of a Social Policy Statement

 

         A call to action (the policy)

         A justification for the policy

         Those to whom the policy should apply

         Those responsible for implementing the policy

         How the policy should be implemented and evaluated

         Include guiding principles if necessary