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An executive summary is a thorough overview of a research report or other type of document that synthesizes key points for its readers, saving them time and preparing them to understand the study's overall content. It is a separate, stand-alone document of sufficient detail and clarity to ensure that the reader can completely understand the contents of the main research study. An executive summary can be anywhere from 1-10 pages long depending on the length of the report, or it can be the summary of more than one document [e.g., papers submitted for a group project].
Bailey, Edward, P. The Plain English Approach to Business Writing . (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 73-80.
Importance of a Good Executive Summary
Although an executive summary is similar to an abstract in that they both summarize the contents of a research study, there are several key differences. With research abstracts, the author's recommendations are rarely included, or if they are, they are implicit rather than explicit. Recommendations are generally not stated in academic abstracts because scholars operate in a discursive environment, where debates, discussions, and dialogs are meant to precede the implementation of any new research findings. The conceptual nature of much academic writing also means that recommendations arising from the findings are distributed widely and not easily or usefully encapsulated. Executive summaries are used mainly when a research study has been developed for an organizational partner, funding entity, or other external group that participated in the research . In such cases, the research report and executive summary are often written for policy makers outside of academe, while abstracts are written for the academic community. Professors, therefore, assign the writing of executive summaries so students can practice synthesizing and writing about the contents of comprehensive research studies for external stakeholder groups.
When preparing to write, keep in mind that:
- An executive summary is not an abstract.
- An executive summary is not an introduction.
- An executive summary is not a preface.
- An executive summary is not a random collection of highlights.
Christensen, Jay. Executive Summaries Complete The Report. California State University Northridge; Clayton, John. "Writing an Executive Summary that Means Business." Harvard Management Communication Letter (July 2003): 2-4; Keller, Chuck. "Stay Healthy with a Winning Executive Summary." Technical Communication 41 (1994): 511-517; Murphy, Herta A., Herbert W. Hildebrandt, and Jane P. Thomas. Effective Business Communications . New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997; Vassallo, Philip. "Executive Summaries: Where Less Really is More." ETC.: A Review of General Semantics 60 (Spring 2003): 83-90 .
Structure and Writing Style
Writing an Executive Summary
Read the Entire Document This may go without saying, but it is critically important that you read the entire research study thoroughly from start to finish before you begin to write the executive summary. Take notes as you go along, highlighting important statements of fact, key findings, and recommended courses of action. This will better prepare you for how to organize and summarize the study. Remember this is not a brief abstract of 300 words or less but, essentially, a mini-paper of your paper, with a focus on recommendations.
Isolate the Major Points Within the Original Document Choose which parts of the document are the most important to those who will read it. These points must be included within the executive summary in order to provide a thorough and complete explanation of what the document is trying to convey.
Separate the Main Sections Closely examine each section of the original document and discern the main differences in each. After you have a firm understanding about what each section offers in respect to the other sections, write a few sentences for each section describing the main ideas. Although the format may vary, the main sections of an executive summary likely will include the following:
- An opening statement, with brief background information,
- The purpose of research study,
- Method of data gathering and analysis,
- Overview of findings, and,
- A description of each recommendation, accompanied by a justification. Note that the recommendations are sometimes quoted verbatim from the research study.
Combine the Information Use the information gathered to combine them into an executive summary that is no longer than 10% of the original document. Be concise! The purpose is to provide a brief explanation of the entire document with a focus on the recommendations that have emerged from your research. How you word this will likely differ depending on your audience and what they care about most. If necessary, selectively incorporate bullet points for emphasis and brevity. Re-read your Executive Summary After you've completed your executive summary, let it sit for a while before coming back to re-read it. Check to make sure that the summary will make sense as a separate document from the full research study. By taking some time before re-reading it, you allow yourself to see the summary with fresh, unbiased eyes.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
Length of the Executive Summary As a general rule, the correct length of an executive summary is that it meets the criteria of no more pages than 10% of the number of pages in the original document, with an upper limit of no more than ten pages [i.e., ten pages for a 100 page document]. This requirement keeps the document short enough to be read by your audience, but long enough to allow it to be a complete, stand-alone synopsis. Cutting and Pasting With the exception of specific recommendations made in the study, do not simply cut and paste whole sections of the original document into the executive summary. You should paraphrase information from the longer document. Avoid taking up space with excessive subtitles and lists, unless they are absolutely necessary for the reader to have a complete understanding of the original document. Consider the Audience Although unlikely to be required by your professor, there is the possibility that more than one executive summary will have to be written for a given document [e.g., one for policy-makers, one for private industry, one for philanthropists]. This may only necessitate the rewriting of the introduction and conclusion, but it could require rewriting the entire summary in order to fit the needs of the reader. If necessary, be sure to consider the types of audiences who may benefit from your study and make adjustments accordingly. Clarity in Writing One of the biggest mistakes you can make is related to the clarity of your executive summary. Always note that your audience [or audiences] are likely seeing your research study for the first time. The best way to avoid a disorganized or cluttered executive summary is to write it after the study is completed. Always follow the same strategies for proofreading that you would for any research paper. Use Strong and Positive Language Don’t weaken your executive summary with passive, imprecise language. The executive summary is a stand-alone document intended to convince the reader to make a decision concerning whether to implement the recommendations you make. Once convinced, it is assumed that the full document will provide the details needed to implement the recommendations. Although you should resist the temptation to pad your summary with pleas or biased statements, do pay particular attention to ensuring that a sense of urgency is created in the implications, recommendations, and conclusions presented in the executive summary. Be sure to target readers who are likely to implement the recommendations.
Bailey, Edward, P. The Plain English Approach to Business Writing . (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 73-80; Christensen, Jay. Executive Summaries Complete The Report. California State University Northridge; Executive Summaries. [email protected] Colorado State University; Clayton, John. "Writing an Executive Summary That Means Business." Harvard Management Communication Letter , 2003; Executive Summary. University Writing Center. Texas A&M University; Green, Duncan. Writing an Executive Summary. Oxfam’s Research Guidelines series ; Guidelines for Writing an Executive Summary. Astia.org; Markowitz, Eric. How to Write an Executive Summary. Inc. Magazine, September, 15, 2010; Kawaski, Guy. The Art of the Executive Summary. "How to Change the World" blog; Keller, Chuck. "Stay Healthy with a Winning Executive Summary." Technical Communication 41 (1994): 511-517; The Report Abstract and Executive Summary. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Writing Executive Summaries. Effective Writing Center. University of Maryland; Kolin, Philip. Successful Writing at Work . 10th edition. (Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2013), p. 435-437; Moral, Mary. "Writing Recommendations and Executive Summaries." Keeping Good Companies 64 (June 2012): 274-278; Vassallo, Philip. "Executive Summaries: Todorovic, Zelimir William, PhD. and Frye, Marietta Wolczacka,B.A., B.B.A. "Writing Effective Executive Summaries: An Interdisciplinary Examination." United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship, 2009; " Where Less Really is More." ETC.: A Review of General Semantics 60 (Spring 2003): 83-90 .
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How to Write an Executive Summary for a Research Paper
Updated 29 Nov 2022
What is an Executive Summary In a Research Paper?
When you are asked to compose an executive summary for your research paper, the main purpose is to provide a detailed overview in a report form or any other specified paper type with a clear synthesis of all the essential key points that will help your readers to understand the objectives and the vital elements of your research. Learning how to write an executive summary for a research paper, you should prepare your target audience and save their time as they aim to understand and evaluate your main message and the content. Although there may be several deviations, depending on your subject, it is necessary to state the purpose of your report right in the first paragraph and highlight all the information that will help your readers to understand the results of your research with all the relevant descriptions, conclusions, or further recommendations.
Why Do We Compose an Executive Summary?
It’s done to increase the clarity and the purpose of your research for the academic community, college professors, general audience, and publishers. The executive summary in a research paper writing can be encountered in any academic discipline. It aims to help the readers understand the vital points of lengthy research work and focus one’s attention and expectations without having to read through every complex paper paragraph. Starting from colleges and universities to business circles and presentations, the role of an executive summary for research is paramount!
The Executive Summary Length and Placement
In the majority of cases, your summary should not exceed 5-10% of the total length of your report. For example, if your research paper is about forty pages, your executive summary should fit within two pages of text. As it appears after the table of contents, the length is critical and should play a role of a summary before your introduction part starts. Your executive summary should reflect what has been researched with a brief explanation of the problem (or series of challenges) with the methodology and solutions that you have provided before resulting in a list of outcomes.
Structure of an Executive Summary For a Research Paper
Even when they have an example of executive summary for research paper to look through, most students still find it challenging to learn what must be present in each part of their paper and what information is relevant or unnecessary for a specific part. While your grading rubric may have recommendations that one must follow, let's break down each part in greater depth to understand the purpose:
- Introduction. This is where you must introduce your subject and talk about the importance of a chosen topic. Your first paragraph must provide sufficient and clear information about the discipline and the range of your research by either including the target audience or explaining why the issue matters. It should be about three to five sentences.
For example: “The problem of the Amazon Forests have often been discussed through the lens of environmental damage, yet not many social aspects of the almost extinct populations have been explored”.
- Purpose of Study. When writing an executive summary, one of the hardest tasks is to explain why you are researching something and what you would like to achieve. In practice, if you want to make a point and prove that something is harmful, it must be specified along with your assumption. In a certain sense, it works like a thesis statement.
For example: “The main objective of the research is to determine the volume of African Americans with the cardiovascular conditions living in the criminal regions of Alabama State and document the findings ”.
- Methods to Gather Data. Also known as the methodology, it is either qualitative or quantitative analysis that comes first. The methods may include surveys, interviews, lab experiments, or field recordings. If you are using specific technical equipment or electronic devices, it is also necessary to include a brief list, especially if it will make more sense to the readers.
For example: “The surveys and private interviews have been chosen as the methodology for the maximum efficiency of this research project. The consent for the interviews has been received and permission has been granted by the educational counselors at the local community”.
- Findings. This section should list your findings in a short form without getting too much into details. The most important is to explain what has been discovered and what significance it has in relation to your assumption or the methods that have been used.
For example: “ The research on the implementation of multimedia solutions for the cognitive development of autistic children has shown that the inspiration factor has helped to motivate the young learners to adjust and work with the flexible software, thus becoming more socially aware of the socialization and the teamwork ”.
- Recommendations. In case you have discovered certain facts or information through the course of your research, this part of a summary of research must list the order of actions that must be taken or the further research that may be helpful to achieve your goals. Also known as the call to action, this part should not introduce any new ideas but must stay within the scope of your research.
For example: “ The works by J.R. Lawson explore the subject of brain metamorphoses in virtuo at greater depth, which can further explain the main hypothesis explored by this research” .
- Report Limitations. If you are using surveys or interviews, there are apparent limitations and challenges that you may encounter. In practice, if your sample group has been limited or you could not obtain information related to some lab research, mention it here. If something is missing from the research on the topic, it must be documented as well. Do your best to organize the limitations by the importance or the order of their occurrence by explaining why they have affected the clarity or validity of your research.
For example: “ The lack of social contacts with the remote tribes in New Zealand has made it almost impossible to collect data about social life patterns and interactions within the tribe. The published linguistic guides have been insufficient to analyze the language specifics in full ”.
- Implementation. This section basically helps your target audience to learn about the practical implementation of your research. Composing your summary of a research paper, it is essential to explain the practical value of your work and show the most efficient ways to use the recommendations or locate information that will help to understand the importance of your research.
For example: “The presence of the innovative research labs in NYC for the journalistic community has also made it possible to explore the subject even further by starting with the open journalism projects and sharing them on social media or the television networks involved in the social development campaign” .
- Conclusion. This part must summarize the information that has been provided in the aforementioned sections. Remember that you should not exceed the given word count and keep your conclusion short by restating the main thesis and letting your target audience see the most important key points. Do not introduce any new ideas or mention things that have not been discussed before.
In practical terms, think of your executive summary of a research paper as if it is a brief advertisement where you explain and promote your research paper by explaining the main purposes and the methodologies with the results. While it may sound complex to most college and university students, executive summary writing must be done when your research work has already been finished. Collect all the vital information and use it to fill in the relevant section as shown in the structure parts above.
Executive Summary for a Research Paper Formatting
It will always depend on your writing style and the specified formatting since this section follows the same guidelines as what has been specified for the rest of your research paper. For example, if you are composing an executive summary in APA or MLA format, you must follow the same fonts and indents that have been mentioned in the style manual. The majority of scientific writing papers do not mention anything specific regarding executive summary format other than the bullet point form in certain cases, especially when taking a report form. Always consult your academic advisor to ensure that you are not violating any writing rules before submitting your work!
The Executive Summary Mistakes to Avoid
Starting with an executive summary paper, many students misunderstand the purpose of each section and forget that the summary, in this case, is not the same as their introduction section or a part where they have to write about how good or bad their research is. It’s not a preface either as you have to provide a mini version of your research paper. There are at least five aspects that one must consider in terms of mistakes and the ways to avoid them, including:
- Clarity of Your Tone. Keep your tone clear and do not introduce any new ideas or assumptions. Use information from your research and try to keep all the vital elements in 2-3 sentences at most for each section. The key aspect is to keep things brief as you write.
- Knowing Your Target Audience. When you already know your target audience well, you can narrow things down and avoid explaining the concepts and the problems that may already be clear to your readers. It will also affect the depth of your comments and recommendations.
- Avoid Pasting Parts of Your Existing Research. The worst mistake that can make your research paper sound weaker is copying and pasting the parts of your research paper for an executive summary. When you do so, you are also risking being blamed for self-plagiarism or repetitions that may affect the final score of your research paper.
- Getting Too Lengthy or Overly Complex. Your executive summary report should not become overly long and go beyond 2 pages for a short paper. The same relates to the structure and complexity of each section. The purpose here is to achieve clarity and a good structure.
- Forgetting to Proofread and Connect The Concepts. This aspect is often ignored, yet proofreading and editing your executive summary should always come first as you check the wording and readability of your work. Each section of your executive summary must represent a continuation of each preceding part.
An executive summary is essentially a compressed representation of your research paper. If your target audience manages to understand the purpose of your research paper quickly, you have been able to compose a good executive summary report. Think of a busy person who doesn’t have much time to read your paper and imagine as if you are talking to a good friend, explaining the purpose of your writing!
Executive Summary Writing Tips and Recommendations
Speaking of tips for writing an executive summary, you must take notes when reading through your research paper to remember all the vital points that must be discussed. Here is what you must do to achieve success with your executive report writing:
- Mention your purpose right away and outline the methods and sources of information that have been used.
- As you make recommendations, do not be vague and stay specific. Mention the authors or research projects that can be helpful.
- Learn to specify your methods and explain why choosing case studies was better or possible compared to interviews.
- Stay focused on your subject!
- If you have used experimental research, discuss the benefits.
- Speaking of limitations, mention the time that has been spent on the implementation of the methods.
- The skills and lack of communication in certain areas may also be used as the barrier to research implementation.
- Mention the risks involved when you share recommendations.
Note: Some college professors recommend skipping the conclusion part of an executive summary for business courses or brief reports. Dealing with a serious research paper that’s meant for publishing, the final conclusion part of 2-3 sentences must be present!
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Business reports usually have an ‘executive summary’ instead of an abstract. They are similar, as they both give an overview of the main purpose, methods, findings, and conclusions of the investigation. However, an executive summary usually includes specific recommendations for the business based on the findings.
Scroll down for our recommended strategies and resources.
Executive summaries are normally read by busy managers who may not have time to read the whole report; they want the essential overview of all the key areas. This short guide outlines the parts of an executive summary and gives a colour coded example:
What is an executive summary? (RMIT University)
Have a look at these examples of good and bad executive summaries. Usually poor executive summaries lack specific detail about the findings and recommendations:
Examples of executive summaries (The University of Newcastle, Australia)
Abstracts often do a similar job to an executive summary but are more common in science and social science research. If you are unsure which you need, do ask your lecturer, and see our guide for more on abstracts:
Abstracts resources (Centre for Academic Development)
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How to write an executive summary, with examples
The best way to do that is with an executive summary. If you’ve never written an executive summary, this article has all you need to know to plan, write, and share them with your team.
What is an executive summary?
An executive summary is an overview of a document. The length and scope of your executive summary will differ depending on the document it’s summarizing, but in general an executive summary can be anywhere from one to two pages long. In the document, you’ll want to share all of the information your readers and important stakeholders need to know.
Imagine it this way: if your high-level stakeholders were to only read your executive summary, would they have all of the information they need to succeed? If so, your summary has done its job.
You’ll often find executive summaries of:
In general, there are four parts to any executive summary:
Start with the problem or need the document is solving.
Outline the recommended solution.
Explain the solution’s value.
Wrap up with a conclusion about the importance of the work.
What is an executive summary in project management?
In project management, an executive summary is a way to bring clarity to cross-functional collaborators, team leadership, and project stakeholders . Think of it like a project’s “ elevator pitch ” for team members who don’t have the time or the need to dive into all of the project’s details.
The main difference between an executive summary in project management and a more traditional executive summary in a business plan is that the former should be created at the beginning of your project—whereas the latter should be created after you’ve written your business plan. For example, to write an executive summary of an environmental study, you would compile a report on the results and findings once your study was over. But for an executive summary in project management, you want to cover what the project is aiming to achieve and why those goals matter.
The same four parts apply to an executive summary in project management:
Start with the problem or need the project is solving. Why is this project happening? What insight, customer feedback, product plan, or other need caused it to come to life?
Outline the recommended solution, or the project’s objectives. How is the project going to solve the problem you established in the first part? What are the project goals and objectives?
Explain the solution’s value. Once you’ve finished your project, what will happen? How will this improve and solve the problem you established in the first part?
Wrap up with a conclusion about the importance of the work. This is another opportunity to reiterate why the problem is important, and why the project matters. It can also be helpful to reference your audience and how your solution will solve their problem. Finally, include any relevant next steps.
If you’ve never written an executive summary before, you might be curious about where it fits into other project management elements. Here’s how executive summaries stack up:
Executive summary vs. project plan
A project plan is a blueprint of the key elements your project will accomplish in order to hit your project goals and objectives. Project plans will include your goals, success metrics, stakeholders and roles, budget, milestones and deliverables, timeline and schedule, and communication plan .
An executive summary is a summary of the most important information in your project plan. Think of the absolutely crucial things your management team needs to know when they land in your project, before they even have a chance to look at the project plan—that’s your executive summary.
Executive summary vs. project overview
Project overviews and executive summaries often have similar elements—they both contain a summary of important project information. However, your project overview should be directly attached to your project. There should be a direct line of sight between your project and your project overview.
While you can include your executive summary in your project depending on what type of project management tool you use, it may also be a stand-alone document.
Executive summary vs. project objectives
Your executive summary should contain and expand upon your project objectives in the second part ( Outline the recommended solution, or the project’s objectives ). In addition to including your project objectives, your executive summary should also include why achieving your project objectives will add value, as well as provide details about how you’re going to get there.
The benefits of an executive summary
You may be asking: why should I write an executive summary for my project? Isn’t the project plan enough?
Well, like we mentioned earlier, not everyone has the time or need to dive into your project and see, from a glance, what the goals are and why they matter. Work management tools like Asana help you capture a lot of crucial information about a project, so you and your team have clarity on who’s doing what by when. Your executive summary is designed less for team members who are actively working on the project and more for stakeholders outside of the project who want quick insight and answers about why your project matters.
An effective executive summary gives stakeholders a big-picture view of the entire project and its important points—without requiring them to dive into all the details. Then, if they want more information, they can access the project plan or navigate through tasks in your work management tool.
How to write a great executive summary, with examples
Every executive summary has four parts. In order to write a great executive summary, follow this template. Then once you’ve written your executive summary, read it again to make sure it includes all of the key information your stakeholders need to know.
1. Start with the problem or need the project is solving
At the beginning of your executive summary, start by explaining why this document (and the project it represents) matter. Take some time to outline what the problem is, including any research or customer feedback you’ve gotten . Clarify how this problem is important and relevant to your customers, and why solving it matters.
For example, let’s imagine you work for a watch manufacturing company. Your project is to devise a simpler, cheaper watch that still appeals to luxury buyers while also targeting a new bracket of customers.
Example executive summary:
In recent customer feedback sessions, 52% of customers have expressed a need for a simpler and cheaper version of our product. In surveys of customers who have chosen competitor watches, price is mentioned 87% of the time. To best serve our existing customers, and to branch into new markets, we need to develop a series of watches that we can sell at an appropriate price point for this market.
2. Outline the recommended solution, or the project’s objectives
Now that you’ve outlined the problem, explain what your solution is. Unlike an abstract or outline, you should be prescriptive in your solution—that is to say, you should work to convince your readers that your solution is the right one. This is less of a brainstorming section and more of a place to support your recommended solution.
Because you’re creating your executive summary at the beginning of your project, it’s ok if you don’t have all of your deliverables and milestones mapped out. But this is your chance to describe, in broad strokes, what will happen during the project. If you need help formulating a high-level overview of your project’s main deliverables and timeline, consider creating a project roadmap before diving into your executive summary.
Continuing our example executive summary:
Our new watch series will begin at 20% cheaper than our current cheapest option, with the potential for 40%+ cheaper options depending on material and movement. In order to offer these prices, we will do the following:
Offer watches in new materials, including potentially silicone or wood
Use high-quality quartz movement instead of in-house automatic movement
Introduce customizable band options, with a focus on choice and flexibility over traditional luxury
Note that every watch will still be rigorously quality controlled in order to maintain the same world-class speed and precision of our current offerings.
3. Explain the solution’s value
At this point, you begin to get into more details about how your solution will impact and improve upon the problem you outlined in the beginning. What, if any, results do you expect? This is the section to include any relevant financial information, project risks, or potential benefits. You should also relate this project back to your company goals or OKRs . How does this work map to your company objectives?
With new offerings that are between 20% and 40% cheaper than our current cheapest option, we expect to be able to break into the casual watch market, while still supporting our luxury brand. That will help us hit FY22’s Objective 3: Expanding the brand. These new offerings have the potential to bring in upwards of three million dollars in profits annually, which will help us hit FY22’s Objective 1: 7 million dollars in annual profit.
Early customer feedback sessions indicate that cheaper options will not impact the value or prestige of the luxury brand, though this is a risk that should be factored in during design. In order to mitigate that risk, the product marketing team will begin working on their go-to-market strategy six months before the launch.
4. Wrap up with a conclusion about the importance of the work
Now that you’ve shared all of this important information with executive stakeholders, this final section is your chance to guide their understanding of the impact and importance of this work on the organization. What, if anything, should they take away from your executive summary?
To round out our example executive summary:
Cheaper and varied offerings not only allow us to break into a new market—it will also expand our brand in a positive way. With the attention from these new offerings, plus the anticipated demand for cheaper watches, we expect to increase market share by 2% annually. For more information, read our go-to-market strategy and customer feedback documentation .
Example of an executive summary
When you put it all together, this is what your executive summary might look like:
Common mistakes people make when writing executive summaries
You’re not going to become an executive summary-writing pro overnight, and that’s ok. As you get started, use the four-part template provided in this article as a guide. Then, as you continue to hone your executive summary writing skills, here are a few common pitfalls to avoid:
Avoid using jargon
Your executive summary is a document that anyone, from project contributors to executive stakeholders, should be able to read and understand. Remember that you’re much closer to the daily work and individual tasks than your stakeholders will be, so read your executive summary once over to make sure there’s no unnecessary jargon. Where you can, explain the jargon, or skip it all together.
Remember: this isn’t a full report
Your executive summary is just that—a summary. If you find yourself getting into the details of specific tasks, due dates, and attachments, try taking a step back and asking yourself if that information really belongs in your executive summary. Some details are important—you want your summary to be actionable and engaging. But keep in mind that the wealth of information in your project will be captured in your work management tool , not your executive summary.
Make sure the summary can stand alone
You know this project inside and out, but your stakeholders won’t. Once you’ve written your executive summary, take a second look to make sure the summary can stand on its own. Is there any context your stakeholders need in order to understand the summary? If so, weave it into your executive summary, or consider linking out to it as additional information.
Your executive summary is a living document, and if you miss a typo you can always go back in and fix it. But it never hurts to proofread or send to a colleague for a fresh set of eyes.
In summary: an executive summary is a must-have
Executive summaries are a great way to get everyone up to date and on the same page about your project. If you have a lot of project stakeholders who need quick insight into what the project is solving and why it matters, an executive summary is the perfect way to give them the information they need.
For more tips about how to connect high-level strategy and plans to daily execution, read our article about strategic planning .
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The Report Abstract and Executive Summary
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This resource is an updated version of Muriel Harris’s handbook Report Formats: a Self-instruction Module on Writing Skills for Engineers , written in 1981. The primary resources for the editing process were Paul Anderson’s Technical Communication: A Reader-Centered Approach (6th ed.) and the existing OWL PowerPoint presentation, HATS: A Design Procedure for Routine Business Documents.
The abstract is a crucial part of your report as it may be the only section read by people at the executive or managerial level who must make decisions based on what they read in your abstract. When you include specific content, it is important to remember these readers are looking for the information they need to make decisions.
The abstract is an overview that provides the reader with the main points and results, though it is not merely a listing of what the report contains. It is a summary of the essence of a report. For this reason, it should be crafted to present the most complete and compelling information possible. It is not a detective story building suspense as the reader hunts for clues, and should not be vague or obtuse in its content.
The abstract should include
- Why the work was done (the basic problem), the specific purpose or objective, and the scope of the work if that is relevant. (College lab reports may not require this part of the abstract.)
- How the work was done, the test methods or means of investigation
- What was found—the results, conclusions, and recommendations
The abstract should
- Not make references to material in the text
- Not lose the message by burying the methods, results, conclusions, and recommendations in a sea of words
- Not be written before the rest of the report
Therefore, a good abstract is
Because the abstract is of major importance in a report, a summary of effective qualities of abstracts is offered here.
A well-written abstract
- Considers the readers it will encounter
- States what was done and what results were found
- Avoids vagueness by stating specific results
- Uses past tense to report what was done
- Is informative
- Is self-sufficient and does not refer to the body of the report
- Makes concrete, useful recommendations
Below are two abstracts. The first one, (A), was written by a student for a lab report, and the other one (B) was a revision written by someone with more experience in writing abstracts. Read both versions and try to figure out why the changes were made in B.
We studied the flow characteristics of meters, valves, and pipes that constitute a flow network. The meter coefficients for orifice and venture meters were determined. The orifice and venture coefficients were, on the average, 0.493 and 0.598, respectively. Fanning friction factors for pipes of different sizes and for gate and globe valves were also determined.
The accuracy with which the meter coefficients and friction factors were determined was affected by leaks in the piping network. In addition, air bubbles trapped in the pipes and manometers affected the accuracy with which pressure drops were measured. Hence, it is recommended that the piping system be checked to ensure the absence of any leaks. Furthermore, the fluid should be allowed to flow in the network for some time before taking any measurements, in order to get rid of the air trapped in the pipes and manometer.
In an orifice and a venturimeter in a flow network, we measured the meter coefficients to be 0.5 0.1 and 0.6 0.15. We measured the Fanning friction factors at steady state for several pipes and for gate and globe valves. The most important source of error was a leak in the piping network which has to be repaired in order to obtain more precise results.
The Executive Summary
The government and some companies have begun to request executive summaries at the beginning of a long report. An executive summary is a one-page statement of the problem, the purpose of the communication, and a summary of the results, conclusions, and recommendations. The same considerations of readers and situation should guide your executive summaries.
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5.2 Executive Summary and Abstract
An Executive Summary is a short document that details the results of a laboratory experiment. It may appear as a stand-alone document or included within a longer report. The reader should be able to quickly read it and obtain important results and conclusions from an experiment.
Individual sections of an Executive Summary are not divided by subheadings. As a stand-alone document, the length of text should not exceed one page with an additional 1-2 pages for figures or tables.
When included as part of a Lab Report, the summary should not include or reference tables and figures.
It is acceptable to repeat information from the rest of the lab report; however, the summary should not include any new information or conclusions that are not already stated elsewhere. For this reason, it is advisable to write the executive summary last , after all other sections of the document are drafted.
Many technical reports include a short abstract at the beginning of the report. Abstracts are typically written to enable the reader to determine if they want to read the report in its entirety. They are extremely concise version of the full report. They do not present any information that is not included in the full report.
An abstract is written in introduction–body–conclusion paragraph form and should not include subsections. Abstracts should not include any images, graphs, tables, or sample calculations. The parts of an abstract are related to their counterparts in the full lab report, but are abbreviated versions.
Background & Purpose: The background should be a paragraph that contains the goals of the lab and briefly explains what significance it has to the scientific community.
- State the objective of the lab exercise. Though this is provided in the lab documents, the purpose should be restated in your own words. The purpose should be specific and focus on scientific principles. Example: In this lab, four types of beams were tested to determine which has the greatest strength-to-weight ratio (grams-pounds).
- In a sentence or two, explain why the purpose of the lab is important to the scientific community. What is the motivation behind performing this lab? Example: ABC Company wants to determine whether lighting is better in parallel or in series. The results of the lab will allow the team to make a recommendation for the company.
Results and Analysis: In 1-2 paragraphs, summarize the most important results and trends in the experiment. In a stand-alone document, figures and tables in an appendix can be referenced to support your analysis.
- State results and content independent of your own influence. These observations should be relevant to the purpose of the lab experiment.
- Describe trends and implications by referencing your results. What can you infer from your data? Example: Increasing wind speeds caused the turbine to produce more power, as shown in Table 4. To maximize power production, turbines should be placed where they will receive the strongest winds.
- Briefly describe possible errors and discuss potential solutions.
Conclusion & Recommendations: The final paragraph should emphasize the conclusions drawn from the results and how the results can be used in your scenario.
- State your conclusions based on the results of the lab.
- Provide recommendations for the scenario posed at the beginning of the lab procedure, based on the lab results. Example: Based on the results of the procedure, the team recommends a tapered channel with a toothed check valve that leads to an oval detection well.
Appendices: Create a new appendix for each category of content.
- Appendix A: Experimental Data
- Appendix B: Equations and Sample Calculations
- Arrange appendices in the order in which they are referenced within your summary. Every appendix must be referenced within the document.
- Start figure and table labels at 1 in each appendix. Each numeric label will be preceded by the appendix letter and a period with no spaces (e.g., A.1, or B.3) . Labels should be formatted as described in Using Graphics and Visuals Effectively .
- Organize and format each appendix neatly. Appendices should not be storage for messy or extraneous information.
- Place any necessary figures and tables in an appendix. Executive summaries should not have figures and tables within the summary. It is acceptable to choose the most important content to limit the figures and tables to 1-2 pages.
Introduction: Briefly describe the goals of the lab and explain its significance to the scientific community.
Experimental Methodology: An abstract will typically be read by someone who is not familiar with the experiment. Mention the methods used in your experiment.
- Include a brief description of the experiment. Example: The efficiency of each design was measured by retrieving data from the Arduino and analyzing the energy usage in MATLAB.
- Discuss what data was collected and how you collected it.
- Do not discuss specific equipment unless it is unique and vital to the purpose of the experiment.
Results: Provide a summary of the results of the experiment in a few sentences.
- Present the final, processed results and observations of the experiment. Example: A circular check valve with tapered channels leading to an ovalur detection well required the smallest fluid sample to fill the detection well.
- State any possible sources of error.
- Do not include or reference any raw data, calculations, graphs, or tables.
Conclusion: Summarize the conclusions and recommendations from the experiment in 1-2 sentences.
- State the conclusions that can be drawn from the results of the experiment and connect these conclusions to the purpose as described in the introduction.
- Briefly describe possible solutions to the limitations of the experiment and suggest any further studies that may be meaningful.
University of Toronto Engineering Communication Program: Abstracts and Executive Summaries University of Waterloo: Executive Summaries USC Research Guides: Appendices
Fundamentals of Engineering Technical Communications by Leah Wahlin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.
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Executive Summaries are much like any other summary in that their main goal is to provide a condensed version of the content of a longer report.
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. Executive summaries are written literally for an executive who most likely DOES NOT have the time to read the original.
- Executive summaries make a recommendation
- Accuracy is essential because decisions will be made based on your summary by people who have not read the original
- Executive summaries frequently summarize more than one document
The Mountain Resort charges below average rental rates. ( concise statement of findings ) The attached report recommends a 20% increase in price for the following equipment: 1. downhill skis, 2. telemark skis, 3. boots/shoes for downhill, telemark, and cross-country skis.( specific recommendation for action )
Based on average rental business for 1992-1995, these increases would generate an annual rental profit for Mountainview of $750,000. This figure represents an overall gain of $150,000 over current rental profits. ( justification for proposed action )
Types of Summaries
Summaries written in order to recommend a specific course of action are executive summaries.
Summaries that highlight the major points of a long piece are called abstracts. The purpose of an abstract is to allow readers to decide whether or not they want to read the longer text.
Standard summary only refers to a summary of someone else's published work and is written for a variety of purposes.
Processes for Writing an Executive Summary
Executive summaries are typically written for longer reports. They should not be written until after your report is finished. Before writing your summary, try:
- Summarizing the major sections of your report. You might even copy text from your report into the summary and then edit it down.
- Talking aloud or even tape recording yourself summarizing sections of your report.
Questions to Ask Yourself as You Write
- What is your report about?
- Why is it important?
- What is included in the report?
- What is included in each section?
As a cover sheet to your document, an executive summary need not go into ANY mention of how you conducted your analysis and/or what you're basing your conclusion on. Instead, begin with a concise statement of the conclusion you reached after conducting your analysis and/or research is the paper that will be attached. For example, after a comparison of what other schools like CSU do about personal calls for faculty, you conclude that the CSU is charging for calls most other institutions do not.
How you word the conclusion will differ depending on your audience and what they care most about. The following examples illustrate how the wording must change given an audience's needs.
Colorado State should discontinue the practice of charging faculty for personal calls.
This is a good example if the people you work for are only interested in this issue. It begins with a summary of conclusions regarding only the CSU population.
Because I have found that over 75% of comparable institutions do not charge for personal calls, I have concluded that our faculty is justified in objecting to this practice which should be seen as a "perk" for our faculty.
This sentence provides unnecessary information about other institutions and/or why the faculty think they deserve to have these calls paid for. Your readers can get that information from the report. Further, the use of "I" is unnecessary since your readers already know who wrote the report.
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. For example, the report on charging for personal calls was requested by the president's office, not the individual departments and colleges who actually determine policy. As a result, the recommendation for action is geared toward what the president's office should do, not the other departments involved. To learn more about writing recommendations:
After summarizing the entire article and/or research report(s), an executive summary ends with a one or two line recommendation for action.
Executive summaries frequently make use of transitional phrases to encapsulate the preceding information in the same sentence as the recommendation. The format can almost be envisioned as a formula:
[transitional word] + [concise statement of information provided in summary], I recommend that [corporation, office, person in question] do [recommendations].
More Complex Recommendations
In other cases, the recommendation might be complicated enough to justify a summary of causes for the recommendation. In this case, the recommendation paragraph usually begins with a summary of how the writer reached the recommendation.
Susie's Cookies began as a small business in Cleveland, Ohio which has expanded to include 45 stores throughout the Midwest. Plans have already been instituted to expand sales nationwide, using the same "mall-concept" marketing strategy which has proven successful in the Midwest. Despite these plans, Susie's Cookies may be in danger of bankruptcy.
Susie's quadrupled its sales in the last two quarters, realizing a profit of $750,000 in the current year, an increase of $250,000 over the previous year, due to its increase in advertising. To realize equivalent sale figures nationwide, however, it is projected that advertising costs will increase by 200% for the first two years of the national expansions. Further, construction costs for the new stores are estimated to be 20 million dollars.
The result of increased advertising and construction costs will put a substantial debt burden on Susie's cookies, an estimated $750,00 to 1 million a year. Given that sales did not reach current levels in the Midwest until the 45 stores had been operating for five years, projected sales nationally will not cover expansion costs. As a result, Susie's Cookies is likely to show a loss of almost $2 million for at least the next five years.
Due to the high advertisement and development costs of national expansion. Susie's Cookies may not be able to continue doing business in the future. Therefore, I recommend that Mrs. Field's does not participate in the hostile takeover under consideration because the threat of competition will not be realized.
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 a monetary analysis as in the example to the right, but actions can be justified many ways, depending on the concerns of the audience and the topic of the report (e.g. for CSU these might include increase in student learning, better relationship with the community, etc.).
- Example : Based on the current number and length of long-distance personal calls by faculty, such a proposal would cost the university $150,000 annually. In comparison to the overall budget, this is a small amount, but one which might "pay for itself" in terms of faculty satisfaction and possible recruitment benefits.
justification for the recommendation by referring to information summarized. A recommendations 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.
Donna LeCourt. (1994-2023). Executive Summaries. The WAC Clearinghouse. Colorado State University. Available at https://wac.colostate.edu/repository/resources/writing/guides/.
Copyright © 1994-2023 Colorado State University and/or this site's authors, developers, and contributors . Some material displayed on this site is used with permission.
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