Increase the Value of your Written Report with an Executive Summary
The executive summary is an excellent report writing tool that is underused and often misused. This article explains the three essential components of an executive summary and how to write them.
The executive summary is an excellent tool that can greatly increase the value of written reports, but one that is underused and often misused. Incorporating an executive summary will help readers absorb the main focus of the report without necessarily reading it in detail. From the reader's point of view, that saves time. From the writer's point of view, getting the message across is the main objective, and the executive summary provides another means of doing that.
The most common mistake report writers make, however, is making their executive summaries too long. Sometimes there's so much detail that the reader might just as well read the whole report, which defeats the purpose. The following three sections should be contained in your executive summary:
1. The Statement of Purpose states as simply as possible why you have written the report. Keep this as short as possible, preferably one sentence. Make sure the sentence does not ramble or contain too many ideas. Use wording such as, "This report summarizes the work completed so far on the construction plan for the new printing plant."
2. The Statement of Scope sets the boundaries for your subject and purpose. For example, you have been asked to review one specific aspect of a proposed project. In this section, you point out the focus and limitation of your report. Again, keep the language clear and concise. You might say, for example, "This report covers the construction planning only. Materials supply and other matters are outside its scope and are not discussed."
3. The Findings and Conclusions briefly summarize what you have written in the body of the main report. Resist the temptation to "summarize" every page, which results in a document too big to be truly called a summary. Set out each conclusion clearly and succinctly, with page or section references so that the reader can go to the full report for more information if he or she wishes. Do not use graphic devices in the executive summary.
Report writing is a challenge. Many writers complain that the people to whom the reports are addressed don't read them because they are too long. The fact is, people will read what is of interest to them, and when they see a long report with many pages they may discard it because of the time it will take to read. However, a good executive summary makes the main points clear in a few minutes. If they want to know the details they will read on; if they got the message by reading the executive summary they'll be happy with that --- and the writer should be too.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Helen Wilkie is a professional speaker, workshop leader and author, specializing in all forms of communication at work, including writing. For information about her business writing programs and learning tools, visit MasteringBusinessWriting.com and for a free multi-media writing lesson, visit Helen's Business Writing Course on CD