An executive summary can be a tough assignment when you’re used to the rules of writing school papers. There’s no specific format it should follow, it can range from one to three pages in length (longer, if it’s a particularly huge report), and its content really depends on…well, what you’re summarizing!
The main job of the summary is to condense a lot of detailed material (the problem, relevant research and recommendations/findings) into something that can be quickly skimmed for content. You might be familiar with this format from numerous articles and lists on the internet, like this cheat sheet for the 2016 Olympics.
As in most writing, your goal is to catch (and keep) the reader’s attention so they understand what you’re summarizing without having to read a long, detailed paper. Unlike writing for the internet, you will need to use a fairly formal tone and avoid using personal pronouns. Envision it as a PowerPoint presentation – you only have a certain amount of room on your slides, so your words HAVE to pack a punch!
Basic Guidelines1Ashford University. (2013). Guidelines for writing an executive summary. Retrieved from https://awc.ashford.edu/tocw-guidelines-for-writing-executive-summary.html 2University of Maryland University College. (2016). Writing Executive Summaries. Retrieved from http://www.umuc.edu/writingcenter/writingresources/exec_summaries.cfm
1-3 pages long, or 10% of actual report (unless specifically directed to write more pages)
Begin with the purpose of the report
Summarize any important facts (findings, results, recommendations)
Use headings that are unique to the summary – don’t re-use report headings
Clarity and brevity are key – don’t bore or confuse your audience
Keep in mind the thesis (main idea) of the report while writing and editing
Always end with a discussion of the costs and benefits of any recommendations
See the links in the references for more information, or here’s an additional example from UA students.