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An executive summary can accompany any type of report -- it’s simply a consolidation of the important details if your audience doesn’t want to read through the entire report itself. The differences are in the finer details. You must fine-tune the standard format to accommodate your topic and your audience. If your audience is the military, an executive summary, or exsum, is important as personnel may not have a lot of time to spend on your pages.
Organizing Your Information
Your first challenge is to organize the information in your report so you can incorporate the most important parts in a much shorter document – your summary. Go over the full report and cull out the information you want to include in your summary. The order of presentation should be similar to how the information appears in the report itself. Include headings in your summary that match or can be easily connected to the sections in your report.
If your report doesn’t lend itself to headings, you can make notations in your summary when you write it, guiding your reader to where in the longer report he can find more in-depth information. You don’t want to include specific data in your summary but your reader should be able to find it if he wants to know more.
Writing the Summary
The purpose of a summary is to explain as expeditiously as possible all the fundamental information your reader needs to make a decision regarding the issue you’re addressing. Structure your summary so the most important information appears at the beginning. This should include mentioning the purpose and scope of your report and possibly your conclusion as well. You might not want to leave your military audience guessing until your summary’s last paragraph.
Depending on the content of the report, you can then follow with procedures to be implemented, research you’ve done, analysis, options and your ultimate decision. Keep your paragraphs short, no more than seven or eight sentences, and devote each to a section of your report. Stay within three pages unless you're summarizing a technical report. In this case, your summary can be up to 10 percent of the pages of your report, but if it's this long, it's acceptable to write two separate summaries.
The longer one can deal with technical issues and a shorter 3-page summary can give an overview of the entire report. Don’t jump back and forth between past, present and future tense – this slows down readability.
Addressing a Military Audience
The Army standard writing style requires a clear message that promotes rapid reading. If your report involves making a pitch to anyone in any branch of the armed forces, keep the sentences of your summary succinct and to the point. Avoid stating opinions, such as, “I think this will work because X equals Z.” You can drop six words by simply stating, “X equals Z,” then lay out your most important facts and correlate them with your anticipated results.
Taking Precautions with Confidential Information
Consider your readership if you’re discussing military matters. If you’re a member of the armed forces and you’re writing to a civilian entity, make sure you don't include any information that’s confidential or that breaches security. If you’re writing your report and summary to your superior, both may pass through other hands before arriving at his desk, so make sure everyone involved is cleared to read what you’ve written.
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally since 1983. She is the author of several novels including the bestselling "Comes the Rain" and "With Every Breath." Bird also has extensive experience as a paralegal, primarily in the areas of divorce and family law, bankruptcy and estate law. She covers many legal topics in her articles.