Summarizing lengthy content is an essential skill. Whether you're a researcher, an entrepreneur or a marketing department, you are competing for people's limited attention. Know your audience, identify the information they need and give it to them in an engaging and timely way through well-crafted executive summaries, abstracts or overviews.
Business Report Summaries
When writing different types of business reports -- from a business plan to a project proposal -- the executive summary is the most important piece. For many busy managers, it's first, and potentially the only, part of your work that will get their attention. An executive summary appears at the beginning of a report and summarizes the most salient details or selling points in a short paragraph or two. More in-depth analysis with charts and graphs should come in the body of your report, to be read if others deem it important enough. It's completely acceptable to use bullet points in your summary. Wrap it up by creating a sense of urgency that will prompt action, especially if it's an investment opportunity. When done well, this should push your reader to peruse the rest of your report.
Once you have gone to the trouble of writing a well-researched academic article, you are not done until you have written an abstract. Abstracts help you to gain a wider audience for your paper or research, as well as allow databases to categorize your work based on keywords. Usually only 200 to 300 words, a good abstract will clearly state the problem or question that your research addresses, explain your research methods and briefly state your high-level conclusion. For instance, if you are conducting research on the effectiveness of a group project in a high school classroom, you should clearly state why the issue is relevant. Perhaps you are examining a type of group work with little prior research. Then, explain the method you used to gather data, like classroom observations or student surveys. Finally, state what you concluded within a sentence or two. Consider your audience to be someone who is educated, but may not be an expert in your field.
For a straightforward school report, such as a five-paragraph essay, your concluding paragraph should summarize your main ideas and reiterate your thesis without repeating sentences and phrases that have already been used. Be sure to include some type of transitional statement, such as "in conclusion" or "finally," to signal to your reader that you're wrapping up and revisiting your previously stated thoughts. Remember, do not introduce any new information in the conclusion of your essay; it is strictly for summarizing purposes.
White Paper Summary
Unlike the standard business report, white papers are usually directed at external users or customers. Companies and organizations use white papers to propose a solution to a problem or to inform users about a new product, service or important issue. For example, a company with a new personal finance application will seek to explain how their product makes a cumbersome task much easier, like the ability for customers to quickly download, categorize and use their banking data to manage a budget. The summary for a white paper should clearly identify the product or the problem. The White Paper Company suggests a one-page synopsis that outlines the "bottom line benefits" of the product or solution, including monetary, time or resource advantages that the new product or solution would bring to the customer. Studies Guides & Strategies emphasizes that the summary must "capture the target audience's attention" and advises the writer to avoid technical complexities and acronyms.
- Inc: How to Write an Executive Summary
- Tufts University: Academic Resource Center -- How to Write an Abstract
- Yale University: The Graduate School Writing Center -- Concluding Paragraph
- Purdue University: Online Writing Lab -- White Paper
- Stelzner Consulting: How to Write a White Paper
- The White Paper Company: Three Key Elements of an Executive Summary
- Study Guides and Strategies: Writing White Papers
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