The term “case study” brings to mind a psychologist delving into a patient's history and treatment and writing up the details, but in fact, a case study is just as likely to involve a research report of an industry or the law. It identifies a problem, researches its causes, presents a variety of opinions and suggests certain actions. This involves a lot of information, which is why you might want to present it along with an executive summary -- an additional document, something like a mini-report, that consolidates the most important information.
Understanding an Executive Summary
Think of an executive summary as a time-saving measure -- not necessarily for you, but for the people who are going to receive and review your study. It captures the most important information so your readers can understand your data and conclusions in a fraction of the time it would take them to read the entire study. For example, suppose you want to convince your government to go to a great deal of expense to excavate an area where a toxic spill has occurred and make it safer. Politicians have a lot of issues on their plates, so they might postpone reading your full report because it’s sure to be a time-consuming project. If you prepare an executive summary to go along with your report, it's more like to get read.
Preparing the Data
You’ll want to include enough of details of your research in your executive summary to make it powerful and compelling, but brevity is key. Your summary should answer most -- if not all -- important questions your audience might have, yet be comparatively brief. A good place to start is with a review of your study, making note of what jumps out at you as being most important data. In the case of the site of the toxic spill, this might include statistics regarding the cancer rate, the fact that your research indicates toxins were spilled there, your recommendation for cleaning the mess up and how much it will cost the government.
Organizing the Summary
Even if your case study is 300 pages, you’ll want to keep your executive summary to 10 pages or so. If your study is shorter, your summary should be as well. You might begin with an introduction, explaining why you performed the case study even if it was because the reader contracted you to do so. Explain why the study was necessary. Describe how you conducted your research. Lay out your findings, then finish with your recommendations. With most executive summaries, quoting the corresponding report word for word is a bad idea, but when you’re summarizing a case or research study, it’s considered permissible to “cut and paste” portions of your recommendation section.
Writing the Document
Not every great analytical mind also has a gift with words. If writing isn’t your strong suit, you might want to consider hiring someone to actually draft the summary for you based on your notes. If you feel confident in your abilities, remember that your summary is your first and best chance to sell your position. Use language that makes it clear you believe strongly in your recommendation. Remember that although you know your topic inside and out, your reader might not. Take care to use lay language whenever possible.
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