The executive summary can often be more important than the paper itself, so make sure that it is drafted even better than the paper. One should follow a 'straight to the point approach' and ensure coherence. Objectives of the paper, methodology and conclusions must be clearly stated therein.
Executive summary is a short but self contained summary of a detailed paper usually provided at the beginning, before the actual paper.
Executive summary can often turn out to be more important than your actual paper, because it generally decides as to whether a reader actually goes on to read your paper or not. Even for papers written as part of an academic course, it is the executive summary which decides to a large extent as to what grade your paper is going to get. Thus, it makes sense to devote some time in making sure that the executive summary of your paper is drafted well, even better than the paper itself.
Different from Abstract
An Executive summary is different from an abstract, which can be considered a far shorter version of the paper written with the purpose of enabling a reader to decide whether the subject matter of the paper is relevant for her, and thereby decide whether to go through it. On the contrary, an executive summary can be considered s shorter version of the paper that can be read as standalone document in place of the paper itself.
Points to Remember when writing an Executive Summary
The first thing to remember while writing an executive summary is that you should be able to coherently explain the core issues and conclusions brought out by your paper, without overloading it with too many facts. The most important characteristic of the executive summary, which decides its quality, is hence its coherence. The first word to the last, the prose should be a single unit, explaining as to why you wrote this paper, what did you include in it, what are the issues covered and what were the conclusions and recommendations.
There are no hard and fast rules about writing the executive summary, but there are certain simple rules which everyone must remember while writing it.
First, make sure you do not beat around the bush. A executive summary is not a place to discuss the background, show your knowledge or concern about the subject or prove your literary skills. The very first sentence should clarify the objective of the paper. For example, "This paper is an attempt to analyze the role of monetary policy in economic cycles" or "This paper documents histological changes in duodenal mucosa observed before and after treatment of Helicobacter Pyroli infection with three different therapeutic regimes."
The next few words and lines should inform the reader about the methodology used, tools utilized, the major assumptions made, the number of observations, source of data and any other peculiar and important information that may be relevant in highlighting the rigor of your research and analysis, and underlying how it is different from other similar papers. This helps the reader in assessing as to whether your paper is relevant and useful for the reader. If you have based your study on any particular hypothesis or school of thought, then that must also be clearly brought out. For example, "the study is based on the rational expectations hypothesis".
The observations made by you in the paper should be described in form of brief statements. Like, "the literary style followed by Agatha Christie in her works written under a different name has a distinct identity when compared with her other works, indicating the experimental nature of such writing". When placing these observations in the summary, you leave the details to be found from the paper, so a reader interested in finding how it is distinct would be expected to go through the paper in order to find it out. In other words, it is not a bad ploy to generate interest in your work though the observations made in your summary. In fact, one should try that the summary attracts the reader to explore the paper and read the part which is most well written or contains the most critical observations.
What a Good Executive Summary should look like
The executive summary should clearly document the primary purpose of the paper or the report, while indicating the methodology used for that purpose. It should clearly bring out the main observations and where necessary, their significance. It should end with a brief description of the conclusions and the recommendations, especially about further work in that area. The total size of the executive summary should usually not exceed one page. For an academic paper, a summary of 250 to 400 words is usually considered adequate.
Pitfalls to Avoid
Particular care may need to taken while dealing with a highly specialized or technical work, with a lot of technical terms, to ensure that the terms and phrases used in the executive summary do not end up becoming an incomprehensible jargon for the target audience. Thus, keeping the target group in mind can be useful while using the more technical details. The executive summary is also not the place for statistical reporting, hence it is preferable to include only the most essential statistical statements in it.