Dear Colleagues,

On a regular basis, you will often be confronted with requests for a quick summary of some lengthy meeting or series of documents. You will have to provide the key ideas in simple easy-to-read English with no jargon. Seemingly an intractable task.

Herewith a few tips on achieving this task:

  • Identify what you want to achieve with the summary
  • Consider who your audience is, what they already know and what they want from your summary?
  • Initially do a brain dump on everything you can think of relating to the topic. Don’t worry about the clutter of detail. Just write everything down in a roughly logical sequence.
  • Choose the key facts – eliminate all irrelevant detail by considering what your audience want from it (For every detail ask the question: Does my audience absolutely need to know this?)
  • Avoid technical jargon. Stick to simple understandable English. Avoid any diversions. Use active case with verbs rather than roundabout language.
  • Order the sequence of information so that it is logical and easy to understand.
  • Ensure that your write-up is objective and unbiased (by your experiences for example).
  • Come back after a few hours (or even a day) and re-read what you have written and ensure that it is easy to understand.
  • If you are presenting this; practise and practise until you are perfect and able to handle any awkward questions.

I really love this comment by Edwin Schlossberg:

The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.

Yours in engineering learning,