Dear Colleagues

Often you have to write a short summary (referred to as an Executive Summary) for your managers or executives. These fellows (and gals) can be an impatient lot wanting the core ideas imparted with the minimal of technical jargon in action oriented prose. So that they can quickly act on the points you make with minimal cross fire from any one else. Thus you need to be hyper-efficient in your writing.

A few other issues you need to consider

  • What do you want to achieve with the executive summary?
  • How relevant is the topic to them? Do they have prior knowledge or do you need to give them appropriate background?
  • It can be useful to give them some technical details in simple English if they are familiar with the field (being from an engineering background) or you can easily summarise the key assumptions you have made from the technical details.
  • Initially do a brain dump of everything you can think of. Don’t worry about the clutter of detail initially. Just write everything down relating to the issue and then work through it after this.
  • Choose the key facts from a conflicting maze of others – typically not more than three or four details suffice.
  • Write in simple non-jargon based English. Get to the point and don’t get distracted with unnecessary rubbish. Preferably use verbs rather than inactive nouns.
  • Review your summary to ensure it is objective with no bias.
  • Finally, if you are to present this to a live audience; prepare meticulously beforehand. Practise, practise and also rehearse for any awkward questions that may be thrown your way.

Thanks to Susan de la Vergne of the IEEE for an interesting article.

Please avoid doing this at all costs: An author is a fool who, not content with boring those he lives with, insists on boring future generations. (From Charles de Montesquieu)

Yours in engineering learning

Steve