Executive Summary

An Executive Summary is

Key Words: Gist; Essence; Gated Web; Deep Web; Open Web

[ Alternative Title(s): Abstract; Research Abstract; Summary ]


Why Do Executive Summaries Matter?

Executive summaries play a powerful role in human communication, particularly among Knowledge Workers.

Depending on the vocabulary of a particular Community of Practitioners, the term executive summary may be used interchangeably with

  • Abstract
  • Research Abstract
  • Summary.

Knowledge Workers use executive summaries to organize, vet and share knowledge claims. For instance, investigators search

  • the Gated Web (e.g., Web of Science or JSTOR)
  • the Open Web (e.g, Google Scholar) to find out information about topics of interest.

Search results typically list bibliographic information (e.g., title, publisher, date) and executive summaries. Thus, when engaged in strategic searching, investigators critically review the executive summary, questioning its Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, Purpose.

Investigators largely determine what they need to read based on their critical reviews of executive summaries.

Different Communities of Practice have different conventions for Executive Summaries. For instance, the NSF (National Science Foundation) permits investigators 500 words (two pages). In traditional, peer-reviewed academic journals, investigators are permitted 250 words. Websites may limit investigators to 20 words.

Document Design

An Executive Summary is commonly placed just below the title of a research article or report. It precedes the Introduction.

Executive Summaries & Writing Processes

Executive Summaries tend to be the last section a Knowledge Worker or distribute team writes before submitting the work to a client or to an editor for publication.

Some writers find it useful to revise a draft of the executive summary throughout the conduct of the investigation. The advantage to drafting the summary as you go is that it keeps you focused on the Rhetorical Situation.

For distributed teams of people, the executive summary helps everyone get on the same page about their audience, purpose, stance and so on.