The Report Abstract and Executive Summary
This resource is an updated version of Muriel Harris’s handbook Report Formats: a Self-instruction Module on Writing Skills for Engineers, written in 1981. The primary resources for the editing process were Paul Anderson’s Technical Communication: A Reader-Centered Approach (6th ed.) and the existing OWL PowerPoint presentation, HATS: A Design Procedure for Routine Business Documents.
Contributors:Elizabeth Cember, Alisha Heavilon, Mike Seip, Lei Shi, and Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2014-03-11 11:49:10
The abstract is a crucial part of your report as it may be the only section read by people at the executive or managerial level who must make decisions based on what they read in your abstract. When you include specific content, it is important to remember these readers are looking for the information they need to make decisions.
The abstract is an overview that provides the reader with the main points and results, though it is not merely a listing of what the report contains. It is a summary of the essence of a report. For this reason, it should be crafted to present the most complete and compelling information possible. It is not a detective story building suspense as the reader hunts for clues, and should not be vague or obtuse in its content.
The abstract should include
- Why the work was done (the basic problem), the specific purpose or objective, and the scope of the work if that is relevant. (College lab reports may not require this part of the abstract.)
- How the work was done, the test methods or means of investigation
- What was found—the results, conclusions, and recommendations
The abstract should
- Not make references to material in the text
- Not lose the message by burying the methods, results, conclusions, and recommendations in a sea of words
- Not be written before the rest of the report
Therefore, a good abstract is
Because the abstract is of major importance in a report, a summary of effective qualities of abstracts is offered here.
A well-written abstract
- Considers the readers it will encounter
- States what was done and what results were found
- Is concise
- Avoids vagueness by stating specific results
- Uses past tense to report what was done
- Is informative
- Is self-sufficient and does not refer to the body of the report
- Makes concrete, useful recommendations
Below are two abstracts. The first one, (A), was written by a student for a lab report, and the other one (B) was a revision written by someone with more experience in writing abstracts. Read both versions and try to figure out why the changes were made in B.
We studied the flow characteristics of meters, valves, and pipes that constitute a flow network. The meter coefficients for orifice and venture meters were determined. The orifice and venture coefficients were, on the average, 0.493 and 0.598, respectively. Fanning friction factors for pipes of different sizes and for gate and globe valves were also determined.
The accuracy with which the meter coefficients and friction factors were determined was affected by leaks in the piping network. In addition, air bubbles trapped in the pipes and manometers affected the accuracy with which pressure drops were measured. Hence, it is recommended that the piping system be checked to ensure the absence of any leaks. Furthermore, the fluid should be allowed to flow in the network for some time before taking any measurements, in order to get rid of the air trapped in the pipes and manometer.
In an orifice and a venturimeter in a flow network, we measured the meter coefficients to be 0.5 0.1 and 0.6 0.15. We measured the Fanning friction factors at steady state for several pipes and for gate and globe valves. The most important source of error was a leak in the piping network which has to be repaired in order to obtain more precise results.
The Executive Summary
The government and some companies have begun to request executive summaries at the beginning of a long report. An executive summary is a one-page statement of the problem, the purpose of the communication, and a summary of the results, conclusions, and recommendations. The same considerations of readers and situation should guide your executive summaries.