In a previous blog post, I introduced the topic of Executive Summaries as well as a brief look at the keys to an effective summary. In this post, I want to identify the key components of the structure and flow of a summary.
Heading: The heading, or title, of your Executive Summary should be brief but still descriptive. It should communicate its function to its readers immediately.
First Paragraph: Introduce your client organization, its source of funding, the name of the program, its goals, and its target population.
Second Paragraph: Describe the program and evaluation specifics. This is a good place to include historical information about the project if relevant. Explain how the program was evaluated, the number of individuals who participated, to what extent, and how those contributions were measured.
Third Paragraph: Use your third paragraph to address impact statements. Describe the key findings for each evaluation goal previously identified.
Fourth Paragraph: Describe the strengths and barriers, or successes and challenges, encountered in the evaluation. This is also a good place to explore any other notable or unintended outcomes experienced.
Final Paragraph: This paragraph will serve as your conclusion. Use this paragraph to make recommendations or suggest next steps.
Beyond content, design is also a factor in delivering information in a clear and uncluttered way. If your Executive Summary consists of pages and pages of paragraphs, it is likely exceeding the target length of 1 to 2 pages and/or has been cut and pasted in large pieces from its original report. Keep in mind that the purpose of the Executive Summary is to succinctly report the most important aspects of an evaluation report to stakeholders, not simply to produce an abridged version of the original report. Try using visually distinct headers to make the layout of the information clear (similar to the above bold words). Also, to only report the most important information, leave out charts, graphs, and tables in the construction of your Executive Summary; readers can find these components in the full report if they want further information.