When you are writing a report summary, in effect you are creating a cheat-sheet for your reader. As such, the summary needs to be a short, complete and accurate account of what you have already written in the main body of your report.
Incidentally, if you have not yet started to write the report, writing the summary can be a great way of deciding what to include and how to structure it.
Here, I want to show you a short example of a summary - so let’s see how it might work out in practice.
Let’s imagine you have been asked to review your company’s options for courier services. Perhaps you have been having difficulty with the reliability of your existing courier or maybe costs are escalating and you are wondering if there are cheaper alternatives. This kind of information would form the 'Background' section of your report, and you would need to mention it in your summary.
So you phone round for some quotes, or perhaps you do this more formally with an invitation to tender. This is your methodology – how you came up with your quotes. You need to mention this too.
Then you have the details of the quotes – the packages they offer and the prices they charge. So finally, you have a recommendation based on your investigation. This all needs to go in to the summary as well.
This may seem like a lot – but remember, this is your reader’s crib-sheet. Because they may not read the whole report you need to be thorough, but brief. Here's how the finished piece might read:
This report was commissioned by S Jones to investigate alternative courier services following the price increase announced by our existing courier, SpeedyCo.
Five alternative couriers were shortlisted, based on recommendations by some of our trusted clients and also by initial telephone calls to major local courier services. These five couriers were then invited to provide a formal written quotation.
The results of the investigation showed a clear preference for FastCo, who were not only highly recommended by two of our trusted clients but who were also 10% cheaper than the nearest competitor.
This report, therefore, provides a clear recommendation that we switch to FastCo with effect from next month.
To conclude, notice that you are not including all the details: that is what the body of the report is for. If your reader wants the details, s/he knows where to find them. But all the essentials of your report have been included, in a short easily-digestible summary. Job done!