Long reports usually have an executive summary that is maybe only 1 or 2 per cent as long as the report.
Isn’t this an admission that 98% of the report is not needed? As the writer of a long report, which readers do you expect to read the whole thing rather than the summary? Do you expect anyone to read every word you wrote?
One thing you can be confident about is that your most important readers – the decision-makers – will read only the summary.
Shouldn’t we all write shorter reports instead of long reports with summaries?
Writing 2 pages instead of 10, or 5 pages instead of 100, is hard. It means thinking about what are the key messages and being able to write them down concisely.
It also means laying out our shorter reports in a way that makes it easier for the reader to read them. This means making good use of headings and white space. It also means using clear diagrams and charts that replace text rather than add to the overall length, and putting associated material at the end of a hyperlink rather than within the report.
Where should you start? You could ask your readers if they read your last report but would you trust the answers to be completely honest?
I think it would be better to be proactive. When you write your next report set yourself the target of reducing its length by 80%. See if anyone notices. If you don’t get any feedback requesting you to write a longer report then you’ve got permission to continue. See if you can get the next one to be even shorter.
Do you think it is possible to get rid of executive summaries by writing shorter reports?