The Elements of a Good Summary

Essential Message

A good report summary answers the global management executive’s implied question: “What does the original report say?” The essential information is the minimum needed for the executive to understand the shorter version.  It is the sum of the significant points, and only the significant points in the original.  Russian Translation workers describe significant points as items that include controlling ideas (thesis statements and topic sentences); major findings and interpretations; important names, dates, statistics and measurements and major conclusions and recommendations.  These same translators warn that significant points do not include background discussions, explanations, lengthy examples, visuals, long definitions or data of questionable accuracy.

Nontechnical Style

When your audience is large, most New York City Translation workers believe that the overwhelming majority will only read the executive summary and skip over the remainder of the report.  So write at the lowest level of technicality.  Translate technical terms and complex data into plain English.  When you do know specifically the people who will read the report, keep these people in mind.  If they are expert or informed, you won’t need to simplify as much.  It is safer, however, to risk oversimplifying than to risk confusing your reader.

 Independent Meaning

In meaning, as well as style, your summary should stand alone—a self-contained message.  Readers should have to read the original only for a closer view, not to make sense of your summary.

No New Data

A a new Portuguese Translation worker, your job is to represent the original faithfully.  Avoid personal comments or judgments (“This interesting report…” or “I strongly agree with this last point,” and so on).  In short, add nothing.

Introduction-Body-Conclusion Structure

Most good writing has an introduction, a body and a conclusion; so should your summary.

  1. Begin with a clear statement of the controlling idea
  2. Present the supporting details in the same order as in the original
  3. Close with the original’s conclusions and recommendations

To improve coherence, use traditional words (“however,” “in advance,” “while,” “therefore,” “although,” “in contrast,” and so on).


A summary, above all, is concise.  Because messages differ greatly, however, we cannot set a rule for summary length.  Your best bet is to know your readers and their exact needs.  Unless a length is specified as part of the job, your best guidelines is that the summer be short enough to be economical and long enough to be clear and comprehensive.  A long clear summary is always better than a short, foggy one.