The Summary is usually written last of all. It provides a brief overview of the substance of the report. It is a stand-alone document generally used by busy managers who might not have time to read the full report. That’s why it is usually referred to as the Executive Summary in the workplace.
The Summary is not an introduction to the topic. It should focus on what you did, how you did it, and the main outcomes and significance of your work.
- states the topic of the report
- briefly outlines your approach to the task (if applicable)
- focuses on the results or outcome of the project, the findings of your investigation: or the key aspects of your design
- states the significance or implications of the results.
The Summary does NOT:
- provide background information on the topic
- explain the motivation for the project
- refer to figures, tables or references contained in the report.
Length: ¼ to ½ a page is sufficient for most undergraduate reports.
Summary from a level 2 Civil Engineering Alternative Designs report presenting two designs for an overpass bridge.
A four-lane bridge is to be constructed on the Calder Freeway crossing Slaty Creek in the Shire of Macedon Ranges. Two preliminary designs for the bridge are presented here and compared in terms of cost, construction time and maintenance requirements.
Design 1 is a super-T-beam bridge, while Design 2 is a composite I-girder bridge. Although Design 2 is less expensive to construct, Design 1 requires shorter construction time, and has greater durability and simpler maintenance needs. Design 1 is therefore recommended as better fulfilling the design criteria.
Summary from a level 3 investigative report, based on a review of literature. Note how, once the topic is established, the entire Summary consists of factual information, i.e. it summarises the information explained in detail in the report proper.
This report describes the history and development of the NAVSTAR Global Positioning System, now known as GPS. Developed by the US Department of Defense in the 1970s-80s, GPS is a satellite-based navigation system which provides continuous, real-time, passive, all-weather positioning information. The first satellite was launched in 1978 and the system was declared fully operational in 1995.
GPS has three parts:
1. Space segment: There are 24 satellites in six circular orbits inclined at 55 degrees to the Equator, with a period of 12 hours and orbiting at an altitude of 20,200km. The satellites transmit precise timing signals on two L bands: Ll (1575.42 MHz and L2 (1227.6 MHz).
2. Control segment: Five monitoring stations track the satellites and accumulate ranging information. The Master Control Station is at Falcon Air Force Base, Colorado, USA.
3. User segment: This comprises the user and a GPS radio receiver. Using information from four satellites, the receiver can compute its exact position (latitude, longitude, altitude), as well as correct for its clock bias.
The accuracy of the original GPS was limited by satellite ephemeris errors, clock errors, ionospheric and tropospheric delays to the signal, and multipath geometric dilution of precision. However, the development of differential GPS increased accuracy from tens of metres to metres, providing the reliable and accurate system which has revolutionized air, sea and land navigation worldwide.
How NOT to write the summary
A common mistake is to describe the type of information in the report, rather than summarise the information itself. Read the example below.
This report presents the concept design for a sustainable water supply and purification method for a remote village in Southern Cambodia. It outlines the local conditions and considers the natural resources available to be used in the design. The proposed solution is presented in detail and discussed in terms of the criteria provided by the local council. The system is expected to provide safe drinking water for the community year round.
In major projects you will possibly need assistance or advice from others, such as industry mentors or laboratory staff, who may have made an extra effort to help you. You may acknowledge such assistance in a short paragraph on the page after the Summary.
- Give the person’s full name, position and affiliation.
- State their contribution clearly and briefly.
- Use formal language.