How to Write an Executive Summary for College Papers

Executive summaries describe the contents of a paper for laymen.

Some college classes may require you to write executive summaries for your papers. These are short -- about 400 words -- descriptions of the contents of the paper. The summary obviously isn't as detailed as the paper, but it should be complete in terms of describing the paper's findings and implications. It should also be comprehensible to readers untrained in the topic of the paper.

Consider your audience. An executive summary is designed for readers who are unfamiliar with the technical details of your subject, and who might not be able to understand the paper itself. Summarize the paper's contents and implications in a way you know will be understood by your audience.

Include the main thrust of the paper -- its subject, the methods of research you used, the results you found and the nontechnical implications of those results. Remember that since you are writing a summary you don't have to go in depth into every aspect of the research because that's what the paper itself is for. Simply describe the types of sources or experiments you used and what you learned from them.

Include a section explaining the goals of the paper and how they were accomplished. If you're writing a scientific paper, remember that demonstrating a hypothesis to be false isn't a failure. As long as you've gotten a useful result, the paper has accomplished its goal: to test the hypothesis.

Give the summary to a nontechnical person to read: a friend in a substantially different field or a parent. Ask if they're able to understand the basic thrust of the paper. If they can correctly explain the main points of your paper to you, your summary has done its job.

Theon Weber has been a professional writer and critic since 2006, writing for the Village Voice, the Portland Mercury, and the late Blender Magazine. He was a staff writer at the Web-based Stylus Magazine from 2005 to its closure in 2007.