Most reports and papers need an informative summary. But, as in all writing decisions, there are no rigid rules. To decide if a summary is needed and how to write it, we must think first about the purpose of the summary, and then about how the reader is going to use it.
An extended title
First, a summary acts as an extended title. It helps readers to see if the report or paper contains information they need. A manager taking a first look through a pile of reports in the morning mail, a researcher looking through a shelf of papers in the library, and a reader turning over the pages of a journal, all want an extended title. No-one can read everything, and few people have time even to read all that is written on their own specialization. From a summary, a reader can answer such questions as:
|• Which part of the subject area is this paper about? |
|• Does the writer cover any special areas I am interested in? |
|• What line does the writer take with the subject? |
|• Is this a survey, or a report of new research? |
|• Is this new to me or am I already familiar with the information? |
|• Are there unusual methods or techniques that I might be interested in? |
|• Does the writer come to clear-cut conclusions and how important are they to me? |
|• Do I need to read this? |
The reader is then able to define more closely what the paper is about, and can make an informed decision about whether to read the whole paper.