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How to Summarize a Report: Expert Techniques and Methods

Updated on March 22, 2024StudentsWriting Tips

Being able to summarize reports is a valuable skill, whether you’re at work or school. Reports are filled with essential details that can help us make better decisions or understand complex topics. But let’s be honest—they can also be pretty dense and hard to get through. That’s why learning to pick out and share the main points can be a game-changer. It saves time and makes sure you (and others) really get what matters most. In this post, we’re going to show you how to do just that, making it easier for anyone to handle reports like a pro.

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What is report summarization?

A report summary, like any other summary, is an overview of the report, highlighting its key points and skipping the details that aren’t directly related to these points. There are many types of reports that you might be called on to summarize, such as business reports detailing company performance, academic reports on research findings, or technical reports on scientific or engineering projects. No matter the report, each summary aims to make complex information easier to digest.

A report, especially one written for business purposes, often features an executive summary. This differs from a standard report summary in several respects, though there are a few overlaps. Both aim to spotlight the critical points of the report, but an executive summary offers a more detailed and technical overview. It not only highlights key findings but also presents specific recommendations based on the insights drawn in the report.

As a student or professional, you may be asked to write a report summary, an executive summary, or both. With either type of summary, your priority is to succinctly communicate the report’s main idea and the data that supports it. The content of a report summary can be a bit more broad than that of an executive summary, which needs to include recommendations.

Understanding the structure of reports:

Reports generally follow a specific structure:

  • Introduction
  • Methodology
  • Findings
  • Conclusions
  • Recommendations

Understanding the structure of a report and how each section intersects with the others is important for effectively summarizing it. Your summary will not only introduce the report’s purpose and findings but also elaborate on why these points matter. In essence, a summary is a miniature version of the original report, and understanding its structure can help you avoid leaving out any crucial points.

Key elements of a report summary

A report is structured to present its information logically and clearly, and a good summary should mirror this approach. In your summary, cover all critical aspects of the report’s research. Begin with the objectives, and then address the methodology, main findings, conclusions, and recommendations, ensuring each part is clearly and logically conveyed.

Your summary should dispense with some of the details in the original while enabling the reader to glean the following:

  • Why the research was conducted
  • How the research was conducted
  • What the researchers found
  • The conclusions the researchers reached
  • If applicable, the recommendations the researchers made based on their findings

Preparing to summarize a report

In order to summarize a report effectively, you need to completely comprehend it. This starts with reading the entire report and taking notes. Basically, your aim at this stage should be to grasp for yourself the same things you’ll need to communicate later in your summary, such as:

  • The report’s objective
  • Its methodology
  • Its findings
  • Why the report is relevant
  • Conclusions from the report

As you read, ask yourself questions like “Who benefits from this study?” and “Why is this information included in the report?” This will help you identify the pieces of information to include in your summary. Also, take note of any data presented in the report, like the dates the study was conducted and the relevant statistics that support the main point. Once you’ve finished reading the report, writing clear notes, and determining answers to questions that require critical thinking, like “Why is this detail relevant?” and “What was the author’s goal for this report?,” you’re ready to write your outline.

Steps to summarize a report

Start by writing an outline, which is a “skeleton” that provides a framework for your summary. It organizes the introduction, supporting sentences, and conclusion into an easy-to-follow map you can use as you write. Include the essential stats in your outline, and jot ideas for transition words that will make the draft flow better.

Next, follow your outline and write a draft. Don’t worry about writing a perfect summary at this stage; simply write a coherent paragraph or two as a starting place. As you write, be sure to maintain objectivity and clarity. A summary is a neutral, professional piece of writing, so keep your views out of it. It should present the original report’s content in an unbiased way.

After you complete the first draft, it’s time to edit. Read it carefully, looking for points where your writing can be clearer or more concise. Also, watch for grammatical, spelling, and syntax mistakes. Grammarly’s grammar checker can help you spot these and make suggestions you can incorporate into your writing.

Common mistakes to avoid

When you summarize a report, it’s crucial to steer clear of these common pitfalls:

  • Introducing personal bias. A summary, like a report, is an objective piece of writing that discusses the report’s key ideas and supporting details.
  • Leaving out important information for the sake of brevity. As you read the report and take notes, be sure to note all the relevant details for each key point. Although a summary should be short, it should also include all information that’s crucial to the reader’s understanding of the report.
  • Writing too long a summary. As mentioned above, a summary should be short. Aim to communicate the report’s thesis statement and relevant details in as few words as possible.
  • Plagiarizing. To avoid this, write in your own words. If you incorporate any text from the original report or another source, include it as a direct quote and cite it properly.

Example of a report summary

In 1964, the USA’s first surgeon general, Terry Luther, published a report titled “Smoking and Health.” The report linked smoking to heart and lung disease, bringing this correlation into public consciousness and catalyzing further government action. Between 1963 and 2012, smoking in the United States decreased 72 percent. Additionally, adult smoking rates have dropped 50 percent since 1965, and as of 2013, 26 states have 100 percent smoke-free policies in public spaces. However, there is still progress to be made: As of 2014, more than 440,000 Americans die from smoking-related illnesses every year, and 8 million live with smoking-related conditions. All instances of nicotine exposure carry health risks, and in his fiftieth-anniversary look back, Boris D. Lushniak, who was the acting surgeon general at the time he wrote this, urges the reader to empower others to make progress in eliminating smoking from the United States.

(Source: A Historic Moment: The 50th Anniversary of the First Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health, Boris D. Lushniak, MD, MPH)

Tools and resources for summarizing reports

Grammarly’s AI-powered summarizer tool simplifies the process of writing a solid report summary. With just a few clicks, you can create a summary. Then, Grammarly can help you polish it, ensuring your summary is mistake-free, properly cited, and professional.

Report summarization FAQs

What is report summarization?

Report summarization is the process of distilling the key points, findings, and conclusions from a detailed report into a concise, easily understandable format. It aims to capture the essence of the report, allowing readers to grasp the main information without reading the entire document.

What’s the difference between report summarization and paraphrasing?

Report summarization involves condensing the entire content of a report into a brief overview, highlighting its main points and conclusions. Paraphrasing, on the other hand, involves rewriting specific sections or ideas from the report in different words, while maintaining the original meaning, often without significantly reducing the length.

How do I avoid plagiarism when summarizing a report?

To avoid plagiarism when summarizing a report, ensure you understand the content fully, then express the main ideas in your own words. Always give credit to the original source through citations, and use quotation marks for any phrases or terms taken directly from the report. Avoid copying the structure or order of the original document too closely.

How can I use AI to summarize reports?

You can use Grammarly’s AI summarization tool to create summaries of reports in just a few clicks.

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