What a Senior Leader Is Looking for in an Executive Summary
The interview with the director of a cardiovascular lab, Mr. B., has shed some light on the main components of a good executive summary of a quality improvement (QI) project. The first question the interviewee was asked was about what exactly a senior leader was looking for in an executive summary, and the answer was surprising. According to the interviewee, the two key points of a good executive summary are the identification of the target audience as well as getting a grasp of the most important content of the project that the audience needs to know.
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Therefore, paying attention to the reader and what he or she is reading is integral. Because the target audience may be reading the executive summary instead of the full report about the QI project, it is crucial to focus on transparency and clarity when writing so that the key ideas are understood. A senior leader who is reading an executive summary will predominantly pay attention to the two abovementioned points: the target audience and the clarity of the written material (Colorado State University, 2017).
What are the Length and Format, and What Should Be Included?
In general, an effective executive summary should not be longer than ten percent of the original document’s length. Therefore, it can be anywhere from one to ten pages long, depending on the length of the original document. In most instances, a good executive summary is a preface for a report and contains the most important points, which means that analysis, charts, graphs, and numbers should be summarized and mentioned only briefly so that the reader does not become bored. While the original document can include case studies, examples, and statistics, an executive summary should not include anything irrelevant to the main idea (Markovitz, 2010).
If a senior leader sees that an executive summary mentions irrelevant information that has been taken out of context, such a summary will be considered ineffective. As a general rule, an executive summary for a QI project can include the objectives of the project, relevant data and data collection methods, key stakeholders, timeline, costs, implementation considerations, and results of the project. Depending on the theme of the project and the set objectives, the content of the executive summary may vary to include more or fewer points; overall, a summary is a reflection of a project itself and is aimed at persuading the target audience to read the full report. The same applies to the format: The executive summary should be presented as the original report so there is no disconnection between the two.
Evaluation Criteria Incorporated in the Summary
As mentioned by the interviewee, to measure the outcomes of a quality initiative, it is crucial to incorporate specific evaluation criteria. Such criteria are needed to account for the spent costs and the level of the achieved services so that the outcomes are worth the invested funds. The evaluation criteria can be included in an executive summary and divided into structural, process, and performance measures (American Psychological Association, 2009). Structural measures evaluate technical and professional resources involved in the QI; process measures are associated with the protocols of quality improvements while performance criteria assess the level of care provided to patients as well as their health outcomes (American Psychological Association, 2009).
Evaluation criteria for measuring the success of a QI initiative are incorporated into executive summaries to achieve better clarity and show the reader that the quality improvement measures were worth the effort (Glasgow, 2013). They can take a form of bullet points that clearly explain the pros and cons of the professional resources involved and the effectiveness of the quality improvements, as well as the level of provided care. According to Mr. B., executives pay extra attention to evaluation criteria
What Distinguishes Good and Bad Summaries
While there may be a variety of factors that distinguish good executive summaries from bad, the interview with the director of a cardiovascular lab has shown that leaders prefer reading short but informative summaries instead of lengthy ones due to a lack of time. A good executive summary is written in a way that is understandable to the reader; there is a clear differentiation between the background, purpose, brief details of the approach, results, and conclusion (Mayer, 2009). A bad executive summary, on the other hand, includes sensationalist reporting as if the writer is trying to sell something. According to the director of the cardiovascular lab, such executive summaries can be instantly disregarded since they are reminiscent of marketing campaigns and push a certain judgment on readers rather than allowing the readers to make a judgment on their own. Moreover, a good executive summary is not a tool for promoting the original project or pushing its agenda on others; rather, it highlights the most significant and valuable parts of the original project and invites the reader to pursue a further exploration (OERL, n.d.).
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American Psychological Association. (2009). Criteria for the evaluation of quality improvement programs and the use of quality improvement data. American Psychologist, 64(6), 551-557.
Colorado State University. (2017). Executive summaries. Web.
Glasgow, J. (2013). A critical evaluation of healthcare quality improvement and how organizational context drives performance. Web.
Markovitz, E. (2010). How to write an executive summary. Web.
Mayer, P. (2009). Guidelines for writing an executive summary. Web.
OERL. (n.d.). Quality criteria for reports. Web.