Saturday, March 04, 2006

Summarizing Successfully, Part 1: Focusing on the Highest Point

Before the start of an Executive Summary Writing class that I was conducting for City of New York managers, one of the participants, Maurice M. Kempis, introduced himself as a sergeant of the New York Police Department working in Quality Assurance (QA). I assumed that by its title, Quality Assurance had something to do with the Division of Internal Affairs (IA), renowned for its investigative work on corruption within the Department.

Sergeant Kempis quickly explained the distinction between QA and IA: “NYPD has three checks: Inspections deals with quality issues like uniforms, Quality Assurance works on contractual issues like vendor requirements, and Internal Affairs deals with criminal issues like corruption.”

What a way to begin an Executive Summary Writing class! In only 29 words, or 13 seconds, Sergeant Kempis successfully explained to a moderately informed audience the division of internal auditing responsibilities within a large, complex organization. With one information-packed sentence, he clearly classified the workings of three alternately autonomous and interdependent units within a bureaucracy.

Executive Summary Writing focuses precisely on this skill of reducing an entire proposal, technical report, or project description to one comprehensive, clear, and concise statement. After hearing Sergeant Kempis’s introduction, I thought he would be a good candidate to help me teach the class!

The next seven installments of WORDS ON THE LINE will provide tips for summarizing successfully. Judging from the increased demand of my clients for teaching summary writing, I trust that you'll find useful information here—so stop by again.

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