The ironic adage, “Be brief, brother, be brief,” seems to smack of the problem that the speaker admonishes others to avoid. Why couldn’t he state the imperative in two words (“be brief”) instead of five? The answer is quite simple: He could—if speaking to those inclined to listening; however, the five-word version adds emphasis for those inclined not to. I say this not to suggest that you repeat yourself in the executive summary, but to reflect on what your readers consider to be brief. President Ronald Reagan preferred just the high-level briefing to decide on issues and left the details to his trusted associates; Senator John Glenn liked delving into the details before taking a position. Clearly, you would have to write different executive summaries of the same report if either man were your chief executive. As I’ve said on this blog before, knowing your readers should precede knowing what to write—if you are to write with ease and precision.
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