Executive Summaries and Abstracts - Graduate Writing Center
Executive Summaries and Abstracts
Executive summaries and abstracts both capture the essence of a project in a shorter form, but with differing levels of detail: an abstract is a highly condensed overview of the document, while an executive summary is a standalone version of the thesis in miniature.
See our handout on "What Goes in a Thesis Abstract? An Executive Summary?" for an overview of standard content and length—then, for more information and examples, read on!
For a more detailed explanation of abstracts, check out our infographics, tailored to your discipline:
An abstract is a brief encapsulation of a document. Abstracts are quite limited in length (often about 200 words) and thus must be very concise, clear statements that convey a few key ideas:
- The topic and significance of the research
- The research question driving the inquiry
- The methods used to answer the question
- The findings and implications of the research
Understanding how an abstract is structured can also help you as a researcher. When conducting research, get in the habit of reading abstracts carefully to determine which documents closely fit your research needs.
Not all documents require an abstract, and most of your class papers won't. However, all NPS theses must have an abstract, and abstracts are often required for conference papers and articles submitted for publication.
Executive summaries are longer than abstracts, often running 2–5 pages. They summarize a larger document's purpose, methods, results, conclusions, and recommendations such that someone who reads only the summary can glean a solid understanding of the research as a whole. Unlike abstracts, executive summaries can include citations and references.
Not all theses require an executive summary, so check with your advisor or department for guidance. The links below contain further information on the differences between abstracts and executive summaries.
In order to make your research easier to find by other researchers, it is a good idea to think about what searchable keywords are associated with your project. Make sure to include them in your abstract and executive summary!
Executive Summaries and Abstracts Links
- "What Goes in a Thesis Abstract? An Executive Summary?," GWC and TPO
- "Abstracts," University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Writing Center
- "How to Write an Abstract," Phil Koopman, Carnegie Mellon University
- "Executive Summaries," Colorado State University
- Layering Reports: The Executive Summary 1" (6:35), Zachery Koppleman, Purdue OWL
- Layering Reports: The Executive Summary A Closer Look Part 1" (5:53), Zachery Koppleman, Purdue OWL
- Chapter from a book: "Technical Reports, Executive Summaries, and Abstracts," Robert Shenk, The Naval Institute Guide to Naval Writing