Executive Summary Guide

Spring 2020 • HIST 412

Executive Summary Guide

What is it?

An executive summary is a highly compressed way of communicating the most important points AND quality of some source of information. It takes the form of a set of bullet points rather than narrative prose. It is dense, meaning a lot of ideas get carefully compressed into a small space.

Assignment Purpose

This assignment show that you’re doing the reading and thinking about how to relate them to each other and our discussions. Obviously you can do this in our class meetings as well, but this gives you yet another forum to show that you’re learning. And to help me give you the most appropriate grade for your effort at the end of the term.

In terms of the writing itself, the assignments encourage/force you to focus on the clarity and concision of your thinking and expression. It’s a super useful skill that you’ll frequently employ in your future career, whatever it is.

Writing style

  • You must use only bullet points (and sub-bullets) to articulate your ideas. Bullet points by definition are short and to the point; 2-3 sentences MAX. Don’t write small paragraphs.
  • Use complete sentences. Bullet points does not necessarily mean sentence fragments.
  • Make interesting and sophisticated observations in each bullet point.
  • Strive for both concision and clarity. This is really difficult.
  • Be sure you create and follow a logical structure and progression to your bullet points. A random collection of ideas will be frowned upon.

Formatting Requirements

These requirements are EASY. If you do not follow them, I will return your essay ungraded so that you can fix it and resubmit it. You will lose one point.

  • Two page maximum (can be single or double-sided)
  • If two pages, they must be stapled—not just with an corner folded over!
  • 11 pt. Times New Roman
  • 1” margins on all sides
  • 1.5 line spacing
  • Your name on top; do not bother noting the course, me, etc.

Tips for success

  • Be specific. Something like, “Railroads were important to Chicago’s development” tells me little more than you have a pulse. Don’t waste our time, please.
  • Provide specific citations. This forces you to double check your own memory and interpretation of the readings, and helps you avoid making false claims. In your references to the readings, use page numbers.
  • Paraphase. Avoid full quotations (short phrases are fine), since you want use all the space for your own thinking.
  • Be selective. You can’t fit everything worth saying into your essay. Choose carefully what you think is most important! You’re being graded on your ability to separate the wheat from the chaff.
  • Revise, revise, revise. Once you have a complete draft of everything you want to say, you are about 50% done. Set it aside (and budget time for this!), then come back and economize your prose. Remove simple sentences that force you to be unnecessarily verbose.

1 (initial idea): There was a cat. The cat was black and it chased a mouse, which was eating cheese.
2 (revised prose): The black cat chased the cheese-eating mouse.

Revisions are hard! But they are the only way to make your writing shine.


It is always worthwhile to talk about these things in class; don’t hesitate to ask. Email is OK, too, especially for quick questions.