5 Tips to Writing the Executive Summary of a Survey Report
Image of sticky notes for blog post by freelance writer Bonnie Nicholls.
How to Keep Your Marketing Projects on Track
April 4, 2017
Freelance writer Bonnie Nicholls writes about how Alexa will impact digital marketing
How Will Alexa Affect Digital Marketing?
June 2, 2017
Show all

5 Tips to Writing the Executive Summary of a Survey Report

Survey image for blog post on writing reports by freelance writer Bonnie Nicholls

You’ve got the results from your organization’s member survey, and you know they tell a great story. So how do you frame that story  to resonate with a larger audience?

I have a few ideas to share, based on lessons I learned from writing the executive summary of a 31-page survey report for Scrum Alliance.

Scrum Alliance is the largest professional membership and certification organization in the Agile community. Agile, if you haven’t heard, is a set of principles and practices that foster innovation and collaboration in the workplace. And not just in IT departments or the software development industry.

Late last year, Scrum Alliance asked me to produce a high-level executive summary to explain the significance of a recent membership survey the organization had conducted.

The finished report is something of which both my client and I are proud. Here are some tips to follow as you tackle your own reports based on annual/biennial surveys.

1. Position your survey report within a bigger story

As with previous reports, Scrum Alliance wanted to highlight key data that reflected shifting attitudes toward Scrum practices. But my client had a greater vision for the executive summary that made the project particularly exciting.

Scrum Alliance wanted to position the survey results within the global phenomenon of the changing world of work, such as Conscious Capitalism, design thinking, and the human-centric approach embraced by global business leaders, such as Sir Richard Branson, of the B Team.

This made sense, since many of the general principles of these approaches overlap with Scrum and Agile, such as transparency, collaboration, and innovation. They also increase employee engagement and job satisfaction.  Not only that, but adopting Scrum and Agile makes companies much more competitive in the marketplace, an important data point for the C-Suite.

Clearly, this was a great story to tell, one that would resonate with the Scrum Alliance membership as well as a much wider audience outside the organization.

If you want to do something similar, you need to 1) figure out what those greater trends are within your industry, whether it’s healthcare, marketing or finance, and 2) demonstrate how your survey results reflect those trends.  The next two tips address the latter.

2. Back up your survey report with research

Yes, your survey results indicate what survey respondents have experienced, but that’s only part of the story. What’s going on in your industry or around the world gives context to your results.

To pack more punch into your executive summary, you need to cite related research. And not just any research. Cite research that has appeared in trusted publications within your industry. For example, we used sources such as Harvard Business Review, CIO, The New York Times and Forbes. I found more sources by checking the footnotes or links in report, and by using LexisNexis.

Often, the only way to get your hands on related reports is to provide an email for downloading privileges. That’s no big deal. It’s easy to opt out of someone’s email distribution list after you get their first newsletter or promotion.

3. Cite experts in your executive summary

Research is one thing. You need quotes, too,  to provide substance and color. For the 2016 State of Scrum report, I interviewed four Scrum and Agile experts and asked them the same questions. For example, why were Scrum and Agile more prevalent in Europe and North America? Why was it practiced in new industries? What was the future of Scrum and Agile?

Despite a few exceptions, each subject matter expert gave a different answer with a unique perspective. Their interpretations of the survey results added new dimensions to the report. They explained the results beyond the confines of the organization, offering real-world examples from their own experience.

And they didn’t rubber-stamp the results either, which I think lends the report additional credibility and transparency.

As you consider subject matter experts for your own executive summary, take into account their reputation, their comfort level with interviews, and the diversity (if applicable) they represent to your readers.

4. Think visually as your write your executive summary

With facts, figures and good quotes, you can liven up your executive summary with sidebars and drop quotes. This breaks up the text and lets you present information in a visually stimulating way.  For example, I knew the details of the survey collection were important, but I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of the report. So I put them in a sidebar. I did the same to explain Scrum’s history.

I also used headings and bulleted lists to help readers (think busy executives) scan the content. This is par for the course when writing online content, but it makes sense for printed documents as well, which are great take-aways at trade shows or conferences.

As you format your executive summary in Word and later as a PDF, think about how your reader will want to consume the information. A wall of text isn’t as inviting as content presented in bite-sized chunks.

5. Avoid sales jargon in your survey report

As much as a survey report may work as a marketing piece, it’s not the place to overtly sell anything.

Think about it. You’ve just presented your organization as a trusted partner in a particular industry by juxtaposing the survey results with solid research and thoughtful observations from reputable experts in the field. That in itself is a compelling case to encourage further inquiries from potential clients.

There’s no need to introduce a hard sell, or you’ll turn off the reader. The final page of the report ideally includes a boilerplate about the organization as well as contact information.

Ready to try it yourself?

Survey reports are complicated documents with lots of moving pieces. If you’re going to spend the time and money necessary to produce one, follow these tips to create something that will resonate with your audience and get more eyeballs to your website.

Bonnie Nicholls on FacebookBonnie Nicholls on Linkedin
Bonnie Nicholls
Bonnie Nicholls writes white papers, case studies, articles, blog posts, and web content in the following industries: health, energy, talent acquisition, Scrum/Agile, and web usability. She has more than 25 years of experience, honing her craft as a journalist, a corporate communicator, and a writing consultant. Throughout her career, she has supported Fortune 500 companies, such as SAIC and Leidos, as well as AMN Healthcare, Renovate America, Scrum Alliance, LPL Financial, and Cubic Corporation.