Imagine a reviewer who has to select 5 proposals from a list of, let’s say, 20. Each proposal is about 40 to 50 pages long and it entails an executive summary. Our reviewer has only a few days’ time to finish the job and, quite frankly, she’s got other things to do. So, what do you think she will do? Most likely, she will start by reading all the executive summaries. And it is also likely that, if she finds 2 or 3 summaries that are quite unclear, unconvincing, uninteresting, she will reject those proposals. She will then go on, project by project, to analyze the full text. I will add here that a typical reading scheme by a reviewer would be: description of the project, financial part, who are the proponents. Which means: is it a good idea? But how much money do they ask for? And who are these people? Can they actually do the project? But, of course this really depends on the reviewer. But keep in mind, in any case, that the linear reading, from first to last page, is quite rare. This means that we must try to ensure that the proposal is comprehensible from whatever point you start it, and that you should not be afraid to repeat the key concepts several times, to be sure that the reviewer gets them. But let’s come back to the topic. So, how should a summary be written to go safely through the reviewer’s first pass? It must have these characteristics. The executive summary must be short. In general, it should not exceed 10% of the text that it sums up, as length. You must also pay attention to the editorial format required and be careful that for example the summary does not exceed the page of just a few lines. Better to reduce it a little more and make sure it stays on one page. The summary must provide the general framework of the proposal. This is a delicate point, because while on the one hand the summary has to frame the proposal, on the other it must not be, in the most absolute way, an introduction. This is the most common error. If you write the summary as an introduction, you completely miss the goal of offering the reader or the reviewer an effective synthesis of the document and leave her with the burden of picking up the relevant pieces of information here and there by herself. The summary must entail the essential elements of the proposal in a brief but clear way: what is the issue, what is the state of the art, which method you mean to use, what you aim to get. Ok, I know what you're thinking: it's not easy. In fact, it’s not easy. An executive summary must be written and rewritten several times. And generally it is written at the end, when the document is ready. You must make sure that the summary presents “the best” of the proposal (which is not the same as the essential elements). Do you have strong points, interesting data? They must be in the summary. Is the problem you want to solve quite dramatic? It must be in the summary. Do you foresee extraordinary benefits that will change the world? They must be in the summary. In short, the summary is a text addressed to a busy reader and must go straight to the point, without consuming too much time. Let us now briefly sketch a fictitious example, inspired by a recent project in which I was involved. The summary may start like this: “This project addresses the issue of ageing population in Europe.” This would be the issue. We could expand a bit on how serious the issue is, providing some data (of course not too many data, which would go elsewhere in the proposal). Then we may have: “The overall aim of the project is to prevent Mild Cognitive Impairment and Frailty.” This would be the aim. And then comes the method: “… by unobtrusive detection of data through sensors”. Also the method could be expanded and actually, in the case of this project, it would be worthwhile, because that is where one of its strengths lies. So we may want to add that “the project will exploit data that smart cities are already collecting” (and, we do not write it but everyone knows, “that they are currently not being exploited: actually no one knows what the hell to do with them”). Eventually, we can finish by highlighting the benefits the project will bring. Something like “Detecting mild cognitive impairment and frailty will be partially automated, thus making the monitoring of the elderly population much more efficient and the prevention of frailty more effective”. A summary like the one sketched above would be quite standard and serve the purpose well. Other arrangements are, of course, possible and – as always in communication – they depend on the context, the success criteria, and similar things. Actually, the real abstract of this project adopted a completely different strategy. It was quite short: 280 words only, for a document 193 pages long. And almost 200 words (more than two thirds) were devoted to the main 3 objectives of the project. The first, in particular, encapsulated all the main features and key-words. “The first and core objective of [the project] is to enable Ambient Assisted Cities or Age-friendly Cities, where the urban communities of elderly people living in Smart Cities are provided with a range of technology tools and services that — in a completely unobtrusive manner — will improve the early detection of risks related to cognitive impairments and frailty while they are at home or in the move within the city.” The last part, with more or less 100 words, was devoted to the method: how we meant to achieve the objectives. In the summary, the underlying issue was only hinted to, as if by a touch of a brush, almost implicitly, within this sentence: “The final objective of the project is to define a model which will provide sustainability and extensibility to the offered services and tools by addressing the unmet needs of the elderly population...". There are needs that are unmet. We do not dwell on this. It's obvious. You know it, too. There is no need to discuss if they exist or not and how serious they are, there is need to discuss how to meet them. I want to finish this lesson by suggesting an exercise to learn how to be concise. Practice expressing the essence of your idea in just a few words: 30 words. Try to make a 30-words summary of your proposal, whatever it is. Try to make different versions of it and check with those who work with you which one is the most effective. You will then see that the space you are given to write your true summary will seem to you to be more than enough.