Executive Summaries… The Devil is in the detail

16th May 2024

Geoenvironmental • Geotechnical • Industry matters

It is well known that clients love a summary of a report. The shorter and sweeter the better. Clients are important, busy people, often juggling multiple projects. Understandably they need to know the results of a Site Investigation and the headline facts, so they can take key decisions, which is absolutely fine. But there is a BUT! Read on and we will explain.


An executive summary is an overview of a document. In our case normally a Site Investigation report. The length and scope of the executive summary will differ depending on the complexity and amount of information contained in the original document it is summarising. But in general, an executive summary can be anywhere from one to two pages long. When compiling the document, our aim is to include all the key information your readers and important stakeholders need to know.

Imagine it this way… If your high-level stakeholders were to only read your executive summary, would they have all the information they need to succeed? If so, the summary has done its job.

But we must make one vital point. By all means use an executive summary to understand at an early stage the key actions and recommendations of what needs to be done; but please make the time or get someone else in your team to take the time to read the full report so you don’t miss the finer details. As we outline below, missing detail can cause issues..!

For example:

  • Gas protection measures, if there are no final plans for foundation design, might be inferred and the impact of the foundations on the final protection design assumed wrongly. This is where a Ground-gas Design Report comes in
  • Groundwater Remediation is often complicated, and its intricacies may not fit on an executive summary
  • One of the biggest things we have seen is clients missing out on all the validation information that we need, so we can prove everything has been done properly. I.e. The client notes from the executive summary they need to do capping system. They call us in to validate it, but have missed the information in the full report on waste management
  • Also the understanding of the risks posed by microscopic fragments of Asbestos in soil may not be explainable in a single sentence or paragraph, especially as any remediation needs to be looked at cohesively and to fit in with the development.

Ground & Water will continue to provide executive summaries and will always strive to write them in the best manner possible by avoiding jargon, providing a summary of the conclusions that are needed, flagging points that must be read in full in the main report so crucial detail isn’t missed and making sure the summary – as far as we can – can stand alone as a document you can base key actions and decisions on. But it isn’t the full report and as they say… The Devil is in the detail.


And the most important thing to know, is if you choose Ground & Water as your geotechnical and geoenvironmental consultant, we will be in the canoe with you for the duration of the journey. This means if you are unclear at any stage, pick up the phone and give us a call.

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