Saturday, December 3, 2022

The 3x3 Summary

One of the assignments I gave to students in my classes was how to summarize a reading with the 3x3 approach. Whether for readings, research, reports or proposals, this is an important bottom-line skill to learn that is essential in communicating to senior management in organizations.  Here’s the description, as presented in the assignment rubric (I included a few of the Q&As for clarity). I also included a 3x3 summary of the Nicholas Carr paper, “IT Doesn’t Matter” (2003), to provide a model.


The 3x3 critiques are designed to practice summarizing content for presentations and for senior managers. It’s a very important skill to have in corporate settings, both for-profit and nonprofit. Most executives do not have time for the details; they want to know what the “bottom-line” is and what questions they should be asking.

What is it? 

Each reading for a given week is to be summarized with 2 slides:

  1. 3 takeaways
  2. 3 questions
  3. Minimum 20 point font and standard 4:3 (8.5 x 11 inch) slide formats (if you elect to submit a text doc, limit yourself to one page per reading for both takeaways and questions; 150 words per page total)
  4. PowerPoint, Google Slides or PDF are acceptable as a file attachment


  1. The importance of finding the bottom line. See my Blog post:


Here are some further clarifications:

  1. The 3x3 Takeaways/Questions should be done for each reading assigned and not the aggregate
  2. The questions should be a critique of what you read, things you would challenge the author about, or the organizations cited. Put yourself in the mindset of a consultant; what would you recommend the senior management team think about? Put this into your questions.
  3. You may choose a set of weekly readings already done, but the takeaways and questions should be unique (i.e. Unique from what was presented in class or from colleagues).
  4. Include chapter or page number(s) references for each takeaway (where available)
  5. Include a title slide or header indicating your name, course name, assignment name, date, and the week for which you are summarizing the readings
  6. You may use more than one sentence/phrase/related-question in each item
  7. Assignments should be submitted online in Canvas.
  8. One critique is due for each month of the class, at the end of Jan., Feb, and Mar. There is no critique for Apr.
  9. Note the 5% penalty per day late on assignments

Presentation Elective

  1. If you volunteer to present a readings summary in class, please do it for all of the readings, two slides per each (in PowerPoint please). Note that this counts twice: once for the elective and once for the weekly critiques. Please submit it in both places in Canvas.
  2. For the in-class presentations, email your daft slides no later than 48 hours before class starts, so that we can iterate as needed.
  3.  One additional step for presentations: choose a maximum of 3 questions from among all those in your summaries to discuss in the team breakouts.
  4. Plan on spending no more than 2 minutes per slide summarizing, and 10 minutes for discussion.
  5. Note that no matter which format you choose for a reading summary, for presentations, I will be copying it into PowerPoint slides so it is part of the class deck. Please verify it works in that format. 
  6. Highlight the most important phrases on each bullet/slide (underscore or color) so that the key talking points stand out from the text, and so you refrain from reading your slides.
  7. Starting mid-semester, we will switch to a one-page critique and shorter presentation. Please see the rubric linked above for this change. Note that the monthly submissions will remain in the 3x3 format.
  8. See the Q&A section below for additional clarifications.


This rubric applies to the 3 required weekly reading summaries and to the in-class 3x3 elective presentation.

The critiques are 100 points each; max of 3 for 300 total points; you pick which 3 weeks, but one is due each month. This will be listed as 3 assignments in Canvas, in the Weekly Critiques section.

Note that whoever volunteers to summarize the readings and present these in the class can work off this assignment and get double the credit for that week. However, no repeats on the presentations!

  1. Content (Two slides with 3x3 summary) (40%)
  2. Succinct (Chars <=700 per slide, +/- 20%) (10%)
  3. Format (Min 20 pt font, 8.5x11 slides) (10%)
  4. Uniqueness (30%)
  5. Writing quality (Clear, Correct, Coherent, & Compelling) (10%)
  6. Minus Penalties (Lateness) (-5% per day)
  7. Plus Optional Readings (10 points for each)


From the first reading, presented in week 1

Ed Happ, Week 1, Jan. 6th readings

Nicholas G. Carr, IT Doesn’t Matter, May 2003


  1. IT is following the adoption curves of other utilities, becoming pervasive and cheap
  2. IT therefore no longer offers any competitive advantage
  3. As a result, organizations should spend less on IT, and wait longer to purchase
Critical Questions:
  1. Where on the IT stack does Carr focus? If infrastructure is a commodity, what of business apps and consumer apps?
  2. Is strategic limited to the unique? What of mash-ups? Operational excellence?
  3. Is IT a utility or a way of doing business? Is the digital enterprise more fundamental?

Rubric Question & Answers

1) Do the 3 critiques in the syllabus refer to the week or individual readings? 

a) The three critiques refer to three weeks of readings, not three readings in a given week. There are multiple readings each week. I added the word "week" to the description in the syllabus and rubric to clarify this.

2) What does “bottom-line” mean in this context?

a) Bottom-line is a common business term that comes from financial reporting; the bottom line is usually the profit, which equals the total revenue or income less the total costs, which is literally the bottom-line on a financial statement.

b) Bottom-line for narrative documents or presentations is usually the summary conclusions, or “headlines” of the document. It is characteristically succinct.

c) For these 3x3 summaries, we are defining “succinct” with a digital yardstick: as 3 tweets (plus 2 for headings, references). So a succinct 3x3 slide means 700 characters or less (5 * 140). That’s hard to do but important in communicating at the senior levels of an organization.

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