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How to write a summary, and why
The first text in most web and intranet pages should be a summary of 1-2 sentences. That's a good rule of thumb.
The starter-summary has several important functions.
Don't, don't, don't write a really useless summary
Don't waste the summary-slot by writing a general blurb or introduction or background. Cut to the chase. And write about the specific page, not the entire site.
So don't summarise a web page of job advertisements like this:
"ESL or English as a Second Language is a formal education for people who have a primary language other than English."
And don't start an intranet page about claiming
entertainment expenses like this:
"In our organisation, various business units have celebrated festive occasions in a wide range of ways. In the1950s, it was common to wear home-made brown-paper hats, and cucumber sandwiches were favoured."
Essentials of a jolly good summary
There's no universal formula for writing the perfect summary. The criteria are:
Four suggested approaches follow.
The executive summary-summary
You could write a true summary of the entire page's content. This is an executive summary, similar to the first sentence in a news story. Examples:
"Most United Arab Emirates employers require ESL staff with post-graduate degrees, pay above average salaries, require 22 contact hours per week and provide accommodation. ESL jobs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are listed on this page."
"Staff may celebrate the start of a public holiday in the office with drinks, gifts, fireworks or handshakes. Expense must be approved at least 10 working days in advance. A social event, not a religious event, is appropriate."
The key message-summary
This type of summary conveys the single most important message on the page. This is the one point that people must grasp, even if they read nothing else.
"Tell us your preferred country, your ideal start-date, and we will send you ESL/EFL jobs as soon as they are posted. Get into the Maze!"
"Organise your Christmas celebrations before 10 December, if you want your expenses refunded by the Social Club."
The page description is probably the easiest option for the writer, if slightly dull for the reader. It faintly resembles the abstract that precedes an academic article.
"This web page has useful links to other ESL-related sites with teaching ideas, employer ratings and job ads for ESL teaching abroad.""This page gives guidelines for celebrating public holidays in the office."
Sometimes it's easiest to just say when and how the page should be used.
"Use this page to find ESL jobs in Asia, Europe, Africa, North America and South America. Search ESL job listings by country and region. "
"Managers should use this procedure when purchasing food and drink for parties in the office."
The summary is all part of the plan to structure every web or intranet page for easy reading and great search results. Your summary is the reader's second chance (after the headline) to get the point of the page.
© Rachel McAlpine Trust January 2005