The summary at the beginning of a longer document is intended to save readers time by summarising the whole document. The summary may be called an abstract for a journal article, or an Executive Summary in a report.
It can be a challenge for authors to condense all their careful thought and effort on a long document into a much shorter summary. But remember the reader.
More people will read the summary than the whole document. Ideally the summary will encourage readers to read on. But if they don’t, what do you want people to know and remember?
It can take a surprising amount of time to get the summary right as every word is carefully considered. If time is limited, copying sentences from the document is a starting point, but it is best to write just for the summary.
- Be aware of any length limits, such as 100 words or one page.
- Allow enough time to write the summary – don’t rush it at the last minute.
- Rewrite key messages in a clear and succinct form.
- Choose words carefully to convey the extent of certainty.
- Focus on the results, more than the process, if space is limited.
- Remember a well-chosen graphic or key statistic may be more effective than many words.
- Use the present or past tense (not the future tense), as the work has been done.
See our related post on writing to a word limit (August 2014).