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All about Words: how to write a summary, dates, acronyms and initialisms

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By Mary Morel | April 2017

Sum it up: how to write a summary

how to write a summary

A summary is a concise account of the main points in a document. Some of the terms used to describe summaries in business writing are: ‘executive summary’, ‘overview’, ‘key points’, ‘issues’ or just ‘summary’.

Short and long summaries

How you approach writing a summary depends on what type of document you are summarising. Some documents, such as board papers, have ‘short summaries’, and others, such as annual reports, have ‘long summaries’ (in comparison).

Long summaries, often called ‘executive summaries’, vary in length, but are often a page or even longer. Short summaries, often called ‘key points’ or ‘overview’ are just a few paragraphs or bullet points.

Read more.



Question: Is it is acceptable to write the date as follows?

[The] 21st of April 2017

Answer (not relevant for US readers):

The modern Australian way of writing dates is:

21 April 2017

The Australian government Style manual says: ‘This structure is unambiguous, requires no punctuation, and progresses logically from day to month to year.’

However, this style causes a problem at the beginning of a sentence because we don’t start sentences with numbers.

I usually try and rearrange the words in the sentence to avoid the problem, but you could do as you suggest and write:

The 21st of April in 2017 is the last day of the school holidays.

Using my avoidance technique, you could say:

The school holidays end on 21 April 2017.

NB US English and the media put the month before the day (April 21, 2017).

Learn more about styles with my online course, Styles for Business Writing.

Readers’ feedback

Fewer and less
Several of you pointed out that in the example given last month (below), the agreement is with the percentage, not the children, so ‘less’ would be  more correct than ‘fewer’.

Fewer than 5% of the children appeared for class.
Less than 5% of children appeared for class.

Read what the Chicago Manual of Style Online has to say in response to a question about fewer and less with percentages.

A URL or an url?
My writing about ‘an url’ instead of ‘a URL’ caused me grief on two fronts:

  • Most of you treat ‘URL’ as an initialism, not an acronym, so therefore it is in capitals and pronounced ‘yooh ahr ‘el’, not ‘earl’. (An acronym forms a new word, e.g. scuba, and an initialism doesn’t – we often use the term ‘acronym’ to cover both.)
  • Since you pronounce URL with a consonant sound at the beginning, it should be preceded by ‘a’ and not ‘an’.

I will have to mend my ways! Interestingly, it is a term that I have never seen spelt out. It stands for ‘uniform resource locator’.

Interesting stuff about writing

Punctuation podcast
Listen to a podcast on punctuation with Page OK’er and Comma Queen Mary Norris.

What happened to who?
An interesting article about the pronoun who.

Grammar vigilante secretly corrects bad grammar at night
Do you ever secretly correct public grammar mistakes? Watch this grammar vigilante.

How to use nonsexist language in business writing
A recent blog of mine.

What happened to the proofreader?
Topshop made an embarrassing mistake on a t-shirt. Can you spot it?

This powerful Tracey Ullman sketch has had over 30 million views and counting. It’s worth watching!

Facebook group

Join the All about words Facebook group. We share serious and fun stuff about writing and grammar.

Quote of the month

‘And how is clarity to be achieved? Mainly by taking trouble, and by writing to serve people rather than to impress them.’
Frank Lucas, English scholar and critic