What is the Excerpt for WordPress Posts?

Many WordPress themes rely on Excerpts, but they can be a mystery to many users.

In this post, I'll explain what an Excerpt is, how you create them, where they appear, and how you can get more control over how they're used on your site.

A Beginners Guide to Excerpts

An Excerpt is an optional summary or description of the main content. So if you write a Post about the book “Moby Dick”, your excerpt might look like this:

Moby Dick is a novel by Herman Melville, in which Captain Ahab seeksr revenge on a whale called Moby Dick, which on a previous voyage destroyed Ahab's ship and severed his leg. The novel was published in 1851 during the period of the American Renaissance.

If you're new to WordPress, you'll find the “Excerpt” box on the bottom of the screen when creating posts. It will be underneath the main content. Here's an example using the book “Moby Dick”:

Excerpt box in WordPress

If you don't see the “Excerpt” box, look for the “Screen Options” pulldown in the top-right of the screen.

Check the box next to “Excerpt” and the box should appear lower down the screen.

Showing the excerpt in a WordPress post screen

How Long is the Excerpt?

There is no fixed length for the Excerpt.

Visually, there is room for 2 lines of text but on a large monitor that it is enough room for over 300 characters. However, if your write enough text to go over 2 lines, WordPress will show a scrollbar for the Excerpt box:

Scrollbar in a WordPress excerpt

Where Are Excerpts Used?

How Excerpts display on your site is 100% decided by your theme.

The screenshow below was taken using the Appeal theme. If you look at any page that contains multiple Posts, you'll see that the Excerpt is used. Some theme designers prefer to automatically pull the first few lines of the Post, but some designer prefer to use the Excerpt.

Archive showing in a WordPress theme

Why Force Writers to Include Excerpts?

Here's a key thing to know about Excerpts … many themes will look strange without them. Many designers create themes that look great with an Excerpt but look slightly odd and sparse without them.

So if you want to force your writers to include Excerpts, how can you do it?

The answer is the PublishPress Checklists plugin.

  • Install the PublishPress Checklists plugin.
  • Go to Checklists > Settings.
  • You can choose “Excerpt” as one of the items that authors must complete before publishing.
Excerpt has text - checklist option

What do these options mean?

  • Show a sidebar message (default): This simply shows the recommendation in the sidebar when writing a WordPress post.
  • Show a pop-up message: This will display a pop-up with a warning message, but users can still publish.
  • Prevent publishing: Users won’t be able to publish if this is not complete.

Now when someone goes to write a post, this is what they'll see in the sidebar:

Excerpt has text - checklist is red

After you've uploaded an Excerpt, the red X will turn into green check mark:

Excerpt has text - checklist is green

Summary

Excerpts look great on your site and help visitors get a quick feel for your content.

However, Excerpts are not required by default. If you want to create a site with consistent, good-looking, high-quality content, then make sure you have a helpful Excerpt for each post. Use the PublishPress Checklists.

This video is also a helpful guide to Excerpts:

Beyond just Excerpts, the Checklist also allows you to force a minimum and maximum number of words, require Featured images, or even add your own add your own custom rules.


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