Perfecting a Précis
What is a précis? The definition
Précis, from the Old French and literally meaning “cut short” (dictionary.com), is a concise summary of an article or other work. The précis, then, explains the main point, logical support, and structure of the original work but in greatly condensed form. The précis is objective, unlike a critical analysis, which evaluates the argument and use of evidence within an article. Thus, the précis does not offer evaluations about a text, nor does it include personal reaction to a text.
How should a writer begin to write a précis? The process
- Read and annotate the article or other text.
- Reflect on the author's purpose.
- Consider the kinds of evidence the author uses.
- Restate the author's thesis in your own words.
- Write a one or two sentence summary of each section or subdivision of the article.
- Reread the article to compare it with your summary notes.
- Begin writing, using your paraphrase of the thesis and your one or two sentence summary statements.
- Review your précis to confirm that you have explained the main point of the article, identified the supporting evidence that the writer uses, and have used the same logical structure as the text.
- Finally, check for clarity, coherence, and correctness.
How should a précis be structured? The format
Some writers offer a hook; explain the author's broad topic; and then restate the author's thesis, while others may open with a restatement of the author's thesis and then explain the broader framework of the subject. In order to determine which approach would best suit the assignment, ask your professor about the format of the introduction. In either format, the restatement of the thesis should include the name of the author, the title of the article, and the date of its publication, as the following illustrates: “In his influential 1936 essay, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,” J.R.R. Tolkien criticizes scholars of this day for mining Beowulf solely for historic evidence about the Anglo-Saxon period, rather than reading the poem as a great and inspiring work of literature.”
Generally, each body paragraph should explain a separate section of the text and should provide the evidence (though in greatly condensed form) that the writer has used to support that section. If used, quotations should be brief, should be correctly introduced or incorporated, and should be correctly attributed.
The conclusion should restate the main idea of the text and reiterate the main support. Remember to avoid any personal statements about the text.
By Teresa Sweeney and Fran Hooker