How to Write a Precis in 6 Steps

Most students don’t know a lot about this type of assignment until they are forced to complete it. Don’t be surprised if you just recently heard about this type of assignment for the first time; most students are confused about it and end up with so many questions: “What is a precis itself?”, “Where can I start”, and “How do I write a precis?”. Luckily, we are here to give you the answers. In this article, we will discover what this type of work is and provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to write it.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Definition of Precis and Its Purpose

According to the precis definition, the word “Précis” comes from the French language and means “precise” or “to cut brief”. A precis is a brief synopsis of another work—for example, a dissertation or a scholarly article. The main purpose of a precis is to sum up any ideas that were stated in the piece, explain the main message, and give readers an idea of how the original piece was structured.

What Kind of Papers Can Contain a Precis?

In a nutshell, a precis is a separate written piece that is not attached to other academic works. Typically, a precis is written in an article – either scholarly or non-scholarly – or any other academic work. Its length can vary, depending on the length of the original piece.

Often, students confuse a precis with another form of writing – a critical analysis . However, they are quite different. Unlike a critical analysis, a precis should not contain your personal opinion in regards to the original piece.

A good precis has to be short and straight to the point. Yet, what are the other characteristics of this type of writing? Here are the key things to keep in mind:

  • A precis is a short summary, yet not a paraphrased copy of the original piece.
  • The text should be precise and clear.
  • A precis should be written in your own words, but it is allowed to use some quotes from the original piece (though not too many, only the ones that bring real value).
  • It should not reflect your personal opinion.
  • It should convey only the most important information and omit secondary ideas.
  • The key points should be covered as comprehensively as possible.
  • The information in a precis should be conveyed in a logical sequence, with clear connections between all parts of the text.
  • It should not contain any details from other sources.
  • A precis should not include any irrelevant or secondary details.
  • A precis is always written in the third person, so the use of first person pronouns is not appropriate here.

Apart from a regular precis, there is also another form of this assignment called a rhetorical precis. The essence of this task is the same. However, it is usually much shorter and, thus, harder to write. A rhetorical precis also requires you to sum up core ideas from the original piece, but it has an additional focus on the delivery of the information in the piece. Thus, a rhetorical precis blends a summary and a brief analysis of how the author has conveyed his/her ideas.

The biggest pitfall in writing rhetorical precis is that you should fit everything normally into four sentences. Here is a sample of what needs to be included in a rhetorical precis:

  • The bibliographical information of the original piece, such as the title, author’s name, date, and other relevant data.
  • An explanation of how the writer of the piece has developed and supported his/her core ideas.
  • A statement of the author’s purpose.
  • The delivery: How the author captures the reader’s attention. Who his/her target audience is. How he/she caters those ideas to readers.

This is the core information that should be present in a rhetorical precis. Additionally, you are expected to use short quotes from the original piece to give your readers a sense of the author’s tone and style. Here is a good rhetorical precis example that you can examine:

Rhetorical precis example:
Barry, Dave. “The Ugly Truth about Beauty.” Mirror on America: Short Essays and Images from Popular Culture. 2nd ed. Eds. Joan T. Mims and Elizabeth M. Nollen. NY: Bedford, 2003. 109-12.
Dave Barry, in his work “The Ugly Truth about Beauty” (1998), claims that “…women generally do not think of their looks in the same way that men do” (4). Barry illuminates this discrepancy by juxtaposing men’s perceptions of their looks (“average-looking”) with women’s (“not good enough”) by contrasting female role-models (Barbie, Cindy Crawford) with male role-models (He-Man, BuzzOff) and by comparing men’s interests (the Super Bowl, lawn care) with women’s (manicures). He exaggerates and stereotypes these differences in order to prevent women from so eagerly accepting society’s expectations of them; in fact, Barry claims that men who want women to “look like Cindy Crawford” are “idiots” (10). Barry ostensibly addresses men in this essay because he opens and closes the essay by directly addressing men (as in “If you’re a man…”) and offering to give them advice in a mockingly conspiratorial fashion; however, by using humor to poke fun at both men and women’s perceptions of themselves, Barry makes this essay palatable to both genders and hopes to convince women to stop obsessively “thinking they need to look like Barbie” (8).

Why Are Students Assigned to Write Precis?

This form of academic assignment generally has several purposes. First of all, it helps professors see how well you can summarize, think critically, as well as detect and highlight essential information. Such a task also demonstrates students’ writing skills, their ability to express their thoughts clearly, their intelligibly, and their ability to write with precision. Finally, writing a precis is an effective way to learn new material.

If a precis is a brief summary of an original text, then how is it different from paraphrasing you may wonder? Unlike a paraphrased piece, a precis is not just a restatement of the original text in your own words. It does not require you to mention all of the details provided in the original piece, but rather sum up the main ideas from it. Another distinctive feature that differentiates the two is that paraphrasing is mostly used to refer to certain ideas or statements given in another work, while precis have the purpose of guiding readers through a piece they haven’t read.

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Precis Format

When writing a precis, whether a rhetorical or regular one, make sure that your paper has these 5 key qualities:

1. Conciseness. Unless your professor provides another word count, a precis should be about ¼th the size of the original piece. It has to be concise and straight to the point; thus, you should avoid repetition, wordy expressions, wateriness, and unnecessary details.
2. Objectivity. A precis implies providing an objective construal of the essential information given in the original piece, without including your personal opinions.
3. Coherency. You must provide information in a logical sequence.
4. Clarity. A precis should be easy to read and understand. The main goal of this work is to make the reader understand the original piece and the ideas the author conveyed in it, without the reader even having to read it. Thus, use simple structure and language.
5. Correctness. A precis should deliver accurate details, figures, facts, dates, and should have proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Style

  • Precis Title: Précis of [Author’s Name]’s “[Name of Work/Article]”
  • Font Size: 12 point
  • Spacing: Double
  • Margins: At least 1 inch from all sides
  • Name and Pledge: Place them at the end of your precis
  • Tone of Voice: Stick to the the author’s voice in the original piece
  • Direct Quotations: Put quotes in quotation marks, include a page number in parentheses after the quote
  • Order and Organization: Stick to the order of the original article

How to Write a Precis in 6 Steps

So, how do you write it step-by-step? Here is a comprehensive guide to help you succeed with writing a precis:

Step 1: Pick the article, work, or story you will write a precis on
Unless you were assigned to write your precis on some specific material, you will have to choose the original piece yourself. In this case, be sure to choose an article or work that is publicly available in its full length, so that you can read the whole thing.

Step 2: Read the original piece
Take your time to read the entire piece carefully and without rushing, to make sure you understand it fully.

Step 3: Re-read it and take notes
Go back to the original piece after you’ve already read it and grasped the general idea. Now, your goal is to interpret the author’s core ideas—take notes.

Step 4: Make an outline
Based on your notes, list all of the key details and arguments you found. This will help you see if you have everything important covered. Then, make a clear and well-structured outline for your precis. To make an outline, feel free to use a precis template given under the steps section of this article.

Step 5: Write a precis
When writing a precis, be sure to follow your professor’s guidelines and the outline you have. Use simple language and structure, and keep an eye on the size of your precis.

Step 6: Proofreading and editing
Make sure you include all of the important details in your text. Also, check to make sure it does not contain any unnecessary details. Finally, check your draft for any mistakes—including punctuation, grammar, style, and any other errors. Carefully polish it until it looks good.

Following the steps mentioned above, you should be able to handle writing a precis with ease. To give you an even better understanding of how the finished piece should look, here is a precis sample template:

  1. Name of the author of the original piece, [a few words describing the author (optional)], the title of article and genre, date of publication in parentheses (if you need to include additional publishing information, put it in parentheses); a rhetorically accurate verb like “claims,” “suggests,” “argues,” “asserts,” or other; THAT – followed by the author’s thesis statement.

Example:
Antoine Gara, Forbes expert in the fields of Banking and Insurance, in the article The Forbes Investigation: Inside The Secret Bank Behind The Fintech Boom (Dec 17, 2019), suggests that a tiny FDIC-insured bank – Cross River – can give a much more accurate glimpse into the future of banking than Manhattan’s and Silicon Valley’s financial districts.

  1. A brief and clear explanation of how the author develops and supports his ideas throughout the piece, usually in chronological order.
  2. A statement of the author’s purpose, usually followed by “in order to” and a brief explanation of what he/she wanted to achieve/what message was conveyed with his/her work.
  3. A short explanation of the author’s tone of voice, style, target audience, etc.

Citing a Precis

In-Text Citations

When writing a precis, you need to provide the author’s name, the original work’s title, and the publication date in the first sentence of your text.

Example:
Dave Barry in his work “The Ugly Truth about Beauty” (1998), claims that…

Since the author’s name is already stated, you do not need to repeat it in parentheses after any in-text citations. Instead, if you quote anything from the original piece, include the page number where it can be found in the parenthesis after the quote.

Example:
He exaggerates and stereotypes these differences in order to prevent women from so eagerly accepting society’s expectation of them; in fact, Barry claims that men who want women to “look like Cindy Crawford” are “idiots” (10).

Works Cited

In the works cited page you will only have to cite the original source according to the chosen format and the type of the source. If it is an article, like in our example, the citation will look like this:

Example:
Barry, Dave. “The Ugly Truth about Beauty.” Mirror on America: Short Essays and Images from Popular Culture. 2nd ed. Eds. Joan T. Mims and Elizabeth M. Nollen. NY: Bedford, 2003. 109-12.

Things to Remember

Writing a precis can be challenging. They require attention and precision, as well as solid writing skills and the ability to grasp the core ideas of the original piece. However, with the help of our detailed guide, we hope that you will be able to handle such a task with ease.

To wrap-up everything that was mentioned before, let’s once again recap key things to keep in mind when writing a precis:

  • A precis is a short summary of an article or other work, but not a paraphrased copy or a critical analysis.
  • It should be concise (about ¼th of the original source’s volume).
  • It should only focus on main ideas, arguments, facts, and details.
  • A precis should include basic information about the original source, such as its title, author, and date.
  • A precis does not contain a students’ personal opinions.
  • It has to be easy to read, clear, and well-structured.
  • There should be no details or other information from other sources.
  • A precis is written in the third person.

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