How to Write a Précis (Writing Guide + Examples)

Last Updated: 11 July 2019

Life in college is always fun until that moment when academic writing tasks trickle in. While students chance upon the college time to relax, socialize, and build connection, only a few are dedicated towards learning.


However, for what it is worth, college life prepares you for the unforgiving life that awaits after graduation. One way it does this is through regular assignments that are timed. You can never afford to submit an assignment late if you want to be classified for a college degree.


Now, when undertaking college education, précis writing is one of the most important yet challenging tasks. At least, from our internal survey, it emerged that 3 out of 5 students find it hard to write a précis. The students also do not understand what a précis is and how to write a précis step by step.


In this article, we have put together important facts on how to write a précis, we explain what it means, its rules, and give you links to précis examples.


What is a Précis?


It is common for students to confuse a précis with rhetorical analysis, reflection essays, and critical analysis. We get to clarify the confusion in just a moment. It would be prudent to begin by first reflecting on what a précis contains.


Well, it entails the thesis of the author. It also carries the main message or idea of the author. It is always useful to look at the text and paraphrase the seemingly memorable phrases.


In simple terms, a précis is like a synopsis of a text, article, or any piece of literature. Précis is a term borrowed from French, which means summary or


It is a type of academic writing that entails the summary of the main arguments and ideas in a piece of text, with a specific focus on the thesis of the author.


Therefore, the best definition of a précis is that: A précis is a clear, accurate, and concise summary of a longer text in a connected, readable, and elaborate manner. You can also refer to it as an academic summary as it involves summarizing the main argument of a piece of academic writing, such as a peer-reviewed article.


It should never be a narrative of what the author said in sequence. Rather, it is more of providing a skeleton of the arguments in the piece of work. A précis is also not rewriting or an essay.


Importance of Précis Writing


Here are some of the reasons why a précis is written.



Précis writing is important as it helps the writer discriminate between what is regarded as useful and that which is never useful. It is a comprehension exercise that allows the writer to present the gist of a passage in their own words


Rules of Précis Writing


There are ten golden rules when writing a précis.



  1. Read the passage/text and determine its theme. While reading focus on the theme or major argument expressed by the author.

  2. Précis writing means the art of remodeling. Your précis writing should reflect your prowess in using your own words to express the meaning from a text.

  3. Be concise, accurate, and clear. Précis writing is never complete without brevity, yet it should not come at the expense of clarity or accuracy. Throw in some economy with words, avoid ambiguity, obscurity, and vagueness.

  4. It should convince even those who have not read the text. When writing a précis, ensure that it is intelligible to anyone who has not read the original text. By reading your thesis, the reader should engage with the original text.

  5. A précis uses your own language. Remember that a précis does not mean paraphrasing. Read and comprehend, then write.

  6. Forever stick to the third person. Begin your précis by identifying what the author says.

  7. Do not give a personal opinion. Never give your personal comments or reflection on the piece of work. You will be deviating from précis writing. It should follow the order of the original text.

  8. A précis by the rule of the thumb should be a third of the original text. Mostly, academic précis writing suggests it should be between 100 and 200 words. A précis of a 20-page book or article should be between 2-3 pages. Look at how to write a précis for a research article.

  9. Balance your précis. Make sure you are not just filling the space with words but with substance from the text.

  10. When there are statistics involved, use discretion. Unless the statistics are inevitable and utterly important drop it when writing your précis.


The Structure of a Précis


Even though a critical or rhetorical précis is not an essay, it follows the same structure. A précis has an introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. The introduction is usually a sentence with the author, title, date of publishing, and thesis statement.


Each of the body paragraphs of your précis should explain different parts of the original piece. Focus on the ideas, purpose, and evidence presented by the author.  


Do not interpret, criticize, or analyze the arguments of the author. Where necessary, use quotes or phrases from the text but intelligibly. For instance: Paulo Coelho’s quotation, “It’s part of the human condition to want to share things—thoughts, ideas, opinions,” could become “Humans want to share ideas with others.”


The conclusion of your précis should restate the main idea. It should have a summary of everything and avoid making any personal judgments on the original piece.


How to Write a Précis Step by Step


First Step: Read the text that you are to write a précis on several times. If it is short 2-5 times is recommended, else two times is the standard for long texts. Use the headings and subheadings as your guide to getting the gist of the text.


Second Step: Annotate or mark the text as you read. Here is where you highlight the major points that stick out. If you are reading using PDF readers, you can take advantage of the power to highlight and add notes. It helps you knit together the thesis of the author.


Third Step: If there is evidence used by the author or novel words, take a keen interest and look them up. Also, study the statistics used to corroborate facts in the text.


Fourth Step: Restate the authors’ thesis in your own words. When doing this be clear, accurate, and concise. If it is a long piece, try to find the major arguments that the author is bringing forth.


Fifth Step: provide one to two sentence summary of each paragraph from the author’s work. If it is a long text, divide it into sections or chapters and give a summary. For a précis on a novel, division by chapter would be prudent.


Sixth Step: write the précis. It should feature a short introductory paragraph, usually one sentence. Develop the body paragraph as outlined in the previous sections. Conclude the précis by summarizing the facts and restating the thesis.


Final Step: Proofread, edit, and submit the précis. Consider revising the assignment prompt/instructions. Also, compare your précis with the original text and weed out any similarity. Focus on your grammar and spelling while ensuring you maintain coherence and clarity. You can read it out loud or take advantage or a third eye, such as online editing services.


What Makes a Good Précis?


We cannot conclude our précis writing guide without exploring some great features of a précis.



Précis Writing Example


“In her article “Who Cares if Johnny Can’t Read?” (1997), Larissa MacFarquhar asserts that Americans are reading more than ever despite claims to the contrary and that it is time to reconsider why we value reading so much, especially certain kinds of “high culture” reading. MacFarquhar supports her claims about American reading habits with facts and statistics that compare past and present reading practices, and she challenges common assumptions by raising questions about reading’s intrinsic value. Her purpose is to dispel certain myths about reading to raise new and more important questions about the value of reading and other media in our culture. She seems to have a young, hip, somewhat irreverent audience in mind because her tome is sarcastic, and she suggests that the ides she opposes are old-fashioned positions.”


Adopted from this source.


Rhetorical Précis Example


 “From Margaret Woodworth “The Rhetorical Précis”: Sheridan Baker, in his essay "Attitudes" (1966), argues that writers' attitudes toward their subjects, their audiences, and themselves determine to a large extent the quality of their prose. Baker supports this argument by showing examples of how inappropriate attitudes can make writing unclear, pompous, or boring, concluding that a good writer "will be respectful toward his audience, considerate toward his readers, and somehow amiable toward human failings" (58). His purpose is to make his readers aware of the dangers of negative attitudes to help them become better writers. He establishes an informal relationship with his audience of college students who are interested in learning to write "with conviction" (55).”


 We wish you well in your Précis Writing


Our insights help you understand how you can start writing a précis. No professor likes reading mediocre précis. Now that you know how to write a précis, we wish you well. However, in modern times, students might seek help with academic writing. When you have a part-time job, writing a précis can be torturous, which is why you should trust online custom writing services.


Our paper writing help can come in handy and help you cover more work. A writer will read the text and write a précis for you. It is never a shame seeking help as you have no option and failing is none of your alternatives in the competitive world.


Let us help you sail through the turbulence of college education. Above all, we believe that reading this article informs you more on how to write a précis. You are ready for the challenge, write it like you the pro you are!


Example of a Precis question


Write the précis of" liberation, division and war" 


Write a précis, which contains the following elements:


1. what is the author's thesis


2. how​‌‌‌‍‍‌‍‍‌‍‌‍‍‍‌‌‌‍‍​ the author develops the thesis?


3. why you chose this reading? ( if this helped you? by how?​‌‌‌‍‍‌‍‍‌‍‌‍‍‍‌‌‌‍‍​)


Sample Precis Homework Assignment


Homework


Due: Thurs Nov. 4th


Writing a Précis


Lippi-Green, “Teaching Children to Discriminate”


WHAT IS A PRÉCIS?


It is a short summary of the essential ideas of a longer composition between several texts. It’s also known as a position paper, which means you create a claim based on what you see as the connections between the text. What do these texts have in common? Are there similar ideas which appear in the readings so far? What are they?


Why are we doing this?



How to write a précis?


First, write an outline of the main ideas – those you see as most important. Think of it this way – you are summarizing the lecture for a friend who missed the class and the material will be on an upcoming test. Also, you may want to include a brief statement about the tone, audience, or purpose of the article.


Do's and Don'ts of Precis Writing



Steps


Step 1: Read the assigned readings and make sure you understand the essence of each article.  In other words, what is the central argument, as it relates to the theme being discussed in class?


Step 2: Underline or highlight the most important points.


Step 3: Collect these highlighted passages in point-form. Write a list of two or three main ideas that the essays have in common.


Step 4: Write a brief outline of your argument. 


Step 5: What are the claims and evidence you’ll use for this essay? Write an introductory paragraph for a position paper.