Writing a Precis
One of the critical stages that students need to overcome before advancing towards higher stages of academic writing is summarization. Summarizing teaches students how to be concise, brief but comprehensive, how to eliminate their own authorial presence and how to focus on topics, ideas and motives of the original authors. And the precis examples the pinnacle of all forms of summary.
What is a precis? A precis, or précis, is a form of a summary which sums up not only the key points of the original text, but also the tone and the mood set by the original author.
What are the key features of a precis?
A perfect example of a precise should always possess the following key features:
- use of third person, instead of first - the goal is to convey the author's ideas;
- paraphrase - reflect the author's ideas and mood without citing or (worse) directly copying their own words;
- the task of the precise writer is not editing - precise the original text in its entirety and do not discriminate between the author's ideas;
- a precise never contains additional information - a good precise example does not include information outside of what the original author provided. i.e. a precise reflects the info of the original text and does not build up on it;
- a precise is not an outline of the original text, or an abstract or a list of facts - although it hides the authorial voice of the precise writer, it is still an authorial expository text.
How to write a precise?
Although the precis writer should follow a strict writing pattern, i.e. it has a very rigid structure, writing a precis is not an easy task.
The following structure adheres to the one of a typical précis example, i.e. it contains the must-have elements of a precis.
Typically, the introduction is a short paragraph of approximately 100-150 words which introduces the author, the title of the piece, its genre and the main topic. Sometimes the precise writer needs to interpret the topic of the piece despite the original author not giving one. The most common verbs to convey the original author's main topic are "assert," "argue," "disprove," "explain", etc.
- First body paragraph
Introduces the main points the original author makes towards the topic of the original text. The precise writer should not go into details in the first body paragraph. In general, the first body paragraph outlines the structure if the original text and, in turn, the precis.
This is usually the conclusion/last paragraph of the precis. Based on the main topic and the argumentation of the original writer, the precis writer summarizes the idea of the original text using few sentences. This serves as an explanation of the idea/purpose of the original text.
Steps for writing a precis
Although the writing process is unique for each and every person, the following example precis steps might help writers in the process.
Analyze the original piece
Start with simple skimming of the original text in order to familiarize yourself with the general idea. Research any unfamiliar term before you proceed with the process. Then, read the text thoroughly while taking notes on important points. Reread the text as many times as you need while improving and correcting your initial notes.
Make up the logical structure of the original text using your notes. Based on that structure, write a short one- or two-sentence summary of every section of the text. You could follow the simple formula of "key point plus evidence" to summarize every section. Try to refrain from going into detail in the process - this step should help you construct the skeleton of your precis based on the original text, not write the whole precis. Tip: try using your notes exclusively. Not only will it help you paraphrase later, but it encourages the habit of taking good notes and summarizing accordingly in the future.
Consult the technical requirements
Every new task brings new requirements. Hence, it is vital for you to analyze the word count, the pointers provided by the task, general requirements, etc. They intrinsically dictate the next step in the process.
Every step so far leads to this point - the structure. The precis, as a specific text format, must have a specific structure. Based on the specific type of precis you are supposed to write, you will have to adhere to certain rules. Those rules combined with the work you’ve done thus far, i.e. previous steps, will help you create the structure for the precis. And once you’ve defined the specific structure that you plan to make use of, the rest of the process is simpler.
Write the first draft
Using your notes and summarized key points, start filling in the structure of your precis while following the requirements of the task. Do not pay close attention to details - all you need for the first draft is a body of text to work with.
Review and revise
Once you have a first draft, it is easier to focus on the details. At the end, go through the text step by step and analyze what could be done better - better choice of words, shorter and more concise expressions, unneeded details, lack of details, etc. This step is vital, since it is the breaking point between a rookie first draft and professional writing.
Professional Tips and Tricks
There are a few tips and tricks of the trade that will set apart you from any other precis:
- never use direct quotations - quotations are not forbidden when writing a precis, but they are highly frowned upon (especially in academic circles); they are perceived as a sign of sloppy writing;
- use present tense - yes, the author discussed the ideas in the past, however the text itself is timeless and up-to-date; through the text, the author argues the same ideas throughout time;
- use active voice - you are reiterating the ideas of a known original author and there is no need for passive voice;
- never state your opinions - no matter what your opinion is, you are writing a precis, not an argumentative essay or a journalistic article; follow the basic rules of the precis as a textual form;
- neither take information out of the original, nor give extra information - the original author already made the choice and your task is to reiterate their ideas in a clear and concise manner;
- be concise - no matter what the word count is, always strive towards conciseness, since it is crucial not only for the original author's argumentation, but for cohesion and coherence as well.
Have you ever struggled with this textual format? Have you ever tried to follow other tips to no avail? Fear not - this article will help you write a precis that no one will be able to forget.