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An Explanation of How to Write a Precis: Definition, Criteria, and Tips for Writers

Posted on 15 May 2020

5 min read
An Explanation of How to Write a Precis: Definition, Criteria, and Tips for Writers
How To Write Precis – A Guideline To Do The Task Easily

Being a student means writing a lot of academic papers of all types. Some of them are already familiar to you after high school. It’s good. Unfortunately, there will be other assignments which you never did. So, you will have to do that task from scratch and hope for the best.

One of such writing assignments is a precis. Your professor may just tell you to do that paper and specify the deadline, the size, and the source. But there may not be any explanations on what it is and how to write a precis. It should be your independent work. 

To prevent you from spending fruitless time, we’ve created this article. Here, we’ll tell you what the type of assignment writing a precis is. We’ll describe what you need to care about when you do this task and name the main errors for you to avoid them. We hope that with our help, composing a precis will become a simple job.  

The definition of a precis and its distinctive features 

The original meaning of this term is “summary,” and the precis has a similar goal. You have to summarize the contents of some text – an article, or the whole book – in minimum words. Still, a precis is a specific type of summary with strict requirements.

A precis is a summary of a text where you have to mention its leading ideas and claims. Also, you expose the author’s positions.

A good precis should, ideally, let any audience to get familiar with the contents, structure, and meaning of the original text even if they never read it. At the same time, it must not include any traces of your evaluation – only the facts from the original resource and description of its author’s positions.

These requirements make this task difficult for many students. A precis has some similarities in structure with essays, but it is not an essay in any way. The usual approaches to writing college academic papers are most likely inapplicable for a precis. 

However, this assignment is one of the professors’ favorites. To understand how to write a precis and do it correctly, a student has to develop excellent critical thinking and summarizing skills. Also, composing a precis is a helpful learning method. You explore the resource thoroughly to define its primary and secondary points. By summarizing the text, you get its essence – the critical information you need to know. It is a means to refresh your knowledge when required.

How to define the main qualities of a precis? 

When you’ve learned what a precis is, there are still many details that you also need to know. This type of summary has basic features and criteria it has to match. Otherwise, your professor won’t accept that work.

  • A precis is an outline of the original text. It can include just the information from that resource, and no other new data or your critical assessment. 
  • At the same time, it can’t be direct retelling or paraphrasing of the source. A summary is a brief form where you should define the essential points and remove the additional data that are less important. 
  • The size of the precis can be different. Initially, it was only four long sentences with strict requirements for their structure and contents. Now it can be up to a quarter of the original text. Or, your professor will define the size in the assignment.
  • The usage of the original text is fine if you quote it. However, you should not overuse citations – your precis must be your wording.
  • The precis you compose must always stick to the original piece – it will be a failure to appeal to any other sources or include irrelevant events and facts. 

Grave problems of a precis writing that you need to avoid 

  • Don’t make your precis just a list of facts from the original text, or its scheme. This summary must include your understanding of the source. You can’t only describe what and where the author claimed – you need to explore the grounds and consequences.
  • A precis can’t be too short. Note the critical points and omit the small details. But you have to include minor things to explore the background.
  • It is OK to include catchy phrases and quotes to make the summary more informative. Analyze them and introduce them in the context. The quotes must be proof of those ideas.  

How to write a precis of any text consistently 

This summary writing must be brief – and it is a pitfall for many students. Writing short texts is a more difficult task. So, you need to patient, as this assignment will take time. However, it will become simpler with practice. 

  • Read the original text very attentively. You need to understand each detail of it and define its meaning. When you absorb the full piece, you can summarize it.
  • Define the main ideas of the text and put them in a list. 
  • Develop the thesis statement, as it is a mandatory part of your precis. The thesis statement should define the central thoughts of the source. Then you will ground the writing on that thesis statement. 
  • Check for the arguments in favor of those ideas. Note that they can be both proving or disproving some statements. Relate the evidence to the claims.
  • Clarify all vague data. If you are not sure of some terms’ meaning, or there are unclear statements, do the additional research. 
  • Identify the author’s commitments: what exactly did he or she want to persuade the audience of? As a rule, you can find this information in the author’s thesis statement and conclusions. There is the “call to action” element as well, and you have to define which actions the author demanded. 
  • Evaluate the author’s means to describe and promote the ideas of the original text. Here you can use direct citations if they illustrate the ideas best of all. 
  • Summarize each paragraph of the article or the book chapter. Note the critical ideas and their most persuasive arguments. 
  • Try to explain this “extended summary” in your own words. Then reread the original text and compare it with your precis. Check if you have noted all the essential elements.
  • Write the text down, edit, and proofread it.

The obligatory criteria you need to know to write a precis

This academic work is more demanding in its form than other types of papers you create in college. There are severe demands to the style of writing and your approach. 

  • Clearness and readability. Your audience should understand your text precisely. Check your wording and phrases. A precis usually includes more extended and more complicated sentences, so your goal is to ensure their readability. Check all the grammar constructions, use more straightforward phrases.
  • Grammar accuracy. It comes by default that any academic paper must be accurate. The text of your precis must not have any errors of any kind – spelling, punctuation, or grammar. 
  • Factual accuracy. You have to check and prove all the data – facts, names of acting people, citations, and dates. 
  • Objectivity. As already mentioned, you should not interpret the original text. Don’t use the “first-person” either. Check the writing for any usage “I” or “We.” If there are any, delete them and paraphrase the sentences.
  • Apparent logical connections. Your goal is to relate the contents of the text with its ideas. So, ensure that these connections are direct and correct. It is a requirement for the text readability as well – illogical or messed connections make a precis a waste of time.  
  • Brief and conscious exposition. Remove all the irrelevant data mercilessly, leave the main facts only. Edit your wording too for making it lean – you should not have too wordy sentences. 

Important tips regarding the precis structure 

A precis also uses the standard three-part structure: the Introduction, the Body, and the Conclusion. However, these parts have their peculiarities.

The Introduction is a one long sentence providing the following data about the text you summarize: 

  • The author’s name, the title of work, and the data of publication, the genre of work.
  • The description of the main idea of the text is the thesis statement. The transition to this idea should be an active verb.  

e.g., George R.R. Martin’s article, “Someone Is Angry On the Internet” (2010), explains why he strongly opposes fanfiction, and enumerates the factors giving him grounds to consider fanfiction harmful. 

The Body is the precis itself – a summary of all text sections. It has to explain the author’s ideas and provide evidence. Here the usage of citations is applicable. 

e.g., In this article, “Someone Is Angry On the Internet” (2010), George R.R. Martin explains the reasons why he considers fanfiction harmful. In the first part of this article, Martin describes the problem in a legal context. He explains the issue of author’s rights that are protected by the law. Here he considers fanfiction a direct breach of the author’s rights. 

In the second part, Martin reasons about the emotional connection with the characters and the imaginary worlds. He explains why he considers the issues of the author’s control on these concepts essential and gives examples of the co-authors’ project called “Wild Cards.” Also, he speculates about the emotional hurt that authors receive by the usage of their characters and settings in fanfiction. 

The Conclusion is the restatement of your thesis. Summarize your previous arguments and get rid of any personal judgments.  

As you see, though tricky, the task is possible. We hope that this article was of help. Any time you will get that assignment again, you won’t need to learn how to write a precis. You will know it for sure. 


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