What is a Precis, Format, Outline, and Examples
What is a precis?
The word precis is a derivation of a French word “précis” that means summary or short. So what is a precis?
A precis is, therefore, a summation of written discourse.
While different scholars continually come up with better definitions of precis, it all boils down to a clear, logical, and concise summary of a text.
A precise seeks to preserve the essential ideas of a passage in minimal words.
It is different from a critical analysis that gauges a writer’s arguments based on the evidence provided in an article.
A precise follows a specific format but it is not an essay and neither should it be considered an article re-write.
Don’t use it to explain or expound on the original passage or speech.
Instead, use it to provide your readers with a summary that informs the readers of the significance and worth of the passage you seek to summarize.
Stick to conveying the idea of the content you are summarizing without giving personal evaluations.
How to write a rhetorical precis
Any attempt to write down a precis must be preceded by the thorough understanding of the article or passage you hope to summarize.
Take time to first go through the original work severally while taking notes on the key ideas.
This plays a pivotal role in ensuring that your precise accurately identifies the original message.
Most importantly, your summary must capture and convey the author’s motives.
Such a concept can only be achieved after a thorough understanding of the original work.
You can use a rhetorical precis worksheet to write down the main points.
Another important tool is the rhetorical precis template.
Writing a critical precis follows a fairly rigid format template that sets it apart from any other form of review or summary.
Start off by introducing the passage that you are about to summarize.
Also, note that a complete precis introduction covers the name of the author and the original title for the context.
It also covers the genre of the work under reviews such as whether it is an article, essay, poem or novel, and its publication date.
You are required to include the author’s name in full when introducing his work.
In some cases, you may also add brief facts about his life if it helps your reader understand them or the content better.
You then need to describe how the author supports the thesis of his work.
The description involves outlining all the key ideas used in the passage.
This section forms the body of the rhetorical precis and must follow a rhetorically correct verb like ‘assert,’ ‘prove,’ or ‘argue’ as well as a ”that” clause.
Go on to describe the purpose of the original article, novel or essay using an “IN ORDER TO’ clause.
Note that unlike a thesis that reflects on the details that the author details in their text, the purpose of the piece explains the author’s motive when coming up with the content.
You can also use the tone of the written article to back up the purpose of your article.
Conclude by describing the article’s intended audience.
Note that authors rarely state their intended audience.
Therefore, identifying this target audience will heavily rely on the language and tone used.
It may also rely on the references cited or your knowledge of the author, primarily based on his previous works.
What is the Right Precis Format?
While a rhetorical precis follows a specific format, different scholars have varied opinions of what they consider the correct precis writing format.
Some require that you adhere to a four-sentence setup where each aspect of the precis falls within a single sentence.
Others prefer basing their arguments on the length of the original article such as a one-fifth or one-sixth of the piece.
How long should a precis be?
It is, imperative that you confirm the right length of the rhetorical precis with your professor. The rhetorical precis rubric provided by your professor should guide you on the length required.
Nonetheless, it is a rule of the thumb that the rhetorical precis doesn’t exceed one-quarter of the original piece.
Here is the ideal precis writing format based on the four-sentence structure:
- Include the name of the author
- The original title of the piece
- The date of publishing in parenthesis
- Power verb like “argues” or “explains” followed by a THAT clause introducing the thesis of the content.
This supports the author’s thesis in chronological order. Ideally, you are supposed to highlight how the author develops his argument by pointing out to the fundamental concepts involved.
At this point, you are free to explain the author’s motive. However, this statement should be informed by a thorough review of the work in context and not by personal opinions and reactions.
This covers a description of the intended audience while taking into consideration the relationship the author has or seeks to build with this target audience. For instance, does he try to inform, reprimand, critique or entertain the audience?
In his article “The Fixation of Belief” (1877), Charles Peirce argues that human beings have inborn mechanisms, both social and psychological primarily designed to fix and protect their beliefs. He then backs up these claims by describing four methods of fixing belief while pointing out to the strengths and weaknesses of either. Through this article, Peirce purposes to enlighten his readers on the different methods most people use when establishing a belief in order to provoke their thoughts into considering how their belief system stems from either of three methods as well as the progressiveness of “the method of science” in comparison to the other three. Considering the technicality of the language Peirce uses on the article, this piece targets the well-educated class of audience, especially individuals with a background in history or philosophy and willing to learn and possibly adopt other methods of thinking.
Other considerations when writing a precis
A rhetorical precis is primarily meant to be a summary of an original piece of information.
Only include a brief summation of a particular content but in an understandable manner that captures the author’s motive.
Unless otherwise directed, stick to the four-sentence rule when writing down a precis.
If possible, write a one-paragraph summary of length between 100 and 200 words.
Avoid using direct quotes from the article or essay.
Strive only to capture the originality of any given piece of content using your own words.
Note that while writing a rhetorical precis requires that you use own words, this doesn’t amount to text evaluation of forcing personal views in the precis. Remember that a precis is no more than a summation or description of an author’s original work. It, therefore, is not your place to support his ideologies or critique them with personal reactions.
Brief and concise
In old French, “Précis” meant ‘cut short’ implying that the information you provide should be brief and to the point. Only highlight the theories and statements that bring out and support the author’s thesis.
Characteristics of a rhetorical precis
When writing a critical precis, there are a few factors you have to put into consideration. These form the primary guidelines informing the structure of the precis:
- A precis is no more than just a summary of an existing abstract or any other piece of content.
- Writing a precis doesn’t involve re-writing or evaluating the original work.
- Rarely are you expected to use direct quotes from the original passage when drafting a precis. Rather, read and understand the content then use own words to summarize it.
- Ensure that you capture the meaning of the original work and also explain its value. This, however, doesn’t equal to giving personal opinions of the original work.
- As a rule of the thumb, especially in cases where your tutor doesn’t explicitly state the size of the precis, ensure your writing doesn’t extend beyond one-quarter of the original work.
- Ensure your work follows the standard precis writing procedure. Start by stating the thesis and how the author supports it before describing its intent to the target audience.
What is the importance rhetorical précis writing?
Your professor assigns rhetorical writing assignments to not only help them test your level of critical thinking.
It also helps measure your ability to spot and highlight critical information in a passage.
Your ability to hand in a brief and concise summary also helps them evaluate your reporting skills.
You can also view these tests as a great way of learning about new things.
Critical qualities of the best precis
Ideally, your precis should exhibit these qualities:
- Clarity: by reading your precis, a reader can understand the message that the original author intended to pass.
- Accuracy: The accuracy also has to be supported by right punctuation and grammar.
- Concise: When writing a summary, you have to balance between wordiness and factual reporting.
- Coherence: As much as writing precis involves capturing all the key concepts used in an original work. Ensure that you use them in a logical and interconnected manner.
- Objectivity: avoid biases when writing a rhetorical precis either by way of facts or tone. Stick to outlining what the author covers in their original work while describing it in a neutral tone.
- Avoid using Rhetorical precis generator online
So what is a precis?
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