Writing a Précis: An Essential Part of Research Adapted from work by June Olson Mountain Pointe High School 2006-07
What is a Précis? • A précis is a formal summary of a non-fictional work. Précis are used to present the ideas in the original work as a thumbnail sketch. • However, the précis must be • objective (That means no personal interpretation) • complete (All major ideas, significant arguments, support) • concise (one-quarter to one-fifth the size of the original) • Précis are used in scholarly endeavors as • part of the research process • means to prevent plagiarism
What is a Précis? • The précis • is a type of summarizing that insists on an exact reproduction of the logic, organization, and emphasis of the original texts. • details the relative order, proportions, and relationships of the original parts of a text. • An effective précis • retains the logic, development, and argument of the original in much shorter form. • is useful when you are dealing with lengthy passages that demand careful attention to the logic and organization of an argument.
Different Than a Paraphrase • A paraphrase • says in different and simpler words exactly what the original passage has to say. • may be as long as the passage itself. • A précis • rarely is more than one-third the length of the original selection and may be only one-fourth as long. • gives only the “heart” of a passage. It omits repetition and such details as examples, illustrations, and adjectives unless they are of unusual importance.
How is a précis written? • A précis is written • entirely in the words of the person writing it, not in the words of the original selection. • Tip: Avoid the temptation to lift long phrases and whole sentences from the original. • from the point of view of the author whose work is being summarized. • Do not begin with such expressions as “This author says…” or “The paragraph means…”. • Begin as though you were summarizing.
The Challenge to Writing a Précis • Writing is only half of the challenge. The most important task is to read and fully understand the text. • Often, we understand information we can relate to, or fit into previously-known frames of reference, values, ideas. • However, sources often refute, expand, challenge us to think more deeply about the subject. • A précis does not serve to argue against, to point out errors or logical fallacies, or to judge the author’s ideas. • Therefore, it is the thinking before the writing that determines a worthy précis.
Benefits of a Précis • This assignment is not easy! However, it does bring benefits. • Upon completion of the précis, especially if done well, you will never, ever forget the argument, the examples, and the development of the article. • You will also find that skills developed in précis writing establish and hone foundational skills required for both educational and professional success. • analysis • synthesis • comparison • other key higher-order thinking skills
Goals of the Précis • To compress, distill, and clarify a lengthy passage, article, or book, while retaining important concepts, key words, and important data • To remove superfluous information yet retain the core essence of the work • To define, in brief, any key terms • To give a brief description of methods and approaches used by the researchers • To state the importance of the research or piece of writing • Why was it important to conduct this research or write on this topic?
Active Reading • Underline, highlight, or circle key sentences, phrases, and words. • Read each paragraph as a unit of thought. • Use a dictionary for words that seem important or those that you do not understand. • As you discover them, summarize main points in a few words. • Decide if the content is based on opinion, evidence, and/or logic and why that can be important. Note: The italicized skills are not used when preparing to write a précis.
Active Reading • Think about the subject-audience-context-purpose relationship. • Look for evidence, logical analysis, reasoning. • Think about your biases for and against the ideas presented.* • Evaluate your reactions to the material.* • Annotate: Make notes in the margins. * Note: In précis writing, you will have to disregard these reactions.
Active Reading • Record reactions*, questions, and understandings of the reading. • Organize text for reviewing, studying, or writing by adding numbers to marginal notes. • Isolate key terms and phrases. Write them in the margins. • Write notes on key words, phrases, or sentences. These writings can comment*, question, evaluate*, define, relate*, challenge*. * Note: The italicized skills are not used when preparing to write a précis.
The Basic Process Use Active Reading skills as you comb the article many times to ferret out its gist and significant details. • Highlight the work as you read. • Locate the thesis statement and its sub-arguments. • For each point, find the specific, supporting evidence used by the author. • Write key words and numbers in the margin to outline the work.
The Basic Process • Read the work again, adding and discarding marginal notes. • One of the first (if not the first) difficulties to overcome in writing a précis is getting the facts straight. • You should not list any statements unsupported by the text. • Make sure to extract only factually correct information.
The Basic Process • Another difficulty is putting the material into your own words. • After reading the text three times, put the work aside; then begin writing. This will force you to use your own words without the temptation of borrowing directly from the original. • Check the piece for accuracy.
The Basic Process • Writing in your own words, begin the précis with a statement that encompasses the entire argument. Remember that the précis takes the point-of-view of the original writer. If the original is written in the first person, reflect this in the précis. • Not “In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson maintains…” • But “An essential connection binds between how we are governed and…”
The Basic Process • Present the logical progression (the development) of the argument with its component parts in your own words. • Use your marginal numbers and key words as guides. • Simplify. • Use words to replace phrases, and use phrases to replace clauses. • Discard unimportant ideas and illustrations. • Use simple figures of speech.
The Basic Process • Reduce the article to one-fifth to one-third of its original length, omitting nothing from the essential argument. • Although you should be as brief as possible, guard against being so condensed that you obscure the point of passage. • Nothing should be said more than once. • Check your draft for expression errors, repetition or vague phrasing; then write a smoother final version. • This is, in reality, this is the key to the whole enterprise!
The Basic Process • Type the précis, beginning with your abstraction of the central, informing idea of the article. Having understood and written the central idea, present the essential argument in as cogent manner as possible. • Clue: Once you have assimilated the article through the illustrations and examples the writer uses to make his/her abstract ideas concrete, you do not have to include these illustrations and examples in your précis!
Warning! • Do not copy even one single sentence from the article! • You may use the author’s key words and phrases (quoted) only to present technical terms central to the author’s arguments or support • So, paraphrase, paraphrase, paraphrase… unless there is really, truly, no better way to express a concept than by using the author’s words. • You must be certain that no other statement can possibly be as pithy or as precise so as to present this idea.
A Finished Précis • When finished, the précis should clearly state the… • Position studied/argued/discussed • Focus or methods used to prove position • Ideas as understood at a deep level • Significance/Importance of this concept or set of concepts
Revising the Précis Check the draft for expression errors, repetition or vague phrasing; then write a smoother final version. • Are the opening sentences brief and to the point? Which is best? • Which opening sentence tends to show best what the passage expresses? • Does the sentence following the opening sentence amplify the essentials shown in the opening sentence? • Which précis clarifies the author’s best thoughts? Have additional thoughts been added? • Is the précis clear to one who has not seen the original source?
Revising the Précis • Did you retain the logical order and development of these thoughts? • Did you emphasize the dominant thought or erroneously emphasize a minor thought? • Did you omit any necessary facts? names? dates? places? • Is your précis clear to one who has not seen the original? • Are your sentences clear and well-constructed? • Did you use third person and the past tense? • Did you punctuate and spell correctly? • Did you make any grammatical or rhetorical errors?
Revising the Précis • Read your first copy through carefully. • Condense wherever you can, substituting single words for phrases and phrases for longer clauses. • Use only simple figures of speech. • Clearly and concisely express the essential points. • Reduce verbiage while still making the point and retaining some of the flavor and spirit of the original. • Be fair to the sentiments expressed, even if you don't agree with them. • Rewrite neatly.