How to Write a Precis: Definition, Guide, & Examples

A précis is a brief synopsis of a written piece. It is used to summarize and analyze a text’s main points. If you need to write a précis for a research paper or the AP Lang exam, you’ve come to the right place.

The picture shows the definition of a précis.

In this comprehensive guide by Custom-Writing.org, you’ll find:

  • explanations of different précis formats,
  • a step-by-step writing guide,
  • 4 précis samples,
  • answers to frequent questions.

📚 What Is a Precis?

Précis is a type of writing that represents crucial ideas of the text and has a fixed structure. It’s close to an essay in format, but it consists of only 4 sentences with specific content:

  1. Author’s name, genre, and title of work. It also contains the thesis statement (what the author claims or suggests.)
  2. How the author reveals the thesis. It’s usually discussed in the same order as in the original text.
  3. Explanation of the text’s purpose. This part answers the questions “why?” and “what for?”
  4. Description of author’s tone and the audience. This sentence discusses who the author appeals to.

Writing a précis can be helpful in many cases, such as:

  • preparation for complex text analysis,
  • creation of an annotated bibliography,
  • writing of a research paper summary,
  • improvement of critical thinking and analytical skills.

Difference between Summary and Precis

Even though “summary” is a synonym of “précis,” there are some crucial differences between these two things. The main distinction lies in structure: a précis always consists of 4 sentences, while a summary’s structure can vary. Have a look at the comparison below.

PrécisSummary
Always has a structure of 4 precise sentences. The structure varies and usually follows the original text
Covers only the essential ideas. Includes all of the text’s main points.
Retains the original text’s writing tone and style. Can be written in different styles and doesn’t have to follow the text’s original tone.

📝 Precis Format Types

Now you know what a précis is, but that’s not all of it. There are also different formats of précis writing: critical, rhetorical, research, and literary. In this section, we will examine their features and structure.

The picture shows the 4 types of précis formats.

Critical Precis Definition & Structure

A critical précis focuses on an argument and reveals the text’s reasoning. It’s also the most common précis format. While working on a critical précis, follow these writing rules for each sentence:

  1. Formulate an argument expressed in the original piece of writing.
  2. Point out the author’s reasoning and its essential steps.
  3. Analyze the evidence on how this reasoning supports the author’s argumentation.
  4. Discuss what kind of audience the author appeals to.

Rhetorical Precis Definition & Structure

A rhetorical précis is an analytical review of the original text’s content and persuasion methods. It reveals the most crucial points of the paper and shows how it works rhetorically. This format is one of the AP Lang assignments.

Each of the 4 elements of a rhetorical précis structure expresses specific information:

  1. Background information and thesis statement.
  2. The author’s argument used to support the thesis.
  3. Explanation of the text’s purpose.
  4. Analysis of the rhetorical devices the author uses to persuade the audience.

Research Precis Definition & Structure

Research précis is similar to the critical one, but it’s aimed to give a brief structured synopsis of a research paper. The 4 elements of this précis type are as follows:

  1. Description of the research’s purpose and issues raised by the author.
  2. Summary of all the methods used by the researcher.
  3. Summary of the research results and findings.
  4. Explanation of the research’s significance.

Literary Precis Definition & Structure

Literary précis is an argumentative summary of a text with attention to its literary devices. The purpose and contents of this type differ from other précis types. Have a look at this format’s structure:

  1. The text’s title, genre, and central theme.
  2. Plot summary: the principal characters, place and time of the narration, and the main conflict.
  3. The text’s overall purpose: what thoughts and feelings the author wants to evoke in the minds of their audience.
  4. The analysis of literary devices the author uses to achieve the desired effect.

✅ How to Write a Precis Step by Step

Now, let’s see what exactly you need for writing an excellent précis.

We’ll start with the pre-writing stage. As soon as this stage is done, the writing will be far more manageable. The following tips can help you with it:

  • Start with reading the original text thoroughly and note down the essential information.
  • Summarize each paragraph in a single sentence.
  • Don’t forget to mention the text’s central thesis, methods, and purpose in your notes.

It can be beneficial if you use the mind mapping method for organizing the main ideas from the reading. Putting all the main points to the chart or diagram helps you organize your thoughts and create a good plan for your essay. When you do this, you only need to connect the points you’ve already outlined. Check out this article by the University of Kansas to learn more about mind mapping and other pre-writing techniques.

Precis Outline

Below you’ll find a detailed outline that explains how to write a précis. Check it out to make your writing process easier:

Step #1. Give some background information about the text.

  • State the text’s title and the author’s name. You can also add some publishing information, such as the number of the edition.
  • Mention the text’s central idea or theme.

Step #2. Show how the author develops their arguments and supports the thesis.

  • Focus on the evidence used by the author rather than the specific details of their reasoning.
  • When writing the literary précis, focus on literary devices the author uses to develop the theme.

Step #3. Clarify the purpose of the work.

  • If you’re writing a rhetorical or critical précis, build your sentences using the phrase “in order to.”
  • Avoid repeating the thesis. Instead, analyze the author’s motive and goals.

Step #4. Demonstrate what type of audience the author appeals to.

  • To detect the intended audience, analyze the text’s theme, thesis, and tone.
  • The type of audience usually depends on the author. For example, scholars typically appeal to their colleagues interested in the topic. Writers of fiction can appeal to any social group or society as a whole.

Rhetorical Precis Template

To help you structure your précis, we’ve created a sample template that you can download in PDF format below. All you need to do is to print it out and fill in the blanks.

Example:

  1. [Name of the author] in his/her [type of the text] titled [the text’s title] argues that [the text’s main argument].
  2. The author supports his/her arguments by [evidence presented by the author].
  3. The author’s purpose is to [what the author wants to achieve] in order to [the text’s intended effect on readers].
  4. The author writes in a [description of the text’s tone] tone for [the type of audience].
Rhetorical Précis Template
Download the free sample

Rhetorical Precis: Verbs & Sentence Starters

Want to make your précis stand out? You can do it by using certain clichés and rhetorically accurate verbs. They will help you describe the writer’s reasoning precisely.

Check out this list of common précis words and sentence starters that you can use:

ParagraphPhrases to UseExamples
1st Paragraph The author:
  • asserts
  • implies
  • suggests
  • argues
In his article Diglossia (1958), Jarls Ferguson suggests the term diglossia describes the situation of unbalanced bilingualism with different functional areas of language circulation for local spoken variants.
2nd Paragraph The author supports the arguments by:
  • comparing
  • listing
  • explaining
  • defining
  • describing
The author supports her assertion by showing her personal experience and struggle against Taliban supporters who shot her for her willingness to study at school.
3rd Paragraph The author’s purpose is to:
  • show
  • point out
  • inform
  • persuade
  • convince
Bradbury’s overall purpose is to show the problem of censorship in the era of high technology to convince people that literature and culture are crucial for humanity.
4th Paragraph The author’s tone is:
  • formal
  • informal
  • sarcastic
  • humorous
The author establishes a formal and analytical tone with his audience of scholars interested in linguistics and philology.

Precis Format Tips

When you finish the writing, it’s time to start proofreading your text. Proofreading means looking for grammar and spelling errors in your text, and it helps you improve your text and correct all the mistakes. Here are some tips for proofreading your text successfully:

  • If you have doubts about the sentence structure, it’s better to use simple sentences.
  • Check the spelling errors. If you can’t use a dictionary, it’s better not to use words that you barely know.
  • Give your text to someone else to check if everything is correct.
  • You may also use grammar and spell checkers.

It’s also crucial to format your text correctly. Be sure that you’re following style requirements:

  1. Use 12 font size and double space intervals and at least 1-inch margins on all sides.
  2. Write your name at the end.
  3. Write in the author’s voice instead of reporting their words indirectly.
  4. Keep the same order of ideas as in the original text.

Precis Writing Checklist

Now you’re all set to start working on your précis. To make things even easier for you, we’ve prepared a checklist you can use while writing:

✔️ Read the text thoroughly to make sure you understand it.
✔️ Use indirect speech to express your thoughts.
✔️ List the text’s critical points.
✔️ Follow the structure of the 4 sentences.
✔️ Compare your précis to the original text.
Avoid quotations, abbreviations, and value judgments (good, bad, correct, little, etc.)

📋 Precis Examples: Different Types

We’ve prepared for your high school and college examples of different précis to help you write one of your own. Feel free to use them as inspiration.

Critical Precis Example

1st Paragraph In his speech I Have a Dream (1963), American civil rights activist and minister Martin Luther King asserts that all people in the United States should enjoy equal rights regardless of their skin color or ethnicity.
2nd Paragraph King supports his assertion by using powerful metaphors to show the racial inequality in the USA and by repeating the phrase “I have a dream” to establish the goals the society needs to achieve for developing civil rights.
3rd Paragraph The speaker aims to convince people that segregation policy and racism are harmful to society and lead to inequality and social conflicts.
4th Paragraph King addresses his speech to the government and Americans and uses a serious but inspiring tone.

Rhetorical Precis Example

1st Paragraph Young Pakistani female activists and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, in her speech at the Youth Takeover of the United Nations (2013), asserts that equal education for both men and women is the key to the brightest future of humanity.
2nd Paragraph She supports her assertion by showing her personal experience and struggle against Taliban supporters who shot her for her willingness to learn in school.
3rd Paragraph Her purpose is to make the UN nations representatives and society bring their attention to the equality problems that millions of people face every day in developing countries.
4th Paragraph Malala Yousafzai establishes a respectful but emotional tone to appeal to the broad audience in the United Nations and the whole world.

Research Precis Example

1st Paragraph In their article Why Molière Most Likely Did Write His Plays (2019), published in Science Journal, Florian Cafiero and Jean-Baptiste Camps try to clear up uncertainties regarding the authorship of Molière’s works that were questioned by the public and scholars in the 20th century.
2nd Paragraph Cafiero and Camps decided to determine the authorship of Moliere’s writing using a statistical analysis of the text and hierarchical clustering, which allows dividing objects into separate groups according to their proximity to each other.
3rd Paragraph Researchers analyzed all similarities in texts and concluded that Moliere invented the plots for his plays and wrote them independently.
4th Paragraph The study helped determine the authorship of Moliere’s plays and showed the effectiveness of using a hierarchical clustering method in such cases.

Literary Precis Example

1st Paragraph In his famous novel Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953 by Ballantine Books, Ray Bradbury addresses the downsides of mass media and technological development.
2nd Paragraph The novel takes place in an unnamed American city in the distant future and follows the story of Guy Montag, an intelligent, clever, and empathetic fireman responsible for burning outlawed books who realizes how awful reality is and begins protesting against the system of suppressing free thinking.
3rd Paragraph The author aims to show the adverse influence of technology and suppression on literature, culture, and society.
4th Paragraph Bradbury develops his theme initially through a dystopian narrative to present the undesirable future, animal imagery to contrast nature and technologies, and repetitive patterns to underline his essential thoughts.

Now you’re ready to write your précis! Use this guide every time you need to write a task for college or if you need to prepare for AP Lang exams. We wish you best of luck with your writing assignments!

Further reading:

❓ Precis Writing FAQs

How do you write a rhetorical precis?

1. Write the author’s name and title of the text. Briefly recap the thesis
2. Write a summary of the text.
3. Explain the text’s purpose.
4. Describe what rhetorical devices the author used to persuade the readers.

How do you pronounce precis?

In British and American English, the word “précis” is pronounced as pray-see (with the stress on the 2nd syllable.) It comes from the French language. Originally this word meant “summary,” and it’s related to the word “precise.”

How long should a precis be?

Précis size can vary depending on the format and original text. According to précis writing rules, the rhetorical format should consist of 4 sentences, each being a separate paragraph. A précis is supposed to be about 100-200 words long. Sometimes it can be 1/5 of the original text’s length.

What is a rhetorical precis?

Rhetorical précis is a type of writing used to summarize and analyze a text. Rhetorical précis represents both the content and method of the analyzed text. This type of précis differs from the summary as it shows how the text works rhetorically.

What is the meaning of precis?

The word “précis” has plural meanings. It can be a synonym for “summary” or a separate type of academic writing. A précis represents crucial ideas of the text and has a specific structure. This word is derived from French and originally means “precise.”

🔍 References

This article was developed by the editorial team of Custom-Writing.org, a professional writing service with 3-hour delivery.
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