Précis may sound a bit exotic and complicated, but it's nothing new, really. This is about reading, understanding the text, and writing a brief synopsis of it in your own words. Of course, to write a concise version of anything, you would need to understand the source material correctly and choose the exact expressions to word it.
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What Is a Précis Essay?
The word "précis" (pronounced "PRAY-see") comes from the Old French word meaning "condensed." However, if you thought it was something to do with precision, you are correct too. Précis is a condensed digest of a larger text (a book, an article, a speech) that preserves the original's tone, structure, and order of ideas and events. It is indeed more precise and detailed than an abstract or a summary.
However, something is inevitably shaved off in the process. The final draft of your précis must not be longer than a third of the original text. For long articles and books, précis is even more compressed – anywhere from a quarter to one-sixth of the original's lengths. A typical précis for an article you get as your college assignment would be between 500 and 1500 words. However, it never hurts to clarify the paper's size with your instructor for each particular case.
Why Do They Assign Writing a Précis?
Writing a précis is an ultimate exercise of all aspect of your linguistic competence:
- You pay close attention to what you read. Otherwise, you won't get the essence of every passage.
- You process text to crystallize the most important things from it without quoting directly.
- You use an extensive vocabulary to paraphrase concisely and choose words carefully.
- You apply your sense of style to convey the original's tone, even when you put it in your own words.
As you can see, writing a précis improves your focus, skills of deep reading, logic, and overall writing skills. This assignment is far from being an exercise in futility as you may have thought when you got it!
What is the Précis Structure?
Précis follows a classic three-part structure of most texts:
In the introduction, you cite the text you are about to summarize, give its title, author, date of publishing, and maybe some necessary background information. You may also include a thesis statement – your purpose for the reading.
In the body, you explain key ideas and concepts found in the original text. Stick with chronological order, and don't give your opinion about those ideas. You are just providing the gist of the original text, not interpreting it.
In the conclusion, summarize the main idea of the text. What is the author's message to the intended audience? Use your own words, but don't make your own argument. Instead, restate what the author has argued.
How Do You Write a Précis?
When you write précis essay, it's essential to remain faithful to the original. When done right, the final result of your efforts should possess these key characteristics:
- Unity – your précis should be a well-balanced stand-alone text.
- Coherence – your digest should mirror the flow of the original, be even, without abrupt changes of tone and pacing.
- Conciseness – the words should be well chosen to compress the text without distorting its meaning.
- Clarity – the text should be easily understandable and straightforward, even if the original is wordy.
- Completeness – a précis conveys all the main points and details necessary to understand the original.
For an effective précis, follow these steps:
- Read the source text several times. Make notes, highlight the important passages, bookmark the crucial structural parts, chapters, etc.
- Make an outline of the original.
- Using the outline and your notes, summarize the text bit by bit, using just one or two sentences to convey the essence of each paragraph.
- Combine the sentences into your own paragraphs. Make sure the overall structure mirrors the original work, and the flow of ideas remains unchanged.
- Add transitions so that your paragraphs follow each other logically and smoothly.
- Review your précis to ensure it preserves the meaning, tone, and overall organization of the source.
- You will likely need to edit your draft again for brevity. If your précis is too long, eliminate paragraphs that convey digressions in the original text or repeat the same thought.
- Proofread once again for grammar and spelling.
For a perfect essay précis, keep these tips in mind:
- Use your own words instead of lifting passages straight from the text. You may occasionally use quotes to demonstrate key points, but make sure you cite them and format them accordingly.
- Refrain from analyzing and interpreting. Be as objective as possible and use third-person forms.
- Avoid awkward phrases like "the book tells" or "the article says." Always cite the author.
- Use verbs that describe in the most precise way possible what the author is doing in the text – the so-called rhetorically accurate verbs. For example, "The author asserts/ claims/ suggests/ implies/ highlights/ stresses/ demonstrates/ explains/ acknowledges/ admits/ narrates/ etc."
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