How to Write a Rhetorical Precis

A rhetorical précis seek to summarize the text of a work succinctly and with clarity. Précises are often academic in nature, used to provide clarity to a deeply intellectual, if sometimes inaccessible, written work. In most cases, the précis should maintain the core points of the original paper to the extent that reading the précis would be almost as useful as reading the original.

Identify the thesis of the work in the first paragraph.

Highlight, underline or write down key points throughout the remainder of the article. Summarize these points in your own words.

Make a list of important terms found within the work. Prepare to give brief descriptions.

Summarize the body of the work.

Start the first sentence with the name of the work and of the author, not necessarily in that order. Use this sentence to segue into your identified thesis. For example, "In Thomas Jefferson's 'Declaration of Independence,' it is argued that..."

Write the rest of the document using your notes, mirroring any sections found in the original work such as "introduction" or "methodology."

Edit the work for any misspelling or improper grammar. The completed work should be shorter than the original.

Add an appropriately formatted citation of the original work to the end of the précis.

  • A précis is about concision. Eliminating passive construction and unnecessary adverbs will go a long way towards summarizing a piece.
  • String sentences together logically, to ensure a cohesion of thoughts as smooth as, or smoother than, in the original. A good way to do this is to try and start each sentence with the idea that ended the previous sentence, and end the sentence with a transition into a new idea.
  • If given the option, be sure to choose a substantial, insightful article as the source for your précis. This will make it more enjoyable for the reader and easier for you.
  • Plagiarism has a much more strict definition in the world of the précis than in many other works. The reiteration of any form of unique thought, no matter how well reworded, demand either quotation or adequate reference.
  • Reread your précis to ensure that all key points of the original work have been captured. Try to have someone read your précis and, based on that alone, summarize what they think the original work discussed. This will help you determine what areas still need work.
About the Author

Jacob Andrew previously worked as an A+ and CCNA-certified technology specialist. After receiving his BA in journalism from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 2012, he turned his focus towards writing about travel, politics and current technology.

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