A précis is a shortening, in your own words, of a text of written work. You are to describe as accurately and briefly as possible the substance or main ideas contained in a text.

One of the first (if not the first) difficulties to overcome in writing a précis is getting the facts straight. You should make no statements unsupported by the text. Make sure that all you say about the text is factually correct.

Another difficulty is putting the material into your own words. To do so, read the work carefully at least 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.

Selecting the most effective details is also a difficulty. Work to pick out those details that are of greatest significance. Some details are more important than others, and you must chose details according to the scale of importance.

Do not make any conclusions about the original, its audience, or anything relating to the text. Your job is to provide your reader an accurate, but brief, map of the original and what you think about the writing or the topic of the text is not relevant here.

The précis (pronounced pray-see) is a type of summarizing that insists on an exact reproduction of the logic, organization, and emphasis of the original texts. It is of particular use in situations in which you want to detail 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. Thus, a précis is useful when you are dealing with lengthy passages that demand careful attention to the logic and organization of an argument.

To write an effective précis, read the passage several times for a full understanding. Note key points. It may, in fact, be helpful to underline these words. Restate each paragraph in one or two sentences. In cases where there are very short paragraphs, combine them in your restatement. Make sure that you retain the precise order of the original points, and combine the sentences into one or more smooth paragraphs. Finally, check your précis against the original to be sure that it is exact and retains the order, proportions, and relationships of the original.


What is  the essence of a précis?

It is a short summary of the essential ideas of a longer composition; the basic thought of a passage is reproduced in miniature, retaining the mood and tone of the original. No interpretation or comment should be interjected. It must possess clear, emphatic diction and effective sentence construction. Its unity and coherence should be emphasized through smooth, unobtrusive transitions. Your summary must be intelligible to a reader who has not seen the original and should have solid compositional worth.

100 - 200 words is the desired length of a précis, unless otherwise specified.

How to write a précis?

First, write an outline of the main ideas – those you see as most important. Think of it this way – you are summarizing the lecture for a friend who missed the class and the material will be on an upcoming test. Also, you may want to include a brief statement about the tone, audience, or purpose of the article.

Second, put your outline into sentence/paragraph form.

Third, count the number of words and make necessary changes.

Do's and Don'ts of Précis Writing