How to Write a Precis

(pronounced “pray-see”)

What it is

A précis is a summary of a book or article in which the author’s story or argument is accurately and fairly reproduced, but in the student’s own words.

It recounts the basic narrative of the story (if fiction) or the basic arguments of the book or article (if nonfiction) in ¼ to 1/6 of the original length.

This is beneficial to you as a student because it maximizes your comprehension of the document.

As Michael Seiferth at Palo Alto College puts it,

“your ability to write the precis is central to the basics of analysis, synthesis, comparison, and other key, higher order thinking skills absolutely required for your success in college and in the profession or career you have chosen when you graduate.”




How to write it

1. read the article once

2. read the article at least once more (preferably two to three times, depending on length), mapping out the author’s argument

3. take the resulting argument "map" and re-write it in your own words to the required page length


Remember:

  • This is not a reflection paper or book report – it's an exact replica of the original, but shorter, and in different words.
  • Try not to quote the text, and limit paraphrasing unless absolutely necessary (that is, unless there's no other way to say it).
  • Don’t add any opinion or new examples.
  • Don’t use expressions like “This passage says…,” or “According to the author…”. You don't want to “stand apart” from the document, but to reproduce its intent, tone, style and mood in different words.


Tips for writing a précis of fiction:

  • Look especially for plot structure: the exposition, inciting incident, crisis, final resolution, and denouement will constitute your through line.
  • Identify the conflict in the story and only include that which develops or resolves the conflict.



Tips for writing a précis of nonfiction:

  • Identify the topic sentences through the document (check the introduction and conclusion to each section). This will likely provide most of your précis skeleton.





This information was compiled from resources from Palo Alto College and the University of Waterloo.