Sometimes professors (or bosses) request that you write a précis on some book or journal article. When I first started graduate school, I wasn’t sure how to write a précis. By the time I left, I found the short summary paper to be an incredibly helpful tool for studying for comps and preparing for seminar classes. Below you will find step-by-step instructions for writing a successful précis for class (or work).
- The very first step in writing a précis is reading the reference material carefully. While reading you’ll want to note the main argument and any supporting material. You will want to read the article or book multiple times. You should be able to summarize what you read without leaving out any part of the argument.
- State the main argument of the article or book that you read.
- Lay out the supporting premises. A premise is a statement in support of the main argument. For example in the argument, “All men are mortal. Socrates is a Man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal,” the statements “all men are mortal” and “Socrates is a Man” are both premises.
- If there are any key terms in the article or book, make sure that they are defined in your précis.
- If the article or book is scientific in nature or discusses any kind of experimentation or survey data results, discuss the methodology the author uses.
- Make sure any results are spelled out clearly for the reader.
- Make sure you indicate why this particular body of research was important.
A précis, strictly speaking, will not include your own opinions about the work. Instead, it is succinctly summarizing the work, the research that went into the work, the conclusions of the work, and why the work is important. It is an outstanding tool for studying from because the process of creating it ensures that you won’t soon forget what you read. It also makes it easy, when conducting large research projects, to locate what book had just that argument you’re looking to cite.
For information involving writing a précis for fictional works, you may want to view the article, “How to Write a Précis” on Jason Bowman’s blog.