Precis Writing — A Power Tool for Effective Writing

Precis Writing

A precis’ is a summary, and precis’-writing means summarizing. A precis’ is the gist or main theme of a passage expressed in as few words as possible. Precis-writing differs essentially from paraphrasing. A paraphrase must reproduce not only the substance of a passage, but also all its details. It will, therefore, necessarily be longer than the original. But a precis must always be shorter than the original. It expresses, as tersely as possible, only the main theme, shorn of all unimportant details. No strict rule can be laid down for its length. On the average, a precis should contain about one-third of the word count in the original passage.

a boy and a girl practicing precis writing

Procedure of Precis Writing

Identify the reader and purpose of the precis

This determines how much details are to be included, and how much formal language the precis needs to contain. For example, the precis you make of a book chapter for your own study purposes does not need to be as carefully refined as the executive summary of a formal official report for an important client.

Read the Original Document

Skim over the text of the document to get an overview. Then read it again slowly to identify the main themes and to distinguish and separate the key ideas and concepts from the unimportant ones.

Underline the key ideas and concepts

Each paragraph should have one key topic, which the rest of the paragraph clarifies, supports, and develops.

Write a note-form summary of each paragraph

Use the words of the original text, but omit all irrelevant and superfluous material.

Write a Precis’

Paraphrase to express the summarized points more concisely and to develop them into coherent sentences, expressing all important points. Eliminate any repetitions or irrelevant details.

Review and Edit

Compare your precis’ with the original text, and make sure it emphasizes the same points. Ensure the precis’ is clear, concise, and coherent.

Don’ts in Precis’ Writing

1. Use clear, factual expressions; do not attempt to copy the style of the original text. You may use key words and phrases only when you are expressing ideas which are technically precise or when you feel comfortable using the writer’s ow words.

2.  Never introduce or insert your own ideas. DO NOT criticize or chnge the author’s ideas. The precis’ should contain nothing of your own—no comments or interpretations at all. The purpose is to condense the original, not to explain.

3.  Unimportant points including details, illustrations, and anecdotes should discarded if present in the original text.

4.  Do not use abbreviations or contractions.

5.  Do not divide precis’ into paragraphs unless the original passage is very long.

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