Writing A Critical Précis: Assignment and Samples

The assignment:write a précis, in 800-1000 words (approximately four double-spaced pages), of the first two-thirds of “Reading: An Intertextual Activity,” by Robert Scholes. Your precis should cover Scholes’s essay through the top of page 28 .

  • A critical précis is a summary of a text.

Do not mix it with essays or re-writings – their structures are almost the same, but a critical précis should summarize the main aspects of the original text to give readers its main ideas and provide them with the information about its importance and sense.

NB: Even if your reader did not read the original text or its abstract, after reading your critical précis he should understand what that text was about, and why it was worth his attention.

A critical précis length is approximately 800-1500 words, and it should NOT be your personal interpretation of a text. Never write a précis from the first person, use the third one instead.

Why do you need it?

Check the main aspects that differ a critical précis from essays in order to understand the essence of this academic paper better:

  1. It is a critical summary of some writing abstract.
  2. It is not a redaction.
  3. It should not be written with the words of the original, though some quotes may still be used if they are distinctively important.
  4. It is represented in your own words.
  5. It summarizes the content of the original abstract.
  6. It should indicate the sense and importance of the original abstract.
  7. It should not be a simple interpretation of the original text.

Students often get the assignment to write a good critical précis, as it helps their professors to understand how good they are with critical thinking, summarizing, and highlighting the most important information out of big floods of words.

Moreover, a critical précis can help you much when you do not have enough time to read the original text but you need to understand what it is about, what importance it has, and what its value is for you in particular.

How to write a précis?

How good are you with assimilation? This is a key word to remember when you get ready to write a précis, because you should carefully read the original abstract first and be able to understand the writer’s main ideas as HE sees them. You should assimilate his work in your mind and reduce it by 70-80% of its original size. Your task is to represent the argument as the writer presented it, without expressing your own point of view and your own associations.

NB: Never copy sentences from the original article! Key words and phrases are fine only when you see they express the writer’s thought which you clearly understand, and when no better words to describe his concept can be found.

Writing a précis step by step:

  1. Read the original piece of writing

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  2. Specify its main points and arguments.
  3. Write a précis describing all important arguments of the original in logical progression.
  4. Re-read it and try to understand the central idea. This is a key!
  5. Reduce your précis to one-quarter (approximately) of its original length without omitting its essential points.
  6. An author can use some images or examples to make his ideas clear and write faster. This material may be very helpful for your assimilation of his article, but DO NOT use these examples in your own précis. Do not forget the fact, your précis is not a re-writing.

Let’s take a look at some samples of a critical précis to understand its sense better.

Sample 1:

Sandra M. Gilbert, professor of English at the University of California, Davis, in her essay“Plain Jane’s Progress”(1977), suggests that Charlotte Brontë intended Jane Eyre to resemble John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress in that Jane’s pilgrimage through a series of events based on the enclosure and escape motif eventually lead toward the equality that Brontë herself sought. Gilbert supports this conclusion by using the structure of the novel to highlight the places Jane has been confined, the changes she undergoes during the process of escape, and the individuals and experiences that lead to her maturation concluding that“this marriage of true minds at Ferndean – this is the way”(501). Her purpose is to help readers see the role of women in Victorian England in order to help them understand the uniqueness and daring of Brontë’s work. She establishes a formal relationship with her audience of literary scholars interested in feminist criticism who are familiar with the work of Brontë, Bunyan, Lord Byron and others and are intrigued by feminist theory as it relates to Victorian literature.


Sample 2:

In chapter one of his novelThe Light in the Forest(1953), Conrad Richter insinuates that children suffer the most when adults fight. Richter develops this insinuation by contrasting Cuyloga’s adoption and later rejection of True Son when the white army demands the return of all white prisoners. Richter’s purpose in chapter one is to reveal True Son’s conflicting emotions in order to expose the effect that betrayal by adults has upon children. Richter employs an angry and betrayed tone to appeal to those readers who can sympathize with True Son’s feelings of painful rejection.


Follow the structure

Though a critical précis is not an essay, their structures are almost the same. As well as an essay, your précis should have three parts:

  • Introduction: Here you tell about the author and his work you’ll analyze.
  • Main part (body): Here you explain the author’s concepts, his purpose, and key ideas. Do not forget, that you should analyze the author’s points; so, do not interpret his arguments from your personal point of view.
  • Conclusion: Summarize everything and tell about this abstract’s significance and importance.

Category: Essay

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