BK Writing Lab

How to Write a Précis
Paul DiGeorgio, Ph.D.


A précis is a brief summary of the argument of an academic article. The word précis is French and means "specific," "precise," or even "accurate." Often times a précis will be no more than 150-200 words.

Before writing a précis, you need to carefully read the academic article. Annotating the article is highly recommended. If you are unfamiliar with any words, you should use the internet to look them up. Often times academic articles are challenging; don't give up!

As you annotate, you should pay especially close attention to the author's thesis. Typically you will find the thesis statement in the first few pages of an article, but you need to read the entire article very carefully to make sure that the author does not include any important argumentation near the end of the paper. 

Once you have carefully read the article at least once, you are ready to write your précis. The easiest way to write a précis is to follow a specific, four-point formula:

1. In your first sentence, specify the author of the academic article. Refer to him or her by first and last name but you should omit any title like Dr. or Professor, as well as any academic credentials like PhD or JD. In this first sentence you should also specify the full title of the article in quotation marks, and you should indicate where the article was published. This does not mean you should identify a city or university -- the "where" is the academic journal or book within which the article was published. In other words, the "where" is the "container" for the article. Most container titles will be in italics. You should also provide the publication year of the article in parentheses. Do not include a month or day, and you do not need to include the volume or issue number (which is a waste of your allotted words). The last piece of information that you need is the thesis or topic, which you should introduce with a strong academic verb like "argues" or "claims" or "contends." So far this is what we have:

In "Name of Article" (publication year) in Name of Container, Name of Scholar argues that ____________________.

You can play around with the order of this information.

2. In your second sentence, you should briefly explain how the author supports his or her thesis. What evidence does the author use in order to back up what he or she is claiming? In this sentence you should try to include all of the most significant points that drive the argument of the article. 

3. In the third sentence, you should indicate the purpose or reason for the article. The author of the article has some specific goal in the text -- what is it? Is the author hoping to shed light on a text that has been largely ignored by other scholars? Does the author disagree with the dominant interpretation of a famous text? It is a good idea to include the words "in order to" in this sentence in your précis.

4. In this fourth and final sentence of your précis you should specify the audience of the article, and you should give some reasoning for whatever you say. Here you might consider the journal or book in which the article was published, and you might also consider the difficulty of the language in the article. If the author appears to have any assumptions in the article, they likely result from the intended audience.



If you have any questions, send us an email at bkwritinglab@bishopkennyhs.org!


Image Credit: Summary by Invinic Studio from the Noun Project



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