Writing a Critical Précis Can Be Easy
It is commonly known that students hate writing essays. This assignment requires research and analytical thinking as well as a good command of a language. Yet, there is a more complicated writing task – a critical précis.
What’s a précis? A précis is a miniature version of an article, an essay, a paper, or any other kind of original text which retains the author’s ideas and the overall writing’s tone and mood. Whereas in an essay one can express one’s opinion in any desired form, good précis must exclude unnecessary details and descriptions and be quite precise.
Here Are Some Helpful Tips for Writing a Nice Précis
- If you analyze different examples of précis, you will see that all of them have one simple function – emphasize what is really important in the original work. The text might contain numerous bright metaphors and similies which demonstrate that author’s talent, but all these expressive means must be omitted. They also serve a particular purpose, and your role is to decide why the author uses these tropes and how you can write down their true meaning in one sentence.
- Read the text under analysis more than once. You might think that everything is clear, but the more time you re-read the original passage and the more notes you take, the easier it is for you to reduce the number of sentences and word combinations in your own summary. Mention only the most crucial points.
- In case you are working with a long text and get confused, create an outline to divide one piece of text into several chunks that express the key ideas. First, you should compress each of these chunks. Second, you create logical connections between them. Third, you proofread your summary and see how it can be improved and compressed even more.
Techniques Which Help Write More Precisely
- Use verbs instead of nouns. For example, scientific and technical texts are known for their abundance of nouns. When you work with this kind of text, convert nouns to verbs to make your writing more compact and dynamic, e.g. They were voting for the abolishment of this law. → They were voting to abolish this law. As you can see, this simple transformation allowed us to get rid of a preposition and shorten the length of the main word.
- Avoid using ‘there is/ there are’. These phrases are the favorite introductory combinations, but they distract readers from the essence of the sentence, e.g. There were a lot of factors that influenced further development of his work. → A lot of factors influenced further development of his work. Did the meaning of the sentence change? We don’t think so. Instead, we got a more precise sentence.
- Avoid using prepositions. Yes, prepositions are rather small and don’t seem heavy, but a large number of prepositions in the text prolongs it significantly and distracts readers, e.g. The friends of my mother gave her really sweet presents. → My mother’s friends gave her really sweet presents.
- Fewer adjectives. For this point, we will use an example from point 3. In the sentence ‘My mother’s friends gave her really sweet presents’ the adjective ‘really’ can be easily removed because it doesn’t add any meaning to the sentence. In this case, it is used strictly for the evaluation, not for giving information.
- Use terms instead of definitions. Sometimes writers forget that a lot of processes they describe can be replaced by an overarching term which will be understandable for all readers, e.g. He wanted to give me money in exchange for my painting. → He wanted to buy my painting. When you have a story to tell, think twice before you give a lengthy explanation. Maybe, there is a single word out there that can help make your précis as brief as it is meant to be.
- Consider using active voice instead of passive voice. Again, research papers and other academic works that have to be official are often full of passive voice constructions. Yet, when you need to write a précis of such a work, use active voice instead. Your writing will get lighter and more readable, e.g. The laws of motion and gravitation were formulated by Isaac Newton. → Isaac Newton formulated the laws of motion and gravitation. Dynamics is what you have to think about first when you are writing a précis, and active voice prevents you from making a heavy text.
- Don’t use ambiguous or vague nouns. There is nothing wrong with such words as, for example, aspect, area, discipline, etc. But for the purposes of précis they can be unnecessary and should be omitted, e.g. John is a great specialist in the field of linguistics. → John is a great specialist in linguistics or even John is a great linguistics specialist. The first sentence looks rather fancy and formal, but when you are writing a précis, you need to forget about tricks that make your writing cool and pay attention to those techniques which keep it clear.
There are lots of great books and passages that you may be asked to write a précis of. It is always complicated to compress great authors’ ideas because it seems that all of them are important and none can be put aside. But they can. To make your writing process easier, structure you writing according to the tips above. Précis writing can be better than you imagine. Enjoy!