What Is a Good Critical Précis?
So, imagine you got an assignment to write an 800-word précis of, for example, Shakespeare in the Bush by Laura Bohannan. This is a wonderful essay about teaching a true meaning of Hamlet to one of the West African tribes. As you know, précis is a text summary which has to reflect the key points of the original text, its tone, and mood. Of course, when your task is to write a précis of such an interesting article, you want to add as many details as possible. Yet, a good précis cannot be long and complicated. It must have a clear structure and be precise and objective. Remember: don’t give your personal opinion on the work under analysis. You are not writing a critical book review. Your goal is to guide people through the reading they have not completed. This means, that the voice and opinions of the author must be understandable for those who have not read the original text. Keep in mind that a précis is not:
- An outline of the original passage
- A simple abstract of the text
- A selection of the most prominent phrases and sentences
- A chain of facts and sentences that are not connected
- It is written in a writer’s own words. A writer shouldn’t simply copy original sentences – he or she needs to compress and paraphrase them.
- It is logically ordered, with all parts of it being connected with each other.
- It is written in reported speech. A writer can’t use the first person pronouns I or we. A précis is always written in the third person.
- Doesn’t contain any additional information not mentioned in the original text.
Tips for Writing a Précis
There might be no particular template for précis writing, but there definitely are things you can do to make your writing process easier and faster.
- Divide the text into several parts. Quite often authors themselves help you do it by adding headings and subheadings. Pay attention to these dividers as they mean a new idea will be discussed in a new paragraph.
- Take notes. Whether you are reading the text for the first time or re-reading it, write the key ideas down to analyze and reorganize them later.
- Think about the main idea in each section and write each down in a single, well-structured sentence.
- Create a thesis statement on the basis of your prepared material. This should be an overarching statement which expresses the theme of the entire text.
Step-by-step Précis Writing
As an example of the passage under analysis, we chose the two opening paragraphs from The Beauty of Japanese Gardens in Kyoto by Roxana Robinson from http://www.travelandleisure.com/.
I was having breakfast on the 17th floor of the Hotel Okura. One long wall of the restaurant is window, so I was overlooking half of Kyoto. Below was the Kamo River, flowing between old stone terraced banks. Beyond this was a patchwork of single-story buildings, interspersed with a few swooping orange temple roofs. The city spreads on to climb the lower slopes of Mount Daimonji, then stops abruptly, giving way to forest. This rises to an elegant skyline: a long, wooded mountain ridge, lightly brushed with soft clouds, drifting silver mist. I was in Kyoto to look at gardens. I’m interested in the way different cultures respond to landscape, and in the fundamental question of what a garden is. In Japan, a deep connection to landscape is part of the culture. Shinto, Japan’s oldest religion, considers certain natural forms—rocks, trees, groves, or mountains—to be sacred, representing the kami, ancestral spirits or deities, who inhabit them. Shinto is still widely practiced, coexisting peacefully with Buddhism; a profound engagement with nature is central to both religions. Mountains are sacred spaces, and building on them was long prohibited, except for shrines or temples. That’s why this beautiful forested mountain, scarved with clouds, was still untouched, dreaming silently above the city.Let’s underline the main points of these small paragraphs:
- City view observation
- The purpose of visiting Kyoto
- Shinto’s worldview
Roxana Robinson begins her article The Beauty of Japanese Gardens with a story of how she was observing Kyoto, the Kamo River and Mountain Daimonji from the hotel room. She noticed that the city is located on the lower slopes of the mountain. The rest was covered by forest. The goal of her visit was to study gardens and landscape as a part of the Japanese culture. According to Japan’s religion Shinto, mountains, rocks, and trees are sacred, this is why building on mountains is prohibited.Obviously, the longer the article or essay is, the longer your précis can be. It is worth mentioning that a précis, just like an essay, has a specific structure:
- Introduction. Here you can give information about the work under analysis and the author.
- The Body of the Text. This part contains the main ideas and concepts.
- Conclusion. Explains why the original article is important.