Article Précis and Summary Critique

article prÉcis

One very common piece of writing you will encounter as a graduate student is the article précis. An article précis provides a summary, in your own words, that captures the main arguments of one essay, excerpt, or article.

The goal of the assignment is to encourage you to read for content, identify the thesis of each article, and think critically about how the article contributes to its field and to your research and scholarship. An article précis is not your chance to give your opinion on the piece; it is not an editorial. While you may wish to provide some analysis, be careful not to state a position on the author's thesis -- just summarize the author's thesis in your own words.

When you are finished with a precis, you should have a concise version of the original article, (and this cannot be stressed enough) in your own words. A reader should be able to learn from your precis: what topic was discussed, analyzed, or argued about in the original article, why the article was written (what the author hoped to accomplish by writing the piece), what conclusions the author made in the piece, and what implications can be drawn from its conclusion(s). In short, the reader should be able to understand the objective of the original article without having read the original article.

Claremont Graduate School Writing Center

Elements of an Article Precis

A précis should provide the following:

1) A heading. This consists of the bibliographical data for the article, following bibliographical style format as set forth by Kate Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (7th ed., 2007). Single space within the heading; double space between the heading and the text of the precis.

2) A summary of the content of the article, including an explicit explanation of the author's thesis and of how the author went about proving her thesis.

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A summary/critique is very similar to an article précis. As you might have guessed, the difference is that while a precis contains just a summary of the original piece, the summary/critique provides an analysis as well.

Typically, the goal of a summary/critique essay is to analyze one of the theoretical or historical pieces exploring the concept of interdisciplinarity and to document your understanding of the argument[s] being made in the piece as well as of the larger questions raised by it, either explicitly or implicitly. You should provide both a summary of the overall content of the piece and an analysis of its assumptions, methodologies, and implications.

How to Read and Annotate for Explication and Critique

  • Beginning with the first paragraph of the piece, look up any unfamiliar words or allusions (to other texts, literary figures, historical events, etc.) to make sure that you understand fully how this author is using various examples and illustrations to convey his or her thoughts.
  • Next, underline what seem to you the most important passages in the paragraph or stanza, which most fully convey the author’s main points.
  • In the margins of your text, make notes to yourself that later will help remind you why you underlined that passage, that comment on or otherwise engage in a dialogue with the thoughts in the underlined passage, and that mark connections between the author's words here and other passages within the text or outside sources and experiences of which you are aware. You might also want to devise symbols that you mark in the margins of appropriate passages to indicate which ones are related to one another throughout the entire essay, for example to highlight recurring ideas or images.
  • When you have worked through the entire piece paragraph by paragraph or section by section, in your own words list the author's most important points in summary form, and prioritize them according to the logical flow of his or her argument (this will not necessarily replicate the order in which the author made his or her points in the original piece).
  • Finally, synthesize your prioritized list of main points into a single thesis statement that gives an overview of what the author’s piece is about. If you absolutely had to explain this piece in a single sentence, what would you say to give the most complete yet concise understanding to your reader?

Next: Annotated Bibliography

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