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The Art of PRÉCIS WRITING, Top 15 out-of-the-box solutions

the Art of Precis writing

Précis writing remains Achilles’ heel for most of the candidates of the competitive exams, despite a plethora of instructions offered by handbooks as well as teachers. Aspirants get confused because of certain popular misconceptions about the nature of this exercise, and, eventually, miss the mark. Here are some specifics (based on common sense, not run-of-the-mill rules) that shall make life easier for the candidates.

1. First of all, you need to understand the exact purpose of précis writing. You should keep in mind that the author of the given passage is an accomplished writer and his writing is for prolific readers having ample time to read that. As a précis writer, your task is to produce an easier, shorter yet complete version of the passage for an average reader. Keep in mind that your potential reader doesn’t have enough time to undertake a detailed study of the passage, and you’re trying to help him out by transforming it into a simple, unassuming piece of writing.

2. Be mentally prepared that your first engagement with the passage isn’t going to be a friendly affair. So, don’t get upset if you find some unfamiliar terms or words therein; you are supposed to make an overall sense of the passage, and this can be done even if certain parts of the passage make little sense to you. Depend more upon the easier parts of the passage as they are more obliging, instead of sweating about the stubborn ones. Don’t let the difficult expressions bother you too much.

3. Do not use a dictionary or thesaurus, while practicing précis writing. First, it would make you dependent and you will feel handicapped in the examination hall without such aids. Secondly, and more importantly, you must learn to infer meanings from the context in which they have been used.

4. In case you find it difficult to make an overall sense of the paragraph, divide that into four or five parts and note down the idea expressed in each part.  This will help you to reproduce the main ideas in the passage.

5. Underline the striking sentences and phrases and make a list of the main ideas. This will serve as an outline of your précis.

6. When a sentence is not making sense, do not wrestle with it; leave it for some time and come back to it later. A paragraph can be understood by moving forward and backward, as one sentence helps you understand the other.

7. Learn to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials and supporting ideas and information. Skim through the passage once or twice before grinding the details.

8. Don’t use expressions like, “According to the author” or “In author’s view”. This is obvious and there is no need to waste your valuable space by mentioning what is obvious. However, this expression may be used at the beginning (only once) when the author has used the first person “I” in the passage.   

9. Do not try to improve or embellish the expression of the author. You are not supposed to play smarter than him.

10. Try to write short, simple and uninvolved sentences. Long and complex structures can become difficult for you to handle, and may confuse the examiner as well.

11. Use linking words like thus, however, moreover, hence, but, in addition to etc., only where they are really required. Inserting these words between the sentences will look absurd and may spoil your précis.

12. Repetition of ideas is a cardinal sin in a précis. Also avoid repetition of words or expressions.

13. Avoid using ornamental and lofty language in the précis. Use natural expression and do not try to impress the examiner with your vocabulary.

14. Always write précis in indirect speech. If there are directs quotes in the passage convert those into indirect form. The passages in a dialogue form must also be changed it into indirect narration.

15. Giving appropriate title to the précis is a matter of top importance as it can make or mar your impression. Keep following points in mind in this regard:

a) Title must not be too general. Every passage has a subject and a theme. What the passage is about, is its subject, and what the writer says about that subject is its theme.  Title must touch the theme.

b) It should neither be too short nor too long.

c) It must express the main idea highlighted in the passage.

d) Try giving a title without using a verb in that.

Sample Passage

(with key concepts underlined)

All human beings are liable to err. To be at peace with oneself, the realization of this fact is essential. Humanity is faced with numerous struggles and difficulties. We should view our own problems as part of a universal struggle and brace ourselves to meet every difficulty with fortitude. To be frantic and desperate on such occasions cannot help the situation. Perhaps the greatest folly is for each of us to hug his troubles to himself. Often the path through our worst worries can be made smoother if we seek the guidance of a trusted friend. But there are limits to human wisdom. The only adequate way to endure large evils is to find large consolations. The key to this search is prayer. The faith in a beneficent “Higher Power” can carry us through our most anxious moments. It has cured many people of their diseases and banished melancholy from their hearts. It was faith in God coupled with hard work, which enabled Alexis Carrel to face ridicule and rejection calmly and finally became the recipient of the Nobel Prize. Finally, how much less we should be if we could see our struggle as a part of the struggle of a whole creation intent on growth and renewal. By doing so, we not only make our lives easier, but we also add our bit to the sum of human dignity and faith.

 (Words 369)

Main Points

a. We can avoid frustration if we realize that we are not the only ones facing difficulties in life.
b. Instead of being depressed by problems we must seek the guidance of a dependable friend.
c. The best consolation, however, in hard times is prayer. Faith in God coupled with hard work is a key to success.
d. Life will become easier if we link our personal struggle with that of the humanity. In this way, we shall be contributing to collective human cause.

Précis

No one is perfect, so one should not take one’s mistakes to heart. Similarly, it should be realized that we are not the only ones facing hardships in life. Desperation and frustration can be overcome by sharing our worries with a trustworthy friend.  However, the best way to combat difficult times is to have faith in God and pray. Hard work along with faith leads to success. Moreover, individual struggle should be taken as part of the larger struggle by general humanity. This would be a great consolation, and would make us feel better.

(Words 94)

Unsuitable titles

To err is human: This is not the main issue highlighted in the passage.

Value of faith and prayer: This is only one of the ingredients to be at peace in life, not the main issue.

Challenges in life: It does not touch the main theme of the passage.

Note: The above titles are too general and are only sub – points in the paragraph.

Suitable titles

1. Consolation in desperation
2. Inspiration, not frustration, is the key to success
3. Consolation in hard times

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