What is a Precis?

A Precis is the expression of a given passage in a condensed form.
A precis has to be a shorter re-statement of the original. In the examination, the length of the precis is mentioned, and the precis should not exceed or fall short of the prescribed length by more than 5 words. In case the length has not been prescribed, precis should be one-third of the original.

The Principal Contents
The pruning of the original would spare nothing except the bare essentials. Metaphors, similes, hyperboles, conceits, epigrams will have to be left out. On the other hand, precis would faithfully reproduce all the principal contents of the original.

Precis-writer’s own words.
A precis should stand on its own. Although a concise and faithful account of the original passage, it should be self-contained and independent as a piece of writing. Naturally, a precis-writer will have to rely on his own words rather than use terms from the original passage.

A passage sets forth briefly the central idea of the original.
Passages given in the examinations for precis writing have generally a central idea around which the whole statement is woven. The precis should bring out this idea clearly.

Orderly Condensation
A precis should be an orderly abridgement which means that it should remove all unnecessary words and phrases and state the import of the original as an organized and systematic whole. It is to be remembered that the precis is expected to be an independent piece of writing in which the sequence of idea or arguments lead to the conclusion or the central idea. Care should be taken to preserve the tone of the original passage.

How to set about writing a precis.
1. You should read the passage carefully two or three times, until you have a clear idea of its general meaning. Until the gist of the passage is clearly grasped, it is useless to begin writing a precis.

2. When you are satisfied about the main idea, consider the passage in detail. On careful reading, you will find that the argument generally resolves itself into certain well- defined sections. Observe carefully the connections between them and write down a  suitable heading for each section.

3. Note down the important points and number them at the side. Otherwise you may miss something important. When all the points are numbered, go through them and strike which are really not essential to the meaning. You may find that there are repetitions or what are called redundant expressions. You may find illustrations which are not necessary to the meaning. Or you may find that there are stylistic effects, such as exaggeration or expansion or bombast which have to be removed.

4. No additional matter should be inserted by way of personal comment or explanation.

5. All superfluous details such as long quotations or lengthy enumerations, added merely to illustrate the argument, must be omitted.

6. When the process of selection and elimination is completed, proceed to weave the various ideas into a concise and lucid narrative. To do this effectively requires considerable experience in the use of relevant and comprehensive words.

7. Now you also see whether the points are arranged in the best possible way in the passage before you. For it is the arrangement which gives point or emphasis to what you want to say.

8. Before you begin to write you must remember that you are going to transfer the ideas and the spirit. Every writer has his own style, and your own style too is different from that of the writer of the passage. Don’t try to copy the style and the matter of the original passage. Write in your own style.

9. Further, your precis will not be lucid unless the principal of continuity is observed. It is not sufficient that the sentences should express the ideas of different sections as briefly as possible, but they must also follow each other in logical sequence, and welded together by means of suitable connectives into a vigorous and organic whole.

10. In the competitive examinations, the incidents of the passage given for making a precis refer to the past and therefore, the past tense should be used throughout. Your must follow the same tenses in used in the passage. If the writer has use the first person i.e. I or WE.

11. A precis is always in indirect form of speech except in very rare cases where it is necessary to incorporate a few words in the precis in their original form so that the meaning is not distorted.

12.  Finally, the cardinal requirements of a good precis may be summed up in three words: clarity, coherence and brevity.

A title must be assigned to a precis whether asked or not. The title of a precis should give the central idea of the given passage. It should not exceed five or six words. A precis title should neither contain a verb nor form a question.

Precis writing demands a wide and accurate knowledge of the language and ability to sift the essential facts from the chaff of the standard English prose.

Practice makes a precis-writer perfect. A man will not learn swimming unless he actually jumps into the river under the guidance of an expert. This is equally true of précis writing. Candidates for the competitive examinations may also choose passages from the previous question papers and try to write the precis within the stipulated time.

Last but not least, DO NOT PANIC. Remember, the passage in the examination paper before you is there because it can be made into a precis, otherwise it would not have been there. Keep a cool mind and be confident about your ability.

In a nutshell, the features of a good precis are:

It should be brief and concise.
It should be lucid and clear.
It should be written in your own words and the order of ideas should remain the same.
It should be read as continuous whole.
It should contain only the essential points.
It should be written in the Indirect form of speech.
It should have the same tense as in the passage.
It should be written in the third person.
Its length should generally be one-third of the original.
The title should be able to sum up the central idea of the precis.


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