The Art Of Précis Writing


Précis is the presentation of ideas with succinctness and brevity. Utility of the art of précis writing is universally accepted in administrative affairs. In CSS preparation, learning of the précis writing art wields momentous importance because the passing of the Précis and Composition paper is highly dependent on it.

The process of précis writing involves three parts: (1) comprehending the paragraph; (2) picking up the main points; and (3) developing the précis from those.

1. Comprehending the paragraph

This, undeniably, is the most important part of précis writing. My experience with CSS aspirants transpires that most of the failures in précis are caused by erroneous and fallacious comprehension of the paragraph. Roughly, seven out of ten aspirants feel difficulties in this particular part. My advice to all such aspirants, who find difficulty in making out after reading the paragraph, would be to increase the time they spend on reading. Reading good pieces of writing is worth recommending for all aspirants generally, and for such ones specially. Newspapers, magazines, research papers, novels, journals; everything would be helpful in equipping yourself with the art of unfolding the true meanings hidden in the words.

During the course of paper, not more than twenty minutes should be spent on the comprehension of the paragraph. The steps mentioned below will guide the candidates regarding the procedure they should adopt while trying to comprehend a paragraph in the actual exam.

Step 1: Give a quick reading to the complete paragraph without getting tangled in the sentences or words which appear baffling at this stage. The purpose is to get a broad idea of what the paragraph is all about. Neither does it happen nor would it that a candidate, after the very first reading, is able to understand the paragraph properly. So, the fact that he could make neither head nor tail of the paragraph shouldn’t be something frustrating for him/her.

Step 2: Now give a more attentive and focused reading to the paragraph and try to understand the meaning of every sentence. Do remember that understanding the meaning of a sentence never requires understanding the meaning of every word in it. There are always some recondite words and phrases, yet the message contained in the particular sentence is possible to be comprehended even without understanding them. And, if you are still unable to comprehend a sentence despite repeated readings, don’t worry, just highlight it, move ahead and do the same thing with the whole paragraph.

At the end of the step 2, candidates will be having two types of sentences; the ones which they have comprehended and the ones which are still unintelligible and are highlighted.

Step 3: Now, give a focused reading to only those sentences which remained incomprehensible in the previous step. Try to understand them, and if it is not possible, try to make a safe guess, at least, of their direction. Usually, making a well-calculated guess is possible. Those who think they would face a problem in this context should overcome their deficiency by making more and more practice well before sitting for the exam.

Step 4: Go through the whole paragraph once again and you are done with the first part of the précis making process successfully.

2. Picking up the main points

Following tips would be helpful for the aspirants in deftly handling this particular part:

1. Usually, the maximum time available for this purpose is 10 minutes. Candidates should practice at least to such an extent that they don’t require more time than this in the examination hall.

2. Picking up the main points means writing down the main ideas on the rough part of the answer sheet. Merely underlining the point on the passage won’t be sufficient. The candidates, who lack substantial grip over English, may write down main points in Urdu or even in their native language.

3. Only those points should be picked up as main points which are in consonance with the overall direction of the passage. If a sentence adds nothing to the main agenda of the passage, it should never be among the main points merely on the basis of its length.

4. Usually, examples, illustrations, metaphors and other such things used by the writer to substantiate his argument or explain his viewpoint are not included while picking up the main points.

3. Developing a précis from the main points

In this part, main points picked up in part 2, are used to make a précis in maximum 15 minutes. Usually two drafts are made in this part. The first is the rough draft and the second is the final one. In fact, final draft is the refined form of the rough draft made after necessary amendments and truncations. Following guidelines would be helpful for the aspirants in this part:

1. Repetition of ideas must be avoided. If two main points carry the same message, one must be dropped.

2. Sentences of the précis should be properly connected with each other. Generally, the main points picked up in part 2 lack coherence, and this is in this third part that you join them with each other by using different conjunctions.

3. Ideal length of the précis is one-third of the original passage (± 10 words). Length adjustment is made while making final draft from the rough one.

Some other guidelines

Suitable title of the précis must be given. Do give the title even if it has not been asked for.

Only one title of the précis should be given. Giving more than one title reflects candidate’s indecisiveness and dubiety.

Précis, generally, is written using third pronoun and indirect language. Use of first and second pronoun is avoided even if it was made in the passage.

A good précis is the true reflection of the message given in the passage. Candidates should be extremely objective while making précis. They are never allowed to change the colour or shade of the message given in the passage.

Use of simple but grammatically correct language is the most recommended technique.
Candidates, while practicing, should give more attention to that particular part of précising in which they are weaker.

Avoid borrowing vocabulary from the paragraph as maximum as possible.

It is advisable to follow the sequence of thoughts in the original paragraph. However, slight rearrangement is allowed if it adds to the quality of the expression.

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