How to Write a Top-Grade Critical/Rhetorical Precis

author By Mary Boies

If you are unaware of writing a critical précis, you can be one troubled and stressed student. It is an academic writing assignment assigned to students to work on at some point in their academic journey.

Without properly knowing its definition, format, structure, and the steps to take when writing it, you can end up being confused or writing something that it is not.

If you searched for how to write a critical or rhetorical précis and would like to have an in-depth understanding of this type of assignment, you came to the right place. This article covers every detail about a critical précis, including its definition, structure, format, steps taken to write it, and tips for successfully completing it when assigned to you.

Unlike other guides, our English paper helpers have put together this stepwise guide to help you write it smoothly. Without wasting time, let us begin.

What is a Précis and Why is it Written?

A critical or rhetorical précis is a brief synopsis of another piece of work. It is a miniature version of a larger piece of writing such as a dissertation, book, novel, scholarly article, thesis, or white paper. Its purpose is to summarize the text, including the main ideas, points, arguments, and counterarguments, and provide an insight into the thesis the author is pushing via the text.

A précis is a type of expository style writing that has a comparable structure to an essay but contains a summary of another piece of text. It entails summarizing a text, including its ideas, arguments, abstractions, and main points, usually in between 400 and 1500 words or a 2-4 double-spaced paper.

Note that a précis is not an essay, so do not treat it as one. Rather, its purpose is to provide information about an author in a condensed format so that the readers can learn and understand the thesis that the author was pushing in their piece or text.

It is a summary that should be short, concise, coherent, and direct to the point. It should also be a logical summary of a text or passage that maintains the essential ideals of the passage or text.

A person reading your written précis should have an idea of the gist of the piece of written work and notice what it means before reading the abstract.

So, you do not have to pick words from the text and put them together in prose format. Instead, you are to write a summary in your own words (paraphrase) while maintaining the exact meaning of the text. You can also lift some quotes from the source and cite them appropriately.

You are assigned to write a critical précis because it helps you develop your presentation, organization, critical thinking and creativity, and communication skills. It also proves that you are good at paraphrasing and writing summaries and that you can explain an original text without a biased interpretation.

Characteristics of a Good Rhetorical Précis  

In every assignment, the first impression is everything. And if you write a perfect précis, you are likely to milk good grades out of even the strictest professor or instructor.

If you want to write a paper that makes for a good précis, it should have the following qualities:

Things to Include in a Précis to make it High-Quality

A critical précis has the following structure.

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Structure of a Critical Précis

As we intimated before, the structure of a critical précis is analogous to that of an essay, and it has an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.


The introduction of a précis should have a hook or attention grabber. In this case, it is the statement of the name of the author and the details of their work, including the title, date of publication (written in brackets), power verbs, and a thesis statement.

You should waste no time but go directly to the point as you omit unnecessary details. The first sentence should introduce the original work, and the thesis statement of a précis is the thesis stated by the author of the original work.

The introduction should have the following:

Body Paragraphs

The appropriate number of paragraphs in the body section of your précis depends on the length of the original work. Considering that a précis is about ¼ of the original text, the body paragraphs should at least be 80% of the entire word count, and the introduction and conclusion should each be 10%.

Every paragraph should contain one idea that supports the thesis of your précis. It should also include evidence, supporting facts, and ideas from the original piece as presented by the author.

When writing, you should refrain from interpreting the arguments of the author and presenting your point of view.

It is not an argumentative writing piece or an exemplification essay, rather, it is an exposition writing task that entails presenting facts as they are in the original text in a condensed format. You should only analyze and present the author's stand on the issue you are presenting.


In the concluding paragraph of your précis, ensure that you restate the thesis, summarize the key ideas, and offer a good closure to the readers. Your conclusion is not a chance to introduce new ideas. Instead, focus on the main ideas reflected within your paper. Summarize the work well to close the information loop and make it enjoyable to read. The conclusion, too, should be objective.

You can format your précis in a three-paragraph essay format or choose to write it in a five-paragraph format.  

Example of an introduction to a Rhetorical Precis

To drive the point home, let us look at two examples of introduction paragraphs of critical precis so that you can understand how to write one on your own:

Introduction Example 1

In his historical fiction novel, The Underground Rail Road (2016), Colson Whitehead writes about slavery and its sordid history. He critically explores racial discrimination against African Americans to show the past and present issues linked to racism in America. Whiteboard carefully uses the protagonists and other enslaved people from the text as symbols of the mistreatment and injustice that the whites met African Americans. The underground railroad is a literal train that symbolizes the strides the African Americans have since made to resolve or cope with the challenges they face in the broader American society. The author shows that even though the path to freedom is long and winding, hope, resilience, and determination are necessary to endure situations and get through the long fight for freedom.

Introduction Example 2

In his influential essay Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics, presented as a lecture in 1936 on literary criticism J.R.R. Tolkien argues that critics have almost lost weight of the original poem seeing it only as a historical document. He insists that Beowulf is an exciting narrative that can only be likened to an architectural structure carved out of bricks and mortar and other materials reminding the critics that the poem certainly addresses the theme of mortality. Tolkien asserts that the poem is in two parts: the first, where Beowulf, as a young man, defeats Grendel and his mother, and the second, where Beowulf, in old age, encounters his death while fighting the dragon. So, the poem is not about monsters Grendel, Grendel's mother, and the dragon.

The 6 Steps for Writing a Critical Précis

Given the peculiarities of the structure of a critical précis, let us now drift to the writing process. Writing a rhetorical précis should be easy if you do it in the six steps below.

1. Pick an Original Text

In most instances, you will be assigned to write a précis on a specific text assigned by your professor. If that is not the case, you can choose an original piece and have it approved by your instructor or professor. When selecting an original text, let it be something related to your major or the course you are pursuing. Choose an article or piece that is publicly accessible in full length so that you can read it, take notes, and write the précis.

2. Read the Original Piece

Begin by deepening the original text, so you know its gist and thesis. Ensure that you understand the content and the purpose of writing the text. As you read, care to identify the value of the text and main points, and if there are unclear points, try to find answers from the text.

3. Reread and Take Notes

Reread the text as often as you can, each time taking notes of the crucial ideas from the text. Ensure that you have highlighted the examples, illustrations, main ideas, and evidence that the author presents. Taking notes is critical in the process of writing a précis. As part of the notes, ensure that you formulate a good thesis statement devoid of opinion and that corresponds to the author's thesis.

4. Make an Outline

Draft an outline for your précis or a plan that details what you expect the final product to be. You can read précis examples online to get inspired when writing yours. Structure the paper according to the formatting style recommended by your instructor. You can also use précis templates given by your professor.

5. Write the First Draft of your Précis

Having an outline is like having a blueprint. With it, you can start writing the précis as you follow the writing guidelines. As you write, begin from any part. You can choose to begin developing the body paragraphs, the introduction, then the conclusion. Whichever format you choose, ensure that you use a clear, coherent, and concise presentation. Use formal language and active voice, and choose the best structure and language.

6. Polish into a Final Draft and Submit

Finally, with the first draft, take a break to refresh and format your précis paper. The essence of the break is to develop an objective mindset and break the boredom of writing a text. You should then resume working on your précis. Ensure that you clear all the errors, mistakes, and omissions. Check your work for plagiarism, grammar, punctuation, and spelling. If there is heavy vocabulary you use that impacts its interpretation and flow, consider using simple words. Edit and polish your précis to ensure that it meets the highest grade or marks on the rubric.

A critical précis is not like a book review or book report. Therefore, you should not express your opinion about the analyzed work, and instead, you should retell the author's opinion using a neutral third-person point of view. You can write a précis in APA, MLA, Chicago, Harvard, or ASA format or a format requested by your professor.

Tips for Success when Writing a Précis to score an A+ grade

If you are planning to write a précis and would like to score an excellent grade, below are some tips that will make your critical précis tick:

  1. Take good notes. As you read the original text for the first, second, third, or nth time, ensure that you write down good notes because they are the basis for writing an excellent précis.
  2. Stick to a good Structure. As you write the paper, ensure that you have a fantastic introduction with a great thesis statement, excellent body paragraphs, and a comprehensive conclusion paragraph. You can integrate headings and subheadings in your paper to make everything clear.
  3. Use the present tense. When writing the rhetorical précis paper, ensure that you use the present tense. All the issues should be addressed in the present tense.
  4. Use active voice. Avoid using passive voice when writing a précis. You should also avoid the use of personal pronouns so that you maintain objectivity.
  5. Never add any new information. Even if you have a burning idea from the original text, do not share such information unless it is from the text. Do not include any words that are not from the original text.
  6. Each paragraph should have one idea. Maintain the objectivity and flow of your précis by including one idea per paragraph. Ensure you have clear, coherent, and logical ideas in every paragraph. Each paragraph should support the thesis of your précis.
  7. Simple, specific, and concise. It should be short, clear, and direct, and you should be critical and concise in your presentation.

Before you Go …

This guide has covered all the peculiar aspects of précis writing. You can now do it effectively. However, ensure that you introduce the original work, avoid adding unnecessary details, and express the opinions of the author (s) of the original text.

Also Read:

You are already set up to create a perfect précis essay. With this guide as a checklist, expect to write a paper that will be used as a sample of well-written précis.

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