Precis Writing Tips

The summary or précis of a passage has to be expressed in the fewest and clearest words possible. In a summary you should mention only important points and leave out all unnecessary details.

What is a good precis?

A summary or précis is the shortened form of a passage. A good summary should be complete in itself. It should be able to convey the ideas expressed in the original passage so that a reader who does not have enough time to read the original one should have no trouble getting the message.

A summary should be brief, clear and precise. It should be brief, but it shouldn’t be a number of disjointed simple sentences. A good summary should give ideas, facts or points in the order in which it appears in the original. Note that it is best to write summaries in the same tense as the original.

The original passage may contain pieces of conversation. When you summarize it, all the sentences given in the direct speech should be changed into indirect. The summary should be in the writer’s own words. As far as possible, avoid using the vocabulary used in the original. Also note that a summary shall not contain points not mentioned in the original.

How to summarize a given passage?

Read the given passage thoroughly and try to understand what it means. If you don’t understand the passage after reading it once, read it twice or thrice. Try to find out what the passage is really about. And then provide a title for it.

Underline important points in the passage. Prepare a sketch or outline summary, containing all the points which you have marked in the passage. Compare the outline with the original passage. If you have left out some points, add them. If the outline contains some unnecessary details, strike them out.

Prepare your summary with the help of your notes. Don’t refer to the original. Finally, read what you have written. Correct all spelling or grammatical errors if any.

Some important points

If the passage is in poetry, express its ideas in prose. Write the précis in simple language. Avoid lengthy sentences containing many clauses. Don’t use phrases such as ‘the writer says’, ‘I think’ or ‘in my opinion’.

Tips for summarizing

Use substitution

A useful aid in summarizing is the method of substitution. Study the following examples:

Write indivisible for cannot be divided
Write invisible for cannot be seen
Write people for men and women
Write extempore for speaking without preparation
Write simultaneously for at the same time

In many cases a phrase or a clause can be replaced by an adjective or adverb. For instance, the sentence ‘The old woman accepted the gift with a heart full of gratitude’ can be summarized as ‘The old woman accepted the gift gratefully or thankfully.’

The length of a summary

There are no hard and fast rules regarding the length of the precis or summary. Ideally it should be one-third of the length of the given passage.

How to choose a heading?

Read the given passage carefully. Find out what the passage is all about. Try to find a word or a phrase or a short sentence that will sum up the subject matter of the passage. This should be the heading or title. If the given passage is a story, you may choose the name of the protagonist or an incident in the story as the heading. If the given passage is an essay or a paragraph, you may use some apt proverb or quotation as the heading. Begin all the important words in a heading with capital letters.


Manjusha Nambiar

Hi, I am Manjusha. This is my blog where I give English grammar lessons and worksheets.

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