A rhetorical précis (prey-see) is a method for structuring critical analysis of another author's argument. It combines summary and analysis, often including a formal in-text citation. The specifics of this in-text-citation depend on the style used for the rest of the argument. An effective précis explains what a text says and what it does.
A précis may contain brief quotations to give a sense of the author's style and indicate key concepts.
A rhetorical précis consists of four sentences:
- 1: Name the author, their credentials, the genre and titles of the work. Next, use an accurate, dynamic verb (such as argues, asserts. claims, suggests, implies, etc.) and a "that" to articulate the text's central argument or primary claim.
- Charles S. Peirce's article "The Fixation of Belief" (1877) asserts that humans have psychological and social mechanisms designed to protect and cement (or 'fix') our beliefs.
- Toni Morrison, in her essay "Disturbing Nurses and the Kindness of Sharks" (2001), implies that racism in the United States has affected the craft and process of American novelists.
- Cave Carson, author of New Frontiers in Geography (2021), argues that emerging jobs that require a geography degree will be more dependent on the ability to see connections among seemingly unrelated social institutions and the natural environment than knowledge of discrete facts, such as "knowing state capitols and which is the largest lake in the world".
- 2: Explain how the author supports their central argument.
- Peirce supports this claim with descriptions of four methods of fixing belief, pointing out the effectiveness and potential weaknesses of each method.
- Morrison supports her implication by describing how Ernest Hemingway writes about black characters in his novels and short stories.
- He develops his initial claim with profiles of three potential environmental disasters that were averted by analyzing geospatial data alongside ethnographic surveys of the threatened regions.
- 3: State the author's apparent purpose, followed by a phrase like "in order to" that identifies the why of that purpose.
- Peirce's purpose is to point out the ways people commonly establish their belief systems in order to jolt the awareness of the reader into considering how their own belief system may be the product of such methods.
- Her purpose is to make her readers aware of the cruel reality of racism underlying some of the greatest works of American literature in order to help them examine the far-reaching effects racism has not only on those discriminated against but also on those who discriminate.
- Carson's purpose is to persuade educators to limit their class time spent teaching "pub trivia and minutiae" in favor of more constructivist, project-based techniques that will better serve students "in the real world".
- 4: Describe the intended audience and/or the relationship the author establishes with the audience.
- Given the technical language used in the article, Peirce is writing to a well-educated audience with some knowledge of philosophy and history and a willingness to consider other ways of thinking.
- She establishes a formal and highly analytical tone with her audience of racially mixed (but probably mainly white), theoretically sophisticated readers and critical interpreters of American literature.
- He adopts a confrontational tone that challenges his primary audience of educators and policy-makers to "put up or shut up", justifying the benefits of traditional, rote-based education or giving a chance to lessons predicated on the scenarios outlined in his book.