Rhetorical Precis Outline

Click to learn how to write a rhetorical analysis essay step-by-step. Find the outline, useful writing techniques and rhetorical analysis example inside. It is worth noting that the rhetorical precis outline provides the base for the commencement of writing. It reviews the main content of the work, such as whether it is an article or if.

A good structure and clear strategy define the success of your writing. Learn how to write a great rhetorical analysis essay outline. Master the art of writing up a convincing rhetorical analysis essay by using the ultimate Essay Service guide. This will help save you lots of time and energy. The Art of Writing a Rhetorical Precis. How to make a rhetorical precis? You must know this that it is a highly structured piece of writing and it requires you to sum up the main idea in a brief way. The student has to fit main ideas into four sentences only, and it requires a lot of precision. Let us quickly explain you the format of the same.

Last updated: November 2019

A rhetorical précis is a type of academic writing where you summarize another piece of text, its main ideas and arguments, in particular, to provide insight into its author’s thesis.

So, it happened again. Your teacher assigned yet another paper to you. It sounds something like “write a précis, in 800-1000 words (approximately four double-spaced pages), of the first two-thirds of ‘Reading: An Intertextual Activity,’ by Robert Scholes. Your precis should cover Scholes’s essay through the top of page 28.”

And we can almost hear you thinking:

What the heck is going on here?

Stand down the panic! This article reveals all the details you need to know for A-worthy precis writing: precis definition, precis format, and precis example for you to understand once and for all what is a precis.

What is a Precis?

Derived from French, the word “précis” means a summary. So, if your professors give you such writing assignments, they want you to summarize some text and convey the summary in minimum words.

Here goes a precis definition:

  • A rhetorical précis is a clear, concise, and logical summary of a passage preserving its essential ideas only.

Before writing a précis, make sure you clearly understand its peculiarities and specification.

The first and foremost:

A précis is NOT an essay or re-writing. It shouldn’t tell but summarize an essence of the original document and provide readers with the information about its significance and worth.

In other words:


Even if your audience didn’t read the original abstract, they should have a clear idea about its content and meaning after checking your précis. A précis explains the main point and structure of the original work but doesn’t offer any evaluations or your reactions.

Rhetorical Précis Characteristics and Qualities

When assigned to write a précis, make sure you understand its characteristics:

Rhetorical Precis Maker

  1. A précis is a critical summary of writing abstracts.
  2. A précis is NOT re-writing or interpretation of the original.
  3. It is NOT written with words from the original, though you are welcome to use some quotes if appropriate.
  4. It summarizes the content of the original.
  5. A précis reveals the meaning of the original and explains its value.
  6. As a rule, a précis is 1/4 of the original in length, except as noted.
  7. It follows the standard format: an author’s thesis and methods he uses to represent it, results, and conclusion.

Why do professors assign a précis writing to students?

First, it helps them understand how good you are with critical thinking, summarizing, and highlighting the crucial information. And second, writing a précis is a great way of learning new material.

A rhetorical précis will demonstrate your writing skills to professors, as well as your ability to express your thoughts intelligibly. Make sure your paper highlights the following qualities:

  • Clarity, which means a reader should understand what an author intended to convey. Achieve it by using simple language and structure.
  • Correctness, which means you should watch spelling, grammar, and punctuation you use, as well as facts, figures, and dates you address.
  • Objectivity, which means candid construal of the information. Don’t give your opinion in a précis.
  • Coherence, which means the logical interconnection of the ideas from the original. Your audience shouldn’t lose their interest while reading.
  • Conciseness, which means avoiding unnecessary details in your précis. Don’t omit essential facts but avoid wordy expressions, repetitions, wateriness, etc.

How to Write a Précis

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” ― Mark Twain

One of the most famous American essayists, Mr. Twain nailed it: short doesn’t equal quick or easy to write. Especially if you write a summary and not just re-write the original. So, the process of précis writing begins with critical reading and research:

  1. Read the original piece.
  2. Specify its core points and arguments.
  3. Consider the evidence used by the author.
  4. Research what’s new for you in the original piece: definitions, statements, words, data, etc.).
  5. Identify the appeals the author used.
  6. Evaluate how the author conveyed meaning.
  7. Restate the thesis.
  8. Write a 1-2 sentence summary of each section in the original.
  9. Describe it by own words.
  10. Reread the original and compare it with your summary.

Now it’s time to start writing the final draft of your critical précis. Begin with paraphrasing the thesis and your 1-2 sentence statements, then review it to make sure you’ve explained the main point, identified the evidence, and used the logical structure.

Finally, check your précis for clarity, correctness, and coherence.

This précis example will help to understand the sense of such a writing assignment better.


Sample 1:

Sandra M. Gilbert, professor of English at the University of California, Davis, in her essay “Plain Jane’s Progress” (1977), suggests that Charlotte Brontë intended Jane Eyre to resemble John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress in that Jane’s pilgrimage through a series of events based on the enclosure and escape motif eventually lead toward the equality that Brontë herself sought. Gilbert supports this conclusion by using the structure of the novel to highlight the places Jane has been confined, the changes she undergoes during the process of escape, and the individuals and experiences that lead to her maturation concluding that “this marriage of true minds at Ferndean – this is the way” (501). Her purpose is to help readers see the role of women in Victorian England in order to help them understand the uniqueness and daring of Brontë’s work. She establishes a formal relationship with her audience of literary scholars interested in feminist criticism who are familiar with the work of Brontë, Bunyan, Lord Byron and others and are intrigued by feminist theory as it relates to Victorian literature.

Rhetorical precis paragraph

Source: Winthrop.edu

Follow a Precis Format and Structure

A rhetorical précis is not an argumentative or expository essay, but its structure looks the same. As well as any college essay, a precis consists of three parts:



This is a single sentence including the following information:

  • the author’s name
  • the title of the original piece
  • the publishing date (in parentheses)
  • power verbs determining the author’s thesis (“explains,” “argues,” “proves,” etc.)
  • your thesis itself.

Some experts suggest starting your précis with a hook and then restating the author’s thesis. Others say this type of academic writing doesn’t need hooks in the introduction. The best decision would be to ask a professor about the format you may use.

Here’s the example of a rhetorical précis introduction:


How To Write A Rhetorical Precis

Each paragraph explains a separate section of the original piece, providing the author’s evidence, purpose, and ideas. Don’t forget that you can’t interpret arguments from your point of view but should analyze the author’s stands on an issue. Feel free to use quotes here, but be brief and attribute them correctly.

This précis template makes it all clear:

Sample 2:

In her article “Who Cares if Johnny Can’t Read?” (1997), Larissa MacFarquhar asserts that Americans are reading more than ever despite claims to the contrary and that it is time to reconsider why we value reading so much, especially certain kinds of “high culture” reading. MacFarquhar supports her claims about American reading habits with facts and statistics that compare past and present reading practices, and she challenges common assumptions by raising questions about reading’s intrinsic value. Her purpose is to dispel certain myths about reading in order to raise new and more important questions about the value of reading and other media in our culture. She seems to have a young, hip, somewhat irreverent audience in mind because her tome is sarcastic, and she suggests that the ides she opposes are old-fashioned positions.

Source: Bakersfieldcollege.edu


It should restate the main idea. Summarize everything and remember to avoid any personal statements about the original piece.

Source: TeacherWeb.com

Additional Precis Templates to Check

More rhetorical precis templates needed to understand the nature of a précis and get a better idea of how to write it right? No problem!

Sample 3:

In her essay “Cyberspace and Identity” (1999), Sherry Turkle argues that “today’s life on the screen dramatizes and concretizes a range of cultural trends that encourage us to think of identity in terms of multiplicity and flexibility” (272). Turkle supports her assertion by juxtaposing theories of cyberspace and identity formation with older understandings of identity found in psychology, sociology, and philosophy. Her purpose is to show readers that theories on cyberspace and identity, which claim that identity is multiple and cyclical, do not overturn, but rather add to our understandings of identity in order to encourage her audience “to rethink our relationship to the computer culture and psychoanalytic culture as proudly held joint citizenship” (278). Turkle’s tone assumes a highly educated audience who is familiar with theories not only of cyberspace and identity, but sociology and psychology as well.

Source: RSU.edu

Sample 4:

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. Peirce backs this claim up with descriptions of four methods of fixing belief, pointing out the effectiveness and potential weaknesses of each method. Peirce’s purpose is to point out the ways that people commonly establish their belief systems in order to jolt the awareness of the reader into considering how their own belief system may the product of such methods and to consider what Peirce calls “the method of science” as a progressive alternative to the other three. 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.

Source: Oregonstate.edu

Further reading:

Academic writers across all disciplines analyze texts. They summarize and critique published articles, evaluate papers’ arguments, and reflect on essays. In order to do these things, they have to read complex texts carefully and understand them clearly.

This page is about how you can read and analyze nonfiction texts. When you’ve read a text well, you can then discuss it in class, think critically about it, incorporate it into your writing, consider it in light of other texts, and advance or push against its ideas. We believe two productive strategies for approaching this kind of reading and analysis are active reading and rhetorical précis writing. This page provides a guide to these strategies and practical ways to help you evaluate, compare, and reflect upon nonfiction texts.

Active Reading

Active reading requires you to slow your reading down, engage more intentionally with the text, think about it, and focus your attention on its ideas. When you read actively, you can’t just flip pages and daydream about tomorrow’s plans. Much has been written about active reading, but generally we recommend that when you read you:

  • Skim over the text before reading it.
    Look to see how long it is, where it’s published, how it may be divided into sections, what kind of works cited list it has, whether there are appendices, etc. Use the title to help you predict what the text is about and what it argues. This overview will help you to understand the context, genre, and purpose of this piece as well as help you gauge how long it will take you to read it and how it might be relevant to your class, paper, or project.
  • Take notes about the text’s key ideas and your responses to those ideas.
    Depending on the text and your preferences, these notes could be made on your copy of the text or article or in a separate place. Notes will help you remember and process what the text is about and what you think about it.

In addition to these strategies, we firmly believe that one of the best ways to understand a book, article, essay, blog post, etc. is to write a summary of it. Specifically, we recommend that you use your reading to generate a rhetorical précis.

Introduction to the Rhetorical Précis

“Précis” is French for “specific” or “precise.” It’s also a particular kind of writing. When you write a précis you have to exactly and succinctly account for the most important parts of a text. If you write a successful précis, it is a good indication that you’ve read that text closely and that you understand its major moves and arguments. Writing a précis is an excellent way to show that you’ve closely read a text.

Disclaimer: There are different kinds of précis for different contexts. A legal précis is different from what we’re talking about here. Some précis are longer or shorter than others. If you are writing a précis as a course assignment, be sure to follow your instructor’s guidance on what this should consist of and how it should be formatted.

Sometimes rhetorical précis writing is a course requirement. However, even if you aren’t required to write a précis for a class, writing one can help you in a number of ways. Writing a précis guides your reading and directs your attention to the key aspects of a text. Précis writing prepares you to discuss a text and sets you up for that important next step: analysis. A rhetorical précis can even help you structure your annotated bibliography annotations or provide you with summary sentences to include in a paper as you account for your sources.

Parts of a Rhetorical Précis

A rhetorical précis, as developed by Margaret K. Woodworth and described in her 1988 article “The Rhetorical Précis” (published by Rhetoric Review), consists of four dense but direct sentences.

  • The first sentence identifies who wrote the text, where and when it was published, and what its topic and claim are.
  • The second sentence explores how the text is developed and organized.
  • The third sentence explains why the author wrote this, her purpose or intended effect.
  • The fourth and final sentence describes the “for whom” of the text by clarifying who the intended or assumed audience of this text is.

Let’s look more closely at those four parts.

First Sentence: Who, Where, When, and What?

Start by identifying the author and offering any information that might help clarify who this person is in relation to this text. Is this a scholar? If so, what is her field? Is she a public official or a prominent blogger? Is he a public intellectual? A reporter? A spokesperson? Has he written other stuff? Locate a bio in the journal or the book cover. Do a quick internet search. Figuring out who the writer is will help you understand some of the texts’ context.

Next up, the publication. What is its title? Is it a book in a series or an article in a special collection? Does it appear in the leisure section of a local newspaper? Sometimes the title of the journal is self-explanatory, but at other times it’s unfamiliar or not clearly connected to a specific discipline. Explain it as necessary. Add the date in parentheses after the title of the text. Unless it’s a newspaper, magazine, or time-sensitive online article, usually just the year will suffice.

The rest of the sentence should be about the article’s topic—what it is about. In order to make this part particularly precise, use a rhetorically strong verb to describe the author’s claim. For example, the author may suggest, argue, analyze, imply, urge, contrast, or claim something.

Second Sentence: How?

In this sentence, provide a very condensed outline of how the author develops, structures, and supports the argument. What kind of evidence does the article draw upon? How is the case built? Perhaps by comparing and contrasting, illustrating, defining, or providing context? Perhaps the text starts out with a narrative and then moves into a description of several research studies? This sentence should account for all the most important moves made across this piece.

Third Sentence: Why?

What does the writer want the reader to do, believe, feel, or think about all this? What was the purpose of this text? In the first sentence, you told us what that author is arguing; now it is time to consider why the author has done all of this. Use an “in order to” phrase in this sentence to very clearly indicate the purpose.

Fourth Sentence: For Whom?

In the final sentence, identify the author’s intended audience and offer some rationale for how you know that to be the audience. Look back at the publication and think about who is likely to read this kind of magazine, journal, or book. Pay attention to the language used in this piece and how much background the writer provides. What does the writer assume readers believe, know, or value? Identifying the audience helps you consider how rhetorically effective this text is.

An Annotated Sample of a Rhetorical Précis

Take a look at this annotated précis of William Cronon’s 1995 article “The Trouble with Wilderness: Or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.” It closely follows the précis structure outlined above.

In “The Trouble With Wilderness: Or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature” (1995), the opening essay of the edited collection Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, renowned environmental historian William Cronon [Comment: The information about who Cronon is was very easily located at the end of the article and through a quick internet search.] critiques the romantic idolization of supposedly untouched, vast wilderness and argues that such a perspective of wilderness negatively affects humankind’s relationship with nature. Cronon builds a historical case for wilderness as a human construct, explores the cultural and literary foundations for the belief that wilderness is a sublime frontier, identifies the problematic paradoxes inherent in this belief, and outlines the detriments of and possible paradigm–shifting solutions to this environmental problem. [Comment: One of the challenges of the second sentence is to decide what not to include. In this case, more could be said about what those paradoxes and detriments are, but since the focus here is on the “how” instead of the “what,” they have been left out. If those kinds of unidentified details are important enough, there is room to mention them more thoroughly in the third sentence.] Cronon opposes the perspective of wilderness as an idealized, non–human space in order to persuade his readers to live rightly in relationship to nature and embrace the reality that “home” as a welcoming, responsibility–requiring place encompasses both “wilderness” and “civilization.” [Comment: Often there is more than one “why,” so be on the look out for this as you actively read.] According to his specific identification, scholarly presentation, and publication venue, Cronon’s primary audience includes American environmentalist academics. [Comment: In the later third of this essay, Cronon uses the pronoun “we” to identify himself and his assumed readership. Often authors aren’t this useful in helping to identify an audience.]

Using a Rhetorical Précis to Guide Analysis

Writing a good précis is a lot of work. It takes dedicated time and consideration. But, it can be useful in and of itself and productive in the development of additional academic writing. Of course, the most obvious application of a précis is connected to its function as a summary. In academic writing, we summarize sources all the time. Once you have written a précis, you can incorporate some of its sentences or ideas into your writing when you need to quickly account for a text’s argument, content, or purpose.

Rhetorical Precis Outline Pdf

Rhetorical precis outline format

But a rhetorical précis is even more powerfully useful for writing analysis.

Etymologically, “analysis” comes from the Ancient Greek terms for “throughout” and “loosening.” When you analyze something, you deconstruct it, extract its parts, peer inside to see how everything fits together. You thoroughly loosen it in order to understand it better. When you’ve used a précis to lay out the primary elements of this text (the author; the argument’s what, how, and why; and the audience) in front of you, you’re ready to move on with your analysis. Analysis of nonfiction texts can take several forms, but three common ones are: evaluation and critique, comparison, and reflection.

Evaluation and Critique

Evaluating a text requires you to use your analysis to consider and critique the strengths and weaknesses of that piece of writing. Look back at the argument and audience and ask yourself some of these questions:

  • Is this a persuasive argument for this group of readers?
  • How well is the author’s argument developed and clarified through the structure of the text?
  • Where does the logic of the argument and its supporting evidence cohere or fall apart?
  • Do the author’s background, tone, evidence, and assumptions foster credibility?
  • Does the piece achieve what the author intended?

Detailed answers—with examples—to any of these or similar questions could generate enough material for a close, analytical evaluation. Make sure that you are connecting your assertions about what works and doesn’t work in this text to the author, the argument’s development and purpose, and the audience. Make sure that you are looking deeply at how and why various elements of the text and its argument succeed or falter.


Through comparison, you bring together an analysis of more than one text. Start by writing a précis for each piece you have to compare. Then look at each précis side–by–side and ask yourself about how a sentence in one précis relates to the corresponding sentence in the other précis. Here are some questions to guide your thinking:

  • Are all texts addressing a parallel idea?
  • Are they making similar or different arguments?
  • Have they employed similar methods to arrive at their arguments?
  • Are they using the same kind of structure to develop those arguments?
  • What is different about their intended audiences?
  • Is one more or less successful or persuasive than the other?

Let what you identify as being similar and different about these texts guide your comparative analysis.


Reflection provides you with space to analyze a text in light of your experiences, perspectives, and ideas. In this kind of writing, you get to talk about yourself. In a way, a reflective analysis is kind of like a comparative analysis where the second text is you. Look back at that rhetorical précis and ask yourself questions like these, or other questions that connect what you know and have experienced with the text you have read:

  • What else have you read or experienced that furthers or complicates the argument made by this text?
  • How do you see that these ideas fit into the larger context of what you’ve been studying in this course?
  • Why do you have a particular opinion or response towards this piece of writing?
  • Moving forward, how can this text, its argument, or its presentation be influential in shaping your thinking or research?


In order to analyze a text, you need to understand key elements of it. Closely reading that text and summarizing it through a rhetorical précis can help you understand it better. In large part, the quality of your analysis will be dependent on the quality of your comprehension. So, give yourself the time you need to read carefully, think deeply, and analyze effectively.

Works Cited

Cronon, William. “The Trouble with Wilderness: Or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.” Environmental History, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 7–28.

Woodworth, Margaret K. “The Rhetorical Précis.” Rhetoric Review, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 156–64.

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