Rhetorical Précis

How to write a rhetorical précis:

The word précis is French for “precise” or “exact.” A rhetorical précis is a highly structured summary designed to explain the rhetorical structure and purpose of an argument.

The short version of a précis has five elements:
[1] Bibliographic citation (either MLA or APA style)
[2] A sentence with a rhetorically active verb that both puts the article into some context—the type of journal or book in which it appears—and describes what the writer is doing with the text (“suggests that,” “argues that,” “implies that,” “urges that,” “claims that,” etc.)
[3] An explanation of how the writer develops, structures, and supports the argument. This is usually done by comparing and contrasting, illustrating, defining, or putting the article into context
[4] An explanation of the writer’s purpose, followed by an “in order to” clause, which explains the intended effect on the audience
[5] A description of the intended audience

Note that the précis form is not evaluative, but analytic—i.e., your readers
don’t care if you liked it or not—rather, they want your analysis of the text.

Here’s my sample précis—you don’t need to add [bracketed numbers] in yours; I do it here so you can see the “map” of my précis:

[1] Kitwana, Bakari. “Walking the Tight Rope: The Art and Reality of Tupac Shakur.” Tough Love: The Life and Death of Tupac Shakur. Ed. Michael Datcher and Kwame Alexander. Alexandria, VA: Alexander Publishing Group, 1996: 31-33.

[2] In this essay, part of a collection designed to reflect on and celebrate Tupac Shakur’s life and career, Kitwana argues that Shakur and his music are misunderstood by many of his fans and critics. [3] Kitwana reviews some of Shakur’s musical releases, showing how they were both a part of, and a response to, changes in the rap-music industry in the 1980’s and 1990’s. [4] Because Shakur was a controversial artist, Kitwana puts rap music in its cultural and economic contexts in order to make distinctions between entertainment and the realities of black culture. [5] Tough Love contains critical commentary, poetry, and personal responses to Shakur’s life and career, and is aimed toward an academic audience of music and cultural critics.

Reflection on my précis: these are very difficult to write. In the article I chose, on Tupac Shakur, the writer was making a very subtle and complex argument, which is hard to summarize in one sentence or so. For example, the section on describing the writer’s purpose [4], I could’ve written many different ways. I could’ve chosen to emphasize his argument that we can’t understand Shakur’s music unless we understand the inequities and injustices that many cultures experience in a global economy. Or I could’ve written that Kitwana was being critical of the rap-music industry, in which he participates as the political editor of The Source: The Magazine of Hip-Hop Music, Culture, and Politics and the author of The Rap on Gangsta Rap: Who Run It? Gangsta Rap and Visions of Black Violence.