Précis Instructions


In partial fulfillment of your semester grade, you are required to submit a total of four (4) written assignments. Each of these assignments will take the form of a précis (pronounced: PRAY-see) — a short, expository paragraph summarizing the main ideas, arguments, and themes of a given text. Each of these assignments is worth 10% (i.e. a full “letter”) of your semester grade.

Your rhetorical précis must be written in third-person voice and must adhere to the following format:


Sentence 1. In a single coherent sentence give the following:

  • name of the author, title of the work, date in parenthesis
  • a rhetorically accurate verb (such as “assert,” “argue,” “deny,” “refute,” “prove,” disprove,” “explain,” etc.)
  • a that clause containing the major claim (thesis statement) of the work.

Sentence 2. In a single coherent sentence explain how the author develops and supports the major claim (thesis statement).

Sentence 3. In a single coherent sentence identify the author’s purpose, followed by an “in order” phrase.

Sentence 4. In a single coherent sentence describe the intended audience and/or the relationship the author establishes with the audience.

You are not permitted to deviate from (or add to) the four sentence structure.

Confused? Click HERE for an example.


Your précis will be graded on the following basis:

  • accuracy of content
  • adherence to form
  • grammar, punctuation, and style

Your first and second précis must be based on two of the following required texts:

  • Dava Sobel, Longitude
  • Ben Marsden, Watt’s Perfect Engine
  • William Doyle, The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction

Your second and third précis must be based on two of the following required texts:

  • Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution
  • Tadeusz Borowski, This Way to the Gas Ladies & Gentlemen
  • Timothy Garton Ash, The Magic Lantern
Submission Instructions & Due Dates

Each précis is due at the beginning of class on the date indicated in the “Reading & Viewing Schedule” appearing on this website. (Example: If you wish to write your first précis on Sobel’s Longitude that assignment will be due on 7 February)

Your précis must be typed, double-spaced, in 11 or 12 pt font.

Your précis must include your name, the course number (HIST 2302), and the date in mm/day/year format. This information must appear in the upper-left hand corner of your paper.

You MUST submit a précis for a text on the date the text in question is discussed in class. THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS, FOR ANY REASON, TO THIS REQUIREMENT. Plan accordingly.