Ant 5: Precis

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Proseminar in Biological Anthropology (4)
Spring Quarter 2008 (MW 12:10-1:30, 3 Wellman; CRN #66293)

Outline of a Précis


Websters Third New International Dictionary defines a précis as:

1 : a concise epitome or abstract (as of a book or a case) : a brief summary of essential points, statements of facts < a précis of French history > 2 : the act or practice of writing such a statement.

Thus, your précis of an assigned reading should include an outline of its contents in abbreviated form; concise summaries of the more important ideas, concepts or factual content (be sure that quotations are indicated as such, with page numbers); and, your thoughts or questions as you go along (I usually put these in brackets [. . .] to clearly separate my observations from those of the author).

Imagine that you later are going to give a lecture on the contents of the book and these will be your notes. You will need to record the author's key ideas, methods and results, especially the factual material you will cite but do not want to commit to memory. Don't worry about complete sentences or precise grammatical form if other organization better serves the goals of accuracy and succinctness. For instance, you might separate phrases by slash marks (//), or make lists or diagrams, etc. Occasionally cite page numbers, in order to keep your place in the case that you need to refer back to the original.

I have found that it takes considerable discipline to keep up the habit of writing a précis of whatever I read. Invariably, however, I am glad when I have done so. I try to confine journal articles to a one-page summary, books to a three page summary. Based on my experience, you will find that the regular writing of a précis:

i) makes you a better reader;

ii) improves your memory of the material in the publication;

iii) enhances your writing skills, especially the ability to quickly compose a summary; and,

iv) provides you a very efficient source and study guide, should you later need the materials which you've summarized for a paper, graduate examination, class presentation or research proposal.

If you are using -- and you should be using -- a bibliographic database like Endnote (free, for UC Davis students), you can handily keep your notes there, organized by links to the appropriate citation.