A Specific Type of Response Paper
Precis are more common within social anthropology courses, but the skill of integrating summary and analysis of an text's structure and logic is relevant across disciplines.
Typical verbs indicating such development include compare, contrast, link causally, cause, and follow from.
Instead of a generic response paper, some courses might ask you to write a “précis,” an interpretive summary, which requires you to integrate closely the summary and the analysis parts of your response paper. More than just offering a set of notes on the contents of a text, a précis connects those contents to the text’s argumentative structure and presentational strategy.
Identifying the Main Issue: The first component of your précis should be a statement of the main issues or problems addressed by the text. Is the book primarily concerned with a specific group of people and their interlocked set of beliefs? With a specific inference from the archaeological record of a site? It is your job to discern which concerns are pre-eminent and which are of lesser importance to the author — by paying attention to the author’s explicit cues, and in part by comparing them to the claims and evidence s/he presents.
Tracing a Text's Development: Your précis should discuss the text’s logic or pattern of development. It may be helpful to study carefully the table of contents, as you try to understand the narrative structure of the text. Here, for illustrative purposes, are two templates for sentences that discuss logical patterns:
1. “By examining the sources of _________, the author shows the consequences of ____________.”
2. "In order to ____________, the text shows the interrelationship between ________ and ____________ .”
In this part of the précis, you should illustrate the author’s logical moves by summarizing key information from the text (supplying page references wherever possible). As you look over the text for evidence, you will find it useful to ask yourself what categories of information are being supplied by the narrative and expository sections of the text. Possible categories of information might include the following: characteristics of events, groups, or subgroups; stages in an event or process; limitations, restrictions, or other constraints upon the research process.
Shaping Critical Analysis: By following these steps, you will undoubtedly sharpen your skills at culling important details and summarizing the most crucial aspects of the text. You will also have found a direction for the third component of your précis: critical analysis and interpretation. Here, you will draw out the implications of the text and present your own assertions or questions about it. In setting up the narrative or argument in a specific way, what has the author overlooked, asserted, or brushed aside? What seems novel or conventional about the inferences or arguments of the text?