How to write a précis or abstract of an essay or book:

Instructions for writing an Abstract

Definition: A précis or abstract is a concise summary by means of paraphrase in general sentences.

  1. Read the passage in question once. Try to state the point of the passage in a single sentence.
  2. Read the passage again, asking yourself if your statement about the author's main assertion makes sense.
  3. For a very brief essay, go through the passage paragraph by paragraph. For each paragraph, give the main point in a sentence or two. When the essay is a bit longer, you write a sentence for every two or three paragraphs. When the essay is the average length of some 10-20 pages, the practice is to write a sentence per section, or sentence for every 5 to 6 or more paragraphs (depending on the length of the section; sometimes it could be a sentence for 2 to 3 paragraphs once again).
  4. Your sentences may seem choppy and abrupt. Revise, adding appropriate transitional material, changing wording, and turning your sentences into your own readable abstract or précis.

Qualities aimed at:


Abstracts are required with submission of a Ph.D. Thesis; they are often also required with submission of a Masters Thesis; they are sometimes requested by publishers for inclusion in a table of contents or as a preface to an essay or article.

In a research paper it is often useful to be able to summarize the main points of one or more previous essays in order to establish the context or background to your subject.

Contact Ellen Moody.
Pagemaster: Jim Moody.
Page Last Updated: 16 November 2003.