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.
- Read the passage in question once. Try to state the point of the
passage in a single sentence.
- Read the passage again, asking yourself if your statement about
the author's main assertion makes sense.
- 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
- 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:
- Brevity: you do not retell all the examples the author uses to
make his or her main and subpoints.
- Completeness: you should briefly state the main idea and all the
- Objectivity: your opinion of what the author is saying has no
place in a summary. It does not matter whether you agree, disagree,
or hate the essay's points. You re-say briefly what the essay says in
order to convey the content; then, if this is a portion of a
researched essay you evaluate its validity.
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.