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Using the rhetorical precis for literature reviews and conceptual syntheses

An important component of writing is reading and summarizing the literature. This exercise helps the author situate his/her work within the broader set of related works. I maintain a systematic process of reading and writing article summaries, but I normally do so in the form of long-form memoranda. Earlier this year, I had a conversation earlier in the year with my friend Dr. Theresa MacPhail, we discussed the precis (what many call, the rhetorical precis), a brief and systematic summary of journal articles. We talked about how they differ from a memo.

For me, a rhetorical precis in the way it is normally taught wouldn’t be long enough and wouldn’t have the level of reflection I need. I write extended, extensive, detailed, in-depth memorandums full with the article’s citation and entire paragraphs or sentences extracted for in-manuscript quotations.

#AcWri on the plane from Dallas to Leon

But it then occurred to me that I have pretty much never experimented with writing simple rhetorical precis. I did a bit of research on different formats for the rhetorical precis and found this particular model(from this website) very useful.

The Rhetorical Précis Format

a) 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.
b) In a single coherent sentence give an explanation of how the author develops and supports the major claim (thesis statement).

c) In a single coherent sentence give a statement of the author’s purpose, followed by an “in order” phrase.

d) In a single coherent sentence give a description of the intended audience and/or the relationship the author establishes with the audience.

Most websites I checked use a similar format, like this one and this one. I plan to test this model for a week with the new literature I need to review and see how it works. I can see this model being useful for a busy professor who asks his/her research assistant for rhetorical precis from a set of articles, and then upon reading them, chooses a specific sub-set for memo-ing. This process enables the researcher to be strategic about what he/she chooses to read more in-depth. Also, having a full set of rhetorical precis available may help the researcher decide whether they have reached concept saturation. I also suppose you could dump all your rhetorical precis in an Excel concept worksheet (modifying the columns, obviously!)

I’ll be reporting back on how this model works for me and my own literature review processes.

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. Writing a literature review assignment (and for instructors: providing guidance) – Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD linked to this post on August 10, 2019

    […] How to write a rhetorical precis […]

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