The Rhetorical Précis is a formula designed to help you move beyond simple summary to a more analytical synopsis of a work. As such, the précis, in a compact form, forces you to think about both the content and method of a piece of scholarship. This is very useful in developing an historiographical understanding of the work you are reading, of the connections between works. The formula for the précis is based on a few simple sentences:

  1. Sentence on gives the following information:
    • name of the author, title of the work, date in parenthesis;
    • an intentionally chosen active verb (argues, asserts, claims, denies, refutes, proves, disproves, explains, etc.);
    • a that clause containing the major claim (thesis) of the work.
  2. Sentence that gives an explanation of how the author develops and supports the major claim of the work identified in the first sentence.

  3. Sentence that states the author’s apparent purpose, followed by an “in order to” phrase.


Charles S. Peirce’s article, “The Fixation of Belief” (1877), asserts that humans have psychological and social mechanisms designed to protect and cement (or “fix”) our beliefs. Peirce backs this claim up with descriptions of four methods of fixing belief, pointing out the effectiveness and potential weaknesses of each method. Peirce’s purpose is to point out the ways that people commonly establish their belief systems in order to jolt the awareness of the reader into considering how their own belief system may the product of such methods and to consider what Peirce calls “the method of science” as a progressive alternative to the other three.1

rest of the memo

Following the introductory paragraph, a research memo should highlight what you found significant in the reading. Identify a question or theme raised in class that the reading helps to answer. Then explain why you think this source sheds light on this specific question. Why does this reading matter? How does it connect to the other readings of the week.

The total length of the memo should be no more than 1 page single-spaced, and need include only two paragraphs.

Please type and print a memo for each reading. The memos will form the basis for our discussion in class, and will be sources for your final exam.