How to write a precis and memo
The Rhetorical Précis¶
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:
- Sentence one 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.
- Sentence two gives an explanation of how the author develops and supports the major claim of the work identified in the first sentence.
- Sentence three states the author’s apparent purpose, followed by an “in order to” phrase.
In Chapter 1 of One Dimensional Man (1964), Herbert Marcuse argues that [...]. To build this argument, Marcuse [...]. Marcuse makes this argument in order to [...].
Here's an example from Daniel Nemser's Infrastructures of Race: Concentration and Biopolitics in Colonial Mexico (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017):
In Infrastructures of Race (2017), Daniel Nemser argues that colonial Spanish America created modern racialization by spatializing race as an infrastructure of domination and accumulation. To build this argument, Nemser draws on Foucault's biopolitical regime and Lefebvre's production of space and territorializing of domination, and divides his analysis into four chapters that move through the colonial period through a succession of material, spatial practices: congregación (concentration), recogimiento (enclosure), seperación (segregated districts), and colección. Nemser does this in order to reorient the social construction of race away from bodily difference and to material space and domination, as a means of overcoming the naturalization of difference as a thing upon which race is projected.
That's full of jargon, but it makes sense to me based on a lot of previous readings. When you write your own précis, they will likewise build off of your previous knowledge.
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 or addresses. Then explain why you think this reading matters? How does it connect to the other readings of the week or previous weeks. How does it connect with work you're reading outside of class assignments, etc?
The total length of the memo should be no more than 1 page single-spaced, and need include only two paragraphs.