The multifarious activities of the modern man make a heavy demand upon his limited time. The political commitments, in the capacity of a citizen, the economic necessity, in the role of the man of the material world, the desire for entertainments in order to get rid of the dull routine consume the greater part of man’s time. That is why we are hard pressed for time. We try to save time, may be through technological development, may be through the division of labour or by compressing the reading material.
Long and sprawling novels of the victorain age have been replaced by one volume novels ; 6ve act dramas have been substituted by one act plays. There is a tendency to read abridged editions of the bigger volumes. Moreover a person at the helm of affairs may have to attend to so many problems : a minister may not have enough time to go through all the papers on a particular subject ; an officer, before taking a decision, may like to read only the summary of the documents.
What is a summary ? The ostensible object of a precis is to provide the reader with an unbiased, correct and objective record of the writers’ views, ideas and arguments in minimum number of words. Clearly the precis-writer will have to select and compress the information contained in the original passage. The selection has to be very scientific ; by giving preference to one fact or argument over another one may lay a disproportionate emphasis or a misleading impression of the passage. Suppression of facts, the inevitable corollary of section, may lead to misrepresentation.
Similarly compression may give the ideas a twist in some direction away from objective truth. The precis writer cannot afford to have careless and casual reading of the passage. He must understand every argument and the significance of each word and idea. Equally important is the writing part of the precis. The choice of the words should be very judicious because the wrong selection will distort the ideas of the original. But for a systematic study of precis making we must refer to the authorities on the subject.
Jepson defines precis as—
“a concise and clear statement embodying in a connected and readable shape the substance of a longer passage.”
“A precis may be defined as a summary, a concise abridgement, an abstract containing the sum and substance of a full statement.”
To Pink and Thomas the purpose of precis is—
“……. to present the gist of the documents in a clear or concise form so that it may be easily understood and quickly assimilated”.
Virian and Jackson give a detailed definition of precis when they say that precis is—
“…….. the expression, in condensed terms, of the principal contents of any piece of writing. In the summarizer’s own words it sets forth briefly the central idea of the original……………. generally understood to be an orderly condensation that preserves the main thought organisation and tone of the original.
By analysing the first quotation we get the following points (i) precis should be brief (ii) it should be clear (iii) it should be connected. All the three points deal with the language of the precis. The second definition reduces itself to the following norms of a precis (i) it should be concise through abridgement ; (ii) it should give the sum and substance of the passage. The first point deals with the manner of writing whereas the second one with the substance.
The third definition lays down that a precis should be (i) clear (ii) concise. The definition also deals with the language and style of precis. According to the fourth definition precis is (i) the condensed expression of the principal contents of the passage (ii) in the words of the summarizer (Hi) it is an orderly condensation (iv) preserving main thought (v) organization and (vi) tone of the original. The first two points deal with the style whereas the other points deal with the subject matter.
All the above mentioned points clearly point out that precis- making is an art which needs the faculty to comprehend, intelligence to analyze and the power to express the ideas in correct and scientific language. If the key arguments are not properly understood the psecis will be inaccurate. Similarly without analyzing the passage scientifically and without giving due weight to the important arguments, the very spirit of the writer’s thinking will be lost. Language, if injudiciously used, may injure the soul of the passage.
For learning the art of precis-writing one must possess the -tools, which are necessary for forging a finished precis. We will have to work in the workshop, learning the handling of tools, before we learn the art. In this part we will deal with the tools for (i) Understanding the passage (ii) Analyzing the passage (iii) condensing the sentences (iv) Clear language.