Uploaded by Melissa Houghton

Rhetorical Precis

The Rhetorical Précis
From Wordworth, Margaret K. "The Rhetorical Précis."
Rhetoric Review, Vol. 7, No. 1, Fall 1988: 156-164.
The rhetorical précis is a four sentence summary of an article that includes the author's main
assertion, the way the author develops and supports the thesis, the author's purpose or goal
(desired change in audience), and a description of that intended audience and relationship the
author establishes with the readers.
The four sentences are:
1. Who/What/Where/When = Name of author [including optional phrase describing author –
such as "professor of English at Oregon State University", genre/ type of work and title with
original publication (what book? Magazine?) and date in parentheses, followed by a
rhetorically accurate verb [such as "asserts," "argues," "claims," "suggests," "implies," etc] and a
THAT clause containing the major assertion (the thesis statement of the work.).
Sample: Jennifer E. Smith, a first year student at The Ohio State University, in her
evaluation/analysis essay "Questioning the Promises of Science" (no date given), argues
that J. Michael Bishop does a poor job in "Enemies of Promise" of convincing readers
that those who "question science" are "suffering from ignorance."
2. How = An explanation of how the author develops and/or supports the thesis, usually in
chronological order. This may include organization and lists of kinds of proof provided. This
sentence can include quoted excerpts from the text.
Sample: Smith moves linearly through Bishop's essay selecting quotes to prove her point
about Bishop's bias, exaggerations, anger, "easy dismissal of . . . critics", stereotyping,
and closed-mindedness, citing his blind pride in the triumphs of science and his reliance
on assertion without proof.
3. Why = A statement of the author's apparent purpose, followed by an "in order" phrase
indicating the change the authors wants to effect in the audience (either to inform or to
Sample: Smith's purpose is to help readers see through Bishop's "flowery language" and
flawed rhetoric in order to convince readers that Bishop has, in fact, perpetuated the
stereotype of egocentric scientists.
4. To Whom / How = A description of the original audience and the relationship the author
establishes with the audience, the tone or attitude used..
Sample: Since this analysis was written for a college composition class, Smith's audience
includes her classmates and instructor, to whom she speaks with a confident tone as to
equals, neither condescending, not timid, fulfilling her assignment to provide the class
with a useful analysis.