Introduction to Poetry
Critical Article Synopsis Assignment ("Précis")
Being able to write a Précis of a critical article is one of the skills that you are expected to master as an English student at Reed. In fact it is one of the three basic skills that you are asked to perform on the Junior Qualifying Exam (the other two are explication and analysis of poetry, and analysis of narrative).
Before class you should read at least two of the Précises your classmates have sent you. To assess the Précises' strengths and weaknesses ask yourself:
Here are some more suggestions to get you started as you write your Précis.
to topic sentences and repetition, and try to determine when the author
is introducing a new argument, and when she is simply providing examples
or explaining the evidence he has offered. Your summary should be
One of the most common mistakes I find in student Précises is that a student has read the opening of the essay carefully and then skimmed the rest of it. While in some disciplines, you might be lucky enough to find a summary of the argument (an abstract) at the beginning, this is unusual (unfortunately) in Literary Criticism articles. Often, the summary of the argument is at the end of the article. A second trick to remember is that authors often justify their article's existence at the opening by explaining how it fits into a critical debate. You should take note of what what the author thinks is the larger significance of his or her work.
As Joseph Williams pointed out in his recent visit to Reed, most academic arguments have at least these four basic components:
You should make sure that you have looked for these aspects of the argument. If they are in your article identify them.
What did you find particularly interesting or useful about the critique?
One of the most common mistakes I find in students' analyses of arguments is that people assume if they didn't understand the argument the first time they read it it, it is either poorly written or uninteresting. Since articles are mostly written for specialists in the field, you can assume that they will be difficult and will require at least a second reading. It is also highly likely that they will contain jargon (specialized language) that is unfamiliar to you, but is part of the common knowledge of specialists. You will want to keep a dictionary or a dictionary of literary terms on hand to help you as you read the work. Similarly, the author probably assumes that almost all of her readers will have a Ph.D. in English or American literature and hence she will most likely make reference to works you have not read. You may find it useful to look up allusions or whole texts of poems as you are reading if you feel that the argument requires it.
|Examples of Student Précises|
Please note that these are just examples. They are not perfect, nor are they intended as models to be followed slavishly. Rather you should read each one critically and assess its strengths and weaknesses.
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|©2003 Prof. Laura Leibman, Dept. of English, Reed College||Print Syllabus
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