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Critical Precis Paper

WRD 320:Rhetoric Between Athens and Jerusalem
Critical Precis Assignment due no later than Sept. 28!

***Thanks to Greg Foran for sharing this assignment and allowing me to modify it for our course purposes!

Basic information:

  • Due dates: Final draft: Oct. 5
  • Length and format 3-4 pages typed, double spaced, 1-inch margins, 12 pt. Times font
    • Include your name, course info, the date, and assignment description
    • Number your pages
    • List works cited

Purpose and Description:
Being able to distill a detailed argument down to its essence is an essential skill for any kind of research-based writing, and is a crucial element of informed participation in a democratic society.

For this Critical Precis you must paraphrase and summarize an article-length argument. You will offer a critical precis for Davida Charney’s article “Performativity and Persuasion in the Hebrew Book of Psalms: A Rhetorical Analysis of Psalms 116 and 22”. The assignment’s specific requirements are as follows:

Your paper will have 3 parts:
First, a three page paraphrase & summary of the chapter

This paraphrase & summary must be comprised mainly of your own restatement of the argument; direct quotations of the primary text should not exceed 10% of the word count. Both direct quotations and paraphrases must be accompanied by parenthetical page citations. At the top of your long paraphrase & summary, you should provide a total word count and a direct quotation word count.

Next, a one paragraph summary of the chapter.

This summary should be your own take on the author’s main ideas. Do not quote from or paraphrase the text.

Finally, a one sentence summary of the chapter. As with the one paragraph summary, do not directly quote or paraphrase the text at all here; the whole sentence should be your own. Your sentence should reflect the essence of the author’s argument.

This assignment doubles as a chance for you to practice recapitulating an author’s ideas without plagiarizing him or her. Therefore, your ability to effectively rework the author’s language where possible and to correctly quote, paraphrase, and cite the author’s language where necessary will be a significant factor in your grade. Finally, I will spend more time than I customarily do on the formal and stylistic features of your prose. I will put a premium on clear, elegant prose. I expect the essay to be free of spelling and other mechanical errors.

A Word on Citations:
Follow MLA style on your summary. This means that direct quotations and paraphrases from the text should be followed by a parenthetical page citation at the end of the sentence. You should include a works cited list at the end of your paper that will include one of the following entries:

Edelman, Samuel. “Ancient Traditions, Modern Needs: An Introduction to Jewish Rhetoric.” Journal of Communication and Religion. 26 (2003): 113-125.

Kennedy, George. Comparative Rhetoric. Oxford University Press, New York: 1998.

More on paraphrasing and summarizing:
Effective paraphrasing and summarizing is an art, not a science, because it involves some degree of interpretation about what is most significant in a text.  (The shorter the summary, the more prominent the summarizer’s role in selecting and ignoring portions of the original text.) On this assignment, you will have to decide not only which elements of the author’s essay are most important, but also how to translate them for yourself and your readers. To really understand a complex argument, you have to make it your “own” by restating it in different but equivalent terms. For this reason, you have only limited freedom to quote the text directly. (Direct quotation too often serves to mask incomplete comprehension of the author’s point.) For the same reason, you must paraphrase strategically as well. Paraphrasing involves taking a small portion of text and restating it in roughly the same amount of space, but without using either the author’s original language or even the original structure of the passage. Like a direct quotation, a paraphrase requires a parenthetical citation.

Here’s a suggested method for completing this assignment:

  • Read the article that you plan to write about in order to get the gist of the author’s argument.
    • In fact, you will already have done this as homework.
  • Re-read the article with pencil in hand. Annotate it: underline key ideas and phrases, write the main idea of each paragraph (or other division of the author’s thought) in the margin next to it, and record any other observations that you make as you read.
    • Keep an eye out for any direct quotations that you think are remarkable or impossible to do justice to in paraphrase. You may end up needing these in your summary.
  • Make an outline of the article; consider giving each paragraph its own line, or at least each subsection/division of thought.
  • Write down, in your own words, what you take to be the author’s main claim.
    • This should not simply be what the chapter is about, but what specifically the author is trying to argue or prove.
  • Draft your summary.
  • Revise your summary, edit it carefully, and hand it in.

These are the criteria by which I will evaluate your final draft. Keep them in mind as you write!

Rubric 1










Accuracy and Thoroughness

The summaries and paraphrases accurately represent the original author’s thoughts

The summaries and paraphrases represent the full scope of the author’s argument

Body paragraphs of the long paraphrase & summary are coherent and reflect the overall movement of thought in the original text.

Clear links between paragraphs
Clear links between sentences
Language and format

Clarity of expression: words and sentences

Standard grammar
Summaries and paraphrases represent the author’s ideas without plagiarizing
Direct quotations and paraphrases are properly cited
Works cited section is properly formatted
Paper follows all other format guidelines
Yes No
Is the paper long enough and detailed enough to fulfill the purpose of the assignment?
Are there fewer than three spelling/mechanical errors?



























































































































































































2: Key words

  • What seem to be the chapter’s key words and phrases? Write down any that occur repeatedly, or that seem especially memorable or important.



































  1. The main claim
  • What specifically is the author trying to argue in this chapter? Write it down in one sentence.












Paper 1 Student Self-Evaluation

PAPER’S MAIN IDEA: ____________________________________________________________________



AUDIENCE ____________________________________________________________________________


PREWRITING:                                              How much time did you spend completing the prewriting worksheets? __________





Describe any other prewriting activities (including thinking about the paper) that you engaged in.











How much time did you spend on these other forms of prewriting?____________







DRAFTING and REVISING:  How many drafts have you made? ____________  Time spent __________


Describe the kinds of revision you have done.










Describe the amount and kinds of advice/help you have received on this paper in addition to the instructor conference and in-class peer consultations.









EDITING:        What kinds of grammatical or punctuation  issues did you pay special attention to as you edited this







COMMENTS:  What special problems/successes did you have in the writing process?









What areas do you feel are the strongest in this paper?  Why?










What areas do you feel are the weakest in this paper?  Why?











What areas of this paper would you like the instructor to pay special attention to?  For what reasons?