How to remember what you read

How to Remember What You Read

Looking for your reading efforts to make lasting impacts on your writing and thinking? Want to actually remember that article you read two or three years ago? Do you sometimes find yourself half-way through an article thinking, “Wait! I’ve read this before!”?

Here’s another fancy-sounding writing exercise that will transform your ability to summarize, remember, and better utilize that article, book chapter, editorial or report you recently (or not-so-recently) read:  the Rhetorical Précis.

The best strategy for remembering what you read is to write short, impactful summaries that you can refer back to again and again. A rhetorical précis is a punchy paragraph that summarizes a text’s content as well as its delivery. The précis reveals not just what is said in the article (i.e. its content), but also how the argument is made, by whom, for what audience and to achieve what purpose (i.e. its delivery).

Why Write a Rhetorical Précis

As you read more and more on a given topic, the simple act of reading transforms into an act of research and you slowly become a Subject Matter Expert on the topic at hand. Writing a rhetorical précis for everything you read helps you remember and contextualize the multiple perspectives that abound within a given topic.

The rhetorical précis exercise makes the most impact when you write many summaries for multiple texts on a certain topic, allowing the strategy to build over time as you explore multiple perspectives on a given issue.

And by the way, the summaries you create using the rhetorical précis strategy will do you no good if you don’t have a consistent way of organizing and referring back to them. It is imperative that you create a system for saving and referring back to your summaries. If you organize these summaries in a place you can refer to again and again, you will transform into a clever contextualizer of information. You’ll better remember what you read and you’ll be more aware of the multiple voices that surround an issue.

How to Write a Rhetorical Précis

There are only four impactful sentences in a rhetorical précis:

Sentence 1:  In a single coherent sentence give the following:

  • Name of the author
  • Title of the work
  • Date in parenthesis
  • A rhetorically accurate verb (such as asserts, argues, refutes, or explains)
  • that clause containing the major claim (thesis statement) of the work.

Sentence 2: In a single coherent sentence give an explanation of how the author develops and supports the major claim (thesis statement).

Sentence 3:  In a single coherent sentence give a statement of the author’s purpose, followed by an “in order to” phrase.

Sentence 4:  In a single coherent sentence give a description of the intended audience and/or the relationship the author establishes with the audience.

Example Rhetorical Précis

Laura Micciche’s article, “Making a Case for Rhetorical Grammar” (2004), defends the teaching of grammar as a social practice that can inspire ethical cultural critique and analysis. Micciche supports this stance on grammar by arguing that understanding grammatical structures helps us gain greater awareness of language options. Her purpose is to free writers from the stress and anxiety that comes from teaching grammar as correctness, rather than as self-expression or -explanation. Micciche’s academic language makes it clear that this article was written for writing teachers who hope to develop an ethical, rhetorical approach to teaching grammar.

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