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Write Introductions and Conclusions

What is an introduction? Why is it important?

As the opening of an essay, the introduction is your opportunity to make a good first impression, indicate why your essay is interesting or important, and to clearly set out what you will argue and how you will proceed to argue it. It is also your first opportunity to control the way the essay will be received. An introduction should:

  • Discuss larger concepts in which the thesis argument or objectives are situated
  • Define or state a problem or issue you will address
  • Clearly outline exactly what the paper will argue or explore in relation to this problem or issue

How should the introduction be organized?

The majority of introductions situate your argument or exploration within a larger discourse and provide a rationale for the ensuing argument. As such, your introduction provides an opportunity to limit the scope of your discussion by contextualizing a specific argument within a larger discourse; in other words, it informs your reader of where your essay fits in the larger context of the field, novel, study, or philosophy you are addressing. Simultaneously, it limits your field to a workable subject.

Beyond this basic format, however, each discipline will have specific expectations of introductions.

What to avoid in an introduction

  • Including information that does not relate to your thesis
  • Not explaining the link between the information and your thesis. (If everything in your introduction is relevant and relates to your thesis, it will set up a clear, strong argument for your essay.)
  • Using generalizations that cannot be supported. Using words like all, throughout, always, and never, or phrases like "since the beginning of time" are often difficult to prove. If you suspect your claim might be too general, try asking yourself what kind of evidence would be needed to support it; if the answer is beyond reasonable expectations, then your claim is too general
  • Asking questions that you do not answer. Instead of asking a rhetorical question such as "How could women survive in a harsh physical environment if they were also bound to strict tenets of dress and manners?" turn these kinds of questions into statements, such as "In a harsh physical environment such as the Canadian wilderness, it was infeasible for women to adhere to the strict tenets of Victorian dress and manners."

What is a conclusion? Why is it important?

Not all papers have a formal conclusion, but most will have a paragraph or two that reinforces the argument.

In both the sciences and the humanities, the conclusion is the last section of an essay, where the argument and supporting points are reiterated and solidified for the reader, but most importantly where the wider implications of the argument are discussed. A conclusion should extend outward; it should:

  • Summarize the argument and supporting points
  • Give a sense of completeness and clarity
  • Indicate why your paper was important or interesting by linking it to, or evaluating it in, a greater context or significance
  • Indicate what has been learned

How should the conclusion be organized?

Unlike the introduction, the conclusion should begin by reiterating what is most specific: your thesis and supporting points. It should move beyond this to discuss the thesis argument in a larger context.

The elements of a conclusion should follow this order:

  1. Restatement of thesis: using different words, remind the reader of what your essay argued.
  2. Summary of supporting arguments: review how you proved your argument.
  3. The significance of the argument in a larger context: link the essay to an importance beyond the limits of your essay. You may want to: Discuss how your thesis argument contributes to a wider context. This could be the context of the course or discipline as a whole.

Indicate what can be learned from the essay

  • Suggest other possible approaches or solutions
  • Suggest where further research should happen
  • Refer back to a metaphor or quotation used in the introduction and discuss its implications
  • Try to address the question "If what I have argued is true, then what does this mean?"
  • Ending: indicates to the reader that the essay has come to an end. Make sure your final statement flows logically from the rest of your conclusion. Do not leave the reader expecting more

For example:

Regardless of class, Upper Canada represented a new society beyond the ordinary comprehension of the British citizen. Thus when 655,747 people left the shores of Britain between 1831 and 1841, many had no idea what awaited them in the New World. Those strongly influenced by the sensible and liberal moralities of the Victorian era were shocked at the primitive Canadian society that greeted them off the ship. While some hurried back to Britain when life in Upper Canada proved hard, many families fronted by strong women such as Catharine Parr Traill and Susanna Moodie stayed to take their chances in the liberating isolation of the backwoods. "Let [women] at once cast aside all vain oppositions and selfish regrets and hopefully look to their future as to a land of promise," Parr Traill proclaimed in The Canadian Settler's Guide. Indeed, Parr Traill and Moodie represent a larger movement of strong women who challenged Victorian gender ideologies and to lead to the establishment of a new society in Upper Canada.

This example discusses of the significance of the argument in a larger context, placing the lives of the two women examined in the paper in a greater historical context of the migration of a group of British people to Canada. It ends by mentioning the future, which suggests that the event discussed was part of a larger process and led to further outcomes, and indicates a sense of completion.

What to avoid in a conclusion

In order to make sure your conclusion is effective, be sure to watch out for:

  • Providing only a summary. The conclusion should do more than simply restate the thesis. It should continue to make the reader think.
  • Rhetorically rich, but meaningless statements. For example, "Critical and conflicting research highlights that there is a lot of information yet to gather and analyse before we can fully understand this topic." This sentence does not actually tell your reader anything.
  • Introducing new evidence. This requires more explanation and analysis, and makes it difficult to give a sense of completion.

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