One of the questions I hear frequently as a tutor is “What is an introduction, what is a conclusion, and what do I write in my conclusion?” This reminded me of a mechanism I use frequently, and thought I would share with you. To illustrate the essay and its introduction/conclusion, I use a common image that I feel everyone can relate to and understand, regardless of background.
Although I’ve been wearing my clogs everyday lately, when I wear sneakers (as I’m sure many of you do) and have shoelaces on, it makes this image even clearer. I use the shoelace to describe the essay as a whole, and look at the finer points of how it functions to describe the introduction and conclusion. Now mind you, this doesn’t work for every student–some find it a bit too abstract to latch on to–but I’ve found that at the very least, it doesn’t kill them.
An essay is much like a shoelace. It has two ends (a beginning and an end), with a lot of extra material in the middle. At one end, you have your introduction which essentially says, “This is what I WILL be arguing.” At the other end, you have your conclusion, stating “This is what I HAVE argued.” You cannot get from the one end of the shoelace to the other without that material in the middle, which are your body paragraphs. I believe that in most academic papers your introduction ties into your conclusion. The two ends of the shoelace come together into a bow, or knot, securing and completing the shoe (and shoe-wearing process). If the two ends of shoelace aren’t tied together in some way, it’s like wearing an untied sneaker–it’s loose and uncomfortable.
So how can you tie your shoelace?
Let’s use an essay dealing with some literary source, whether it be a book or work of poetry. The introduction should or could contain the author(s), book/poem title(s), any pertinent historical context if necessary, brief synopsis if necessary, and most importantly–the thesis. This functions as the “I WILL be arguing,” the beginning of your shoelace.
Now the conclusion, to tie the ends together, might want to hit on some similar things. For example–it’s sometimes beneficial, especially if you’re working with a multitude of secondary sources, to remind your reader what the primary sources are by mentioning the title again. You can restate the thesis in a different way, perhaps briefly reiterating how you’ve proven it through your research and exploration in the body paragraphs. Look at things in your introduction, then look through your body paragraphs, and try to discern where you have ended up from the beginning to the end. This will help you avoid some of the more common mistakes of conclusions–such as introducing new arguments, writing a contrived or cliche conclusion, or running off on a tangent.
If you remember that an essay is not separate sections, but rather separate parts of a whole, it should help you create a more structured essay. Just like the two ends of a shoelace are separate, they work together towards the common goal of a tighter, more polished shoe.