Introductions, Conclusions, and Shoelaces

Just like shoelaces, essays come in all different colors and forms.

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.

The shoelace.

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.

Posted in Academic Advice.

4 Comments

  1. Well, first of all I would like to say awesome site….second…where were you earlier this term!! =P
    Actually what I did want to ask was, should the intro and conclusion be pretty much the same? What should be different between the two? Normally in my essays, I state the topic and thesis in the intro and do pretty much the same thing in the conclusion. Some profs will say something, others won’t. Am I missing something? I think cover most of what you said, except I think there is something I’m not doing.

  2. Hi Sarah!

    You’re definitely on the right track by restating the topic/thesis in your conclusion. What you need to remember is that an essay is a journey–you start your introduction by giving the reader what you WILL be arguing. So let’s say I have 2 cats (which I do!) and that I’m arguing my Persian is nicer than my Shorthair. I would do all my introductory material, and have my thesis: “Overall, I truly believe my Persian cat is nicer than my Shorthair cat.”

    In my body paragraphs, I would provide evidence such as (a) my Persian does not run away when strangers come, (b) my Shorthair runs away, (c) my Persian is very active and always willing to play and (d) my Shorthair is older and is not as willing to play.

    In the conclusion, I would then restate my thesis in a new way. “All cats have different personalities. In my case, my shorthair’s temperament is not as kind as my Persian’s.” Then I would consolidate my body arguments to show how I’ve proved this thesis. “Because my Persian is unafraid of strangers and is willing to play, versus my shorthair who is too old and timid to do so, it is apparent that she is a kinder cat.” And then you want a concluding sentence to give the essay a “final thought” without introducing new arguments. “Although one may be kinder than the other, I love both of my cats equally.”

    Essentially it boils down to: (1) Restate the thesis/argument, (2) restate author’s or books if a literary paper, (3) briefly consolidate your arguments to clearly illustrate how it proves your thesis, and (4) create a “wrap-up” sentence which gives the essay the “final thought,” but don’t introduce a new argument!

    Thanks for the comment and good luck! Hope this helped!

  3. Thanks so much! No one ever tells you this stuff in school *sigh*
    Also, Persians are sooo cute 🙂

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