The Writing Center

Introductions and Conclusions for Humanities Papers

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Introductions

What is the purpose of an introduction in the Humanities field?

  • An introduction is often compared to a funnel that begins broadly by contextualizing the topic and then narrows down to the thesis statement. It gives the reader a first impression of the paper and often tells the reader what question or issue the paper is attempting to resolve and/or negotiate.

  • Sometimes, but not often, an introduction can be more than one paragraph.

An ideal introduction will incorporate some or all of these goals:

  • Define the topic (issue, question, or problem) and why it matters.

  • Show method of approach to topic.

  • Provide necessary background information or context.

  • State the thesis the paper will develop.

Some Possible Ways to Begin:

  • Begin with questions that will be answered.

  • Contrast two different views/aspects of a topic.

  • Describe an experience related to the topic.

  • Start with a narrative to set the scene.

  • State the counterargument before leading to your own.

  • Give a brief summary of the text or event.

How much information should I give up front? Ask yourself:

  • How much can I assume my readers know about my subject?

  • Which parts of the research and/or the background are important enough to include in an introduction?

  • Should I present an “open thesis,” which tells my reader only my position on a topic, or a “closed thesis,” which tells my reader both my position and the reason why?

  • Which are essential parts of my plan or road map to include?


Three ways to know if you are doing too much in the introduction:

1) Are you digressing?

  • Providing too much background

  • Starting at a point too far away from the paper’s immediate concerns ex. “Since the beginning of time...”

  • Assuming your readers know nothing about the subject

2) Is the introduction incoherent?

  • Trying to preview too much of the paper’s conclusion before points are laid out

  • Making few or no connections between sentences

  • Covering too many areas at once

3) Are you prejudging?

• Appearing to have already settled the question posed in your paper

 

Sample Introduction

(Hacker, Diana. Rules for Writers. 4th ed. Boston: Bedford/St Martins, 2001.)

Explanation

On April 23, 1994, as Barbara Schoener was jogging in the Sierra foothills of California, she was pounced on from behind by a mountain lion. After an apparent struggle with her attacker, Schoener was killed by bites to her neck and head (Rychnovsky 39). In 1996, because of Schoener’s death and other highly publicized attacks, California politicians presented voters with Proposition 197, which contained provisions repealing much of a 1990 law enacted to protect the lions. The 1990 law outlawed sport hunting of mountain lions and even prevented the Department of Fish and Game from thinning the lion population.

Proposition 197 was rejected by a large margin, probably because the debate turned into a struggle between hunting and antihunting factions. When California politicians revisit the mountain lion question, they should frame the issue in a new way. A future proposition should retain the ban on sport hunting but allow the Department of Fish and Game to control the population. Wildlife management would reduce the number of lion attacks on humans and in the long run would also protect the lions.

This introduction moves from the general to the specific. It defines the topic and why it matters and provides the necessary background information or context using a narrative to provide context for the relevant facts to the thesis. The thesis asserts the main point.

Conclusions

What is the purpose of a conclusion in the Humanities field?

  • The conclusion leaves the reader with the information and/or impact that the writer wants; it is often what the reader remembers most by providing the final discharge of energy that the paper has built up. It is the writer’s last chance to convince the reader. A conclusion often suggests larger implications now that the evidence has been presented.

Strategies for writing effective conclusions:

  • Make a useful analogy or comparison.

  • Suggest specific actions that the reader should take in light of the information you've provided.

  • Speculate about what your thesis implies for the future.

  • Make a brief remark that sums up your feelings.

An ideal conclusion will incorporate some or all of these goals:

Note: Always be mindful that different disciplines have different academic conventions, but they are all looking for the same three basic things in a conclusion in varying degrees: judgment, culmination, and send-off.

  • Judgment—Since the conclusion appears at the end of the paper, it is an appropriate place for the writer to state any judgment that stems from the issues the paper has brought up. It often connects with the introduction and repeats key terms. Also, it can revisit why the topic matters.

  • Culmination—The conclusion is where everything should come together. It should not merely summarize; it should “ascend to one final statement of your thinking” (Rosenwasser and Stephen 201).

  • Send-Off—The judgment and the culmination should form the basis of the send-off. This point is where the writer can draw broader conclusions.

Typical problems in conclusions:

  • The mirror image (the most common problem)—the writer merely repeats the thesis and summarizes the main points—a dull and mechanical conclusion.
  • The unnecessary summary—only lengthy, complex papers need a conclusion that summarizes the material covered in the paper. Otherwise, just a brief recap of the paper’s main points will suffice.

  • The empty cliché—"So ends the analysis of myself and the question of who am I has been answered in a brief form."

  • The unnecessary announcement—"And in conclusion, let me say...."

  • The trite truism—"And as for the future, only time will tell."

  • The wastebasket ending—do not try in the final paragraph to say everything you didn't have room for in

    the body of the paper.

  • The fade-out—"Researchers have so much more to discover in this area. Whatever we say now will be

    superseded in the near future."

  • The wild surmise—"From this we see the utter futility of ever trying to help another person."

Sample Conclusion

(Hacker, Diana. Rules for Writers. 4th ed. Boston: Bedford/St Martins, 2001.)

Explanation

In conclusion, wildlife management would benefit both Californians and the California lions. Although some have argued that California needs fewer people, not fewer lions, humans do have an obligation to protect themselves and their children, and the fears of people in lion country are real. As for the lions, they need to thrive in a natural habitat with an adequate food supply. “We simply cannot let nature take its course,” writes Terry Mansfield of the Department of Fish and Game (qtd. in Perry B4). In fact, not to take action in California is as illogical as reintroducing the lions to Central Park and Boston Common, places they once also roamed.

It concludes with the writer’s stand on the issue after the facts have been presented. It also ends with the writer’s own words and gives broader implications as to the future of the issue.

 
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