Editing: introduction and conclusionPosted: March 23, 2009
Some strategies and variations on dealing with introductions and conclusions–ways of making them seem less hideous and monstrous.
- Introduction: in media res (in the middle). Can be effective, particularly to establish a story or narrative for your essay. Since you are dealing with film, think about starting with a close-up, in one moment from one scene, then pulling back to get the larger view of the essay, ask questions, indicate where you are going.
- Conclusion: circle back to beginning. Can tie in with the strategy above. End by circling back to a moment from your text that you opened with, but now go back to that with greater insight. Films do this when we begin at an end, and the film is showing us how we got there.
- Keywords: set-up some keywords that your reader will look for throughout the essay (think of them as the hyperlinks that your reader will be following); then reiterate those keywords in the conclusion. This can help you avoid merely re-stating or repeating in your conclusion. See Jen’s example.
- Start with a vivid image or line from the text: both catches attention, but also a key image/idea that you will go on to reflect upon in the essay, get back to, look at from different angles. See Erin’s example.
- Conclusion: raise some larger implications. Can be tricky, since a conclusion can’t start a brand new argument or offer a new thesis. But a good essay will leave your reader thinking and (we hope) will have them begin to think about other places where they could take your thesis and make further applications. One way to do this with a text (print or film): suggest a passage at the end that you didn’t deal with, but that would be interesting to view from the perspective of your thesis. How your critical vision might help readers re-think or re-vise our understanding of other aspects of this author’s work, related questions and topics. Leave your reader not just with a good understanding of what you focused on, but what the larger stake or implication of that focus is.
- Introduction: two-step thesis set up. Something we have seen Hayles and others do: an initial set up of the focus in one paragraph, perhaps raising a key question; then a refined, and more complicated statement of your thesis, or how you plan to answer that question in a second paragraph.
- Meta-commentary: don’t be afraid to speak directly to your reader at key points in your introduction and conclusion, to signal a point of emphasis. “In other words”; “What I mean by this”; “As I have said, my thesis is”; “Let me clarify this point”; “This is an important point, worth emphasizing”. These are effective signals; they can enable you to repeat without being too repetitive.
Examples to consider from our Writing Center consultants:
Jen Malat: excerpt from a thesis chapter (introduction and conclusion) about film versions of Pride and Prejudice.
Strategy: Don't try to cram every important idea into one thesis statement. Use a few sentences that set up the work and broad ideas of the paper, then use your actual thesis statement to present the most specific and interesting point made by your paper. Here, I started with a broad statement that sets up the modern context I want the paper to address because the paper is examining a contemporary film and the aspects of our culture that it reflects. By spreading a thesis statement into several sentences, the layers of the argument (culture, film, and text) can be clearly established. The conclusion also acknowledges the multiple media of the paper and extends that cultural context to a statement about how the themes of the film relate to each other.
The countless self-help guides lining bookstore shelves highlight the modern confusion over how romance is structured and how to navigate through turbulent emotional waters. This confusion is especially true during early romances while one is growing up, a theme that is explored in countless novels, songs, and movie. It follows, then, that recent adaptations of Pride and Prejudice would be eager to explore these modern themes with beloved characters and a well-known title. The most recent big-screen adaptation of Austen’s novel, director Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice starring Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew Macfayden as Fitzwilliam Darcy, consistently highlights physicality, nature, and romance. By constructing the adaptation as romance rather than social commentary, the filmmakers track the maturation of Elizabeth. The very setting and visual aesthetic of the film highlight Elizabeth’s uncertainties about her body and reflects her emotional vacillations regarding the movement into adulthood, as the film depicts romance as the catalyst for her coming of age.
The filmmakers have capitalized on the power of the visual imagery of film to achieve their ends and reinvent the period piece for the modern audience, as “youth-oriented filmmaking techniques balances with the visual pleasures of the heritage film” (Dole). The difficulties of navigating the body highlight emotional uncertainty and the always-relevant theme of coming of age. The changes, both textual and visual, drastically manipulate the social focus of Austen’s satiric writing into a more intimate story. Though many of the alterations in the film can be attributed to time constraints or a conscious appeal to female and teen demographics, there still remains the profound cultural desire for a strong female lead who manages to gain self-empowerment while achieving a fairy-tale ending as a material reward. Marriage is portrayed as the end point for socially approved sexual desire, which leads to greater self-knowledge and helps a modern woman fulfill her demands for adulthood.
Erin O’Hare: from her thesis work on Shakespeare.
Strategy: Use a vivid image (quote from the text or a supporting source, specific visual image from a scene, etc.) to immediately capture your reader’s interest. If one has stuck out to you in your reading, it might be an interesting starting point for your essay.
Here, instead of using a typical “In this play…” introduction, I use a quote that mirrors the issues I highlight throughout the essay (and this is a long essay). The idea of “cause” present in the chosen quote and the other issues addressed in the described scene introduce and support the complex argument formed within the paper.
I use this technique again in the conclusion, much to the same effect—I have chosen to end the essay just as it began, with a vivid image enhanced by quote (and a quote from that very same scene, nonetheless) that the reader will see over and over each time he or she thinks about the essay.
“It is the cause,” the deteriorated Othello moans in the final scene of Shakespeare’s Othello: The Moor of Venice. “…[It] is the cause, my soul;/ Let me not name it to you, you chaste stars,/ It is the cause” (5.2.1-3). “It” is the image of his wife Desdemona, her white skin “smooth as monumental alabaster,” an image the Moor cannot bring himself to deface despite the fact that it has already destructed his own sense of self. It is the last scene in a tragedy that, through iconography (the creation of images), idolatry (a worship of image), and iconoclasm (destruction of image), explores “the disruptions, conflicts, and radical changes wrought by the Protestant Reformation.”
Shakespeare’s movement through acts of iconography, idolatry, and iconoclasm in rehearsal of the audience’s own fears, instructs his audience on the proper way of looking at images. He places a play within a play for eyes to gaze upon without becoming enthralled by the immediate spectacle before them, using the tragic genre to evoke the most human of emotions rooted firstly in fear, as they become aware of rather than part of Iago’s revenge tragedy. Though he employs Protestant rhetoric and works to attack a certain form in order to build another, Shakespeare cannot completely destruct the dramatic form, much as Othello cannot bring himself to “shed [Desdemona’s] blood,/ Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow” (5.2.3-4). And yet it is the cause, and theater, at least in its idolatrous Catholic form, “must die, else she’ll betray more men” (5.2.6).