Twentieth-century rhetorician and literary scholar I.A. Richards once said that “Composition is supplying at the right time and place whatever the developing discourse then and there requires.” His remark speaks to the fact that discourse (derived from the Latin term discurre, which means to run along forward), is projective in nature. I tell my students that any sentence in an essay (including its first and final sentences), has a Janus-like function. Like the Roman demi-god who guarded gates and doorways, each sentence “looks back” to what came before and looks forward to the next sentence. Each sentence, therefore, looks to the past and to the future. In order to make meaning, readers must run along its forward-leaning course. Successfully guiding readers from place to place, marking places of transition, providing bridges between where we’ve been and where we’re going is the task of a successful writer. Linguists call this forward-leaning momentum coherence.
Introductions move the reader from a level of familiarity (what they already likely know about) to questions, concerns, and issues they are likely less familiar with, take them from the known to the about-to-be-established. Most introductory sections used in writing across the disciplines (an introduction may be a paragraph in length, but it’s more likely to unfold over several paragraphs) follow a standard structure
that, fleshed out, looks like this:
This handout describes these parts in greater detail, and offers some additional examples.
Aim for one or two paragraphs that suggest new questions, new avenues of inquiry, or new potential connections between the argument just made and other arguments, ongoing unsettled debates, new inquiries, new research, etc.
Here are some sample approaches to conclusions:
❶ Establish the relevance of the argument just made to the wider social or intellectual world.
In our present political moment, when many citizens are losing faith in the traditions of democratic governance and question the health of democratic ideals such as independent thought, personal freedoms, and justice, Susan Griffin’s “Liberty” provides a potential model for reclaiming the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence. Her method for rediscovering values introduced in childhood models a procedure for placing us back on the path to democratic wellness. Her method can be practiced by conceivably any citizen who wishes to fortify his or her understanding of how democratic values come into our lives. It catalyzes deep, critical reflection in the face of political anxiety and focuses its energy on individual agency while it supports what might be called “political insight,” of a sort not unlike the founding fathers, who looked inward for their revolutionary lights. In our era of collapsing political ethics, it may be important than ever for each citizen to engage in value recovery of the very sort that she recommends.
❷ Locate how the argument just made may help us to understand some persistent problem.
Adding to its value as an experiment in political thinking, Griffin’s work may hold educational utility in civic education. For some time, educators have struggled to locate a set of tools for enhancing their students’ understandings of complex political values such as justice, equality, and freedom. Like many other citizens, students tend to envision these as important but abstract ideals that bear little connection to the process of living one’s civic life. Susan Griffin can guide us in bridging the disconnect between political ideals and personal realities, helping citizens understand that personal reflection holds public benefits.
❸ Identify new questions that the argument catalyzes.
If by locating the social and personal effects of commonplace metaphors associated with illness we can glimpse the ways in which an ideology, potent in the public sphere, operates in the private realm of the body, then we can envision how other metaphors used within a community hold similar consequences. Think, for instance, of how the notion of family has been extended by politicians, corporate leaders, and other public figures beyond its literal meaning of kin to include everyone who may be affected by that leader’s actions. By drawing on the feelings associated with real families, the stipulated “family” somehow feels that the leader, in a maternal or paternal guise, works on behalf of the family members, cares for them, perhaps loves them. Of nearly any such root images, we might ask: Under what conditions do metaphors slip from metaphoric to effectively literal meanings? Can a term that has undergone such transformation reclaim its original status? And, more puzzlingly, how can we resist language that will seem to others natural rather than invented, inevitable rather than a choice?
❹ Suggest pathways for future research.
There is still a great deal we do not know about the nature and power of the war frame that needs to be addressed in future research. For example, just how widespread and universal is the use of war metaphors? Lakoff and Johnson (1980) suggested that because Americans “live by” the metaphor argument is war, they would have trouble recognizing, not to mention comprehending, the arguments of another culture whose disputes are structured in terms of a different source domain (e.g. argument is a dance). Yet some scholars have pushed back on these claims, arguing war is not even the dominant organizing principle for thinking about arguments among American English speakers (Howe, 2007; Richie 2003). As we have seen, many important social and political issues are frequently discussed in terms of war in American public discourse, so it is vital to address these issues with empirical rigor, and to examine whether the same thing holds true in other cultural contexts. Are elections, diseases, crime, and economic issues understood in terms of war metaphors in other countries, and, if not, what are the alternatives? Even in war metaphors are commonplace, do people in different cultures think about wars in the same way, or does the war schema itself depend on context?