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Academic intros and conclusions: what scholars really do


Introductions and conclusions for academic papers are a bit more complex than what you may have done in high school. They get even more complex when you realize that there are many variations. This page explores the typical wrong assumptions about introductions and conclusions and suggests ways to make yours more academic.

Start with a big fat generalization??

Well, kind of.

Many students are taught that the proper way to start an essay (on, for example, hip-hop music in 21st century America) goes something like this:

Since the beginning of time, humankind has shown a great potential for art.

The principle is good–give some kind of foundation for the principle behind exploring hip-hop music–but it’s not specific enough for a good academic introduction. Many academics might create a foundation for the paper by citing prior academic discussions about the topic.

Instead, start with what other scholars have said

By telling the reader what has already been talked about in the field, you (1) introduce your topic in a focused way, (2) establish some of the ground rules for what you’ll be talking about, which you can then refer to later on in the essay, (3) and gain authority for yourself by showing that you’ve done your homework.

When it comes to analyzing the recent rise of hip-hop music in contemporary America, most scholars seem to focus on the contradiction between its role as a voice of protest and a voice of conformity. Robert Shopes has pointed to rap artists of the 1980s and early 90s as “using an innovative tone and vocabulary to speak of the class biases witnessed in inner-city communities” (73), while Julie Cade argues that those original messages have been watered down to reflecting a “celebrity lifestyle” that is both “misogynistic and self-aggrandizing” (17). Out of this debate, I aim to explore the following question….

Other common techniques that start academic papers

Here’s a list of things an MIT website suggests:

How about conclusions? Restate your “greatest hits”??

Again: kind of.

Most students are taught that their conclusions need to repeat the big points they make in the paper, and under no circumstances should bring up new ideas. These type of conclusions usually sound like this:

In conclusion, hip-hop music has grown to be a multimillion dollar industry. As stated previously…

But why repeat it if you’ve already said it? And why tell the reader “in conclusion”? It should be obvious you’re concluding.

Good academic conclusions don’t wrap things up

Scholars usually start papers by rehashing what other scholars have already said on the topic. In a similar fashion, academic papers try to “leave the door open” at the end of the paper for future scholars to pursue new ideas. Here’s Harvard’s list of ways to “close the discussion without closing it off”:

Conclude with a quotation from or reference to a primary or secondary source.

Use one that amplifies your main point or puts it in a different perspective. A quotation from, say, the novel or poem you’re writing about can add texture and specificity to your discussion; a critic or scholar can help confirm or complicate your final point.

Although this essay has demonstrated that most hip-hop artists fully acknowledge that it’s now “all about the money and the bitches” (Richards 284), this is not to say that hip-hop’s power is dead. Even the artist Flava-Flav, originally of the politically vocal group Public Enemy who now is the star of rap-commodified reality show “Flavor of Love,” has articulated an ambivalence to the money and success rap has brought its practitioners. In his own words during an episode of “Flavor of Love,” he said…

Conclude by setting your discussion into a different, perhaps larger, context.

While hip-hop’s change over the past 10 years from voice of protest to marketing vehicle is certainly the most concerning part of its evolution, it might also be important to consider the subsequent effect the idea of protest music. How, that is, can the socially marginalized in America’s inner cities voice their frustrations if rap’s power is watered-down and the hip-hop fashion is just that–a fashion statement? In other words, what clues does hip-hop’s evolution give us for what will be the new song of protest….

Conclude by redefining one of the key terms of your argument.

Perhaps, though, it is incorrect to assert so definitively that hip-hop has changed into a reified product that is marketed and sold to anyone who wants it. Instead, it might be more accurate to redefine what hip-hop really is. In fact, there are a number of underground artists–rappers, visual artists, street performers–who consciously eschew the fame and fortune of the mainstream. Instead, they focus on a more authentic, more grizzly form of hip-hop, which might better define what contemporary hip-hop really is. For example….

Conclude by considering the implications of your argument (or analysis or discussion).

What does your argument imply, or involve, or suggest? For example, an essay on the novel Ambiguous Adventure, by the Senegalese writer Cheikh Hamidou Kane, might open with the idea that the protagonist’s development suggests Kane’s belief in the need to integrate Western materialism and Sufi spirituality in modern Senegal. The conclusion might make the new but related point that the novel on the whole suggests that such an integration is (or isn’t) possible.

Three sample academic introductions/conclusions

Each example is very different in its approach but all of them are acceptably academic.

Tatiano Melguizo’s “Remedial/Developmental Education and the Cost of Community College Transfer: A Los Angeles County Sample“


While the most recent decades have recorded a continuous increase in student enrollment in higher education, the most salient trend is increasing numbers of students enrolling specifically in community colleges (Adelman, 2005). In fact, enrollments in community colleges grew 14% during the 1990s—a rate of approximately 5% more than higher education as a whole (ACE, 2004). The extent of community college enrollments is especially high in California. Recent data for the state revealed that approximately 73% of public undergraduates attend a community college; in contrast, 18% attend an institution from the California State system (CSU) and 9% an institution from the University of California system (UC). Community colleges have become popular choices for many low-income students because enrollment does not preclude living at home or concurrent employment. Despite high popularity, however, Shulock and Moore (2007a) contend that only a minority of students, 25% are successful in either attaining a certificate or an associate degree (A.A.), or in transferring to a four-year institution. Although a longitudinal study conducted by the California Community College Chancellor’s office released a slightly higher success estimate of 29%, the total number of students who transferred to a CSU or UC campus was 22% of their original sample (CPEC, 2007).Under a perfectly articulated system students would spend the first two years of their postsecondary education taking college-level courses, then would transfer as juniors to a four-year college. In reality, however, only a very slim minority of students fit this pattern. More typically, they spend four or more years at the community college and take over an academic year’s worth of courses below college-level courses before transferring (U.S. Department of Education, 2003). We asked the following research questions: 1. What were the actual monetary costs of transferring for individuals with different remediation needs? 2. What were the actual costs in terms of time of transferring for individuals with different remediation needs?


Community colleges are an alternative form of postsecondary education that will yield significant financial advantages for many students. A substantial majority of students of African American and Latino racial/ethnic backgrounds first attend the community college (Wassmer, Moore, & Shulock, 2004). For these students, frequently from underfunded and underperforming schools (Fry, 2002), community colleges provide the main opportunity to attain a postsecondary degree. The reality is that many of these students arrive with higher developmental needs that place them at risk of academic failure. It is true that the tuition and related costs of most community colleges are significantly less than those charged at public and private institutions. Furthermore, for students who use the community college wisely, transfer successfully, and earn a bachelor’s degree, the community college may be a cost-effective rational choice. However, the substantial majority of students with remediation needs will find the cost of transfer higher in both time and money than they anticipate.

Lad Tobin’s “Car Wrecks, Baseball Caps, and Man-to-Man Defense: The Personal Narratives of Adolescent Males”


As soon as Tim Flanagan skipped the second class of the semester, I had him pegged as a problem to be endured rather than a student to be taught. “Hey professor” (he missed the day when I asked them to call me by my first name), “Professor, you’re probably wondering where I was Thursday? Third row tickets to U2 Wednesday night. You couldn’t expect me to give that up, could you?” I should have asked right then what Wednesday night had to do with Thursday morning or joked about lowering his grade for not getting me a ticket to the concert or said that, yes, I did expect him to give it up if he couldn’t make it to class otherwise. But, for some reason, I just shrugged, smiled sickly, and muttered, “No, I guess not.” Like many teachers, I find I often have trouble with male students because they are either too aggressive or too passive; but unlike many teachers who feel this way for personal and perhaps unfair reason, I resented Ti Flanagan for perfectly legitimate ones: he almost always wore a baseball cap; I heard from a colleague that he was obnoxious; he was a sophomore who—because he had transferred into our university after his first year—was now disrupting the usual classroom dynamics of my freshman class; I knew he was in a fraternity because one day I saw him, wearing a blue blazer, red tie, and satisfied expression, make another student, wearing a clown outfit, do fifty pushups.


Rather than confronting these male students, male teachers may need occasionally to disarm them with empathy. In some sense, I think that this is the corollary to the advice of some feminists, including bell hooks and Susan Jarrett, that female students may benefit more from “an oppositional worldview” than from the “safe and nurturing classroom” that most female teachers try to provide (Jarrett 120). In my own experience, I have found that most resistant male students are much less resistant to one-to-one conferences than they are in class. When I met with Tim in conference, for example, I told him what I liked about his writing and how interested I was in his comments about struggling with authority, he began to relax and open up. When he handed in his final portfolio, he included this note: “I tried to write more about why I was such a rebellious kid but I couldn’t fit it into my shoplifting essay. I did decide to include it in the portfolio, though.” And he did.

Heidi Westerlund’s “Justifying Music Education: A View from Here-and-Now Value Experience” (2008)


In general, the discourse on the justification and rationale of music education has been a matter of various versions of the “whats” and “whys” in music education. As Bennett Reimer writes: “[T]he starting point is always an examination of values linked to the question, ‘Why and for what purpose should we educate?” (3). Likewise, Wayne Bowman indicates “musical value is always value for some end or purpose” (4). While defining the ends and purposes of music, educators have commonly made a distinction between ‘aesthetic’ or ‘musical’ and ‘utilitarian’ purposes. Using this distinction, aesthetic usually refers to the musical and artistic goals of music education, for instance, understanding, experiencing, or cognizing the values and principles of music, whereas the utilitarian rationale has referred to various educational benefits such as the development of self-discipline, self-esteem, or the social significance of music-making (5). Typically, it has been agreed that the ultimate end of neither music nor music education is extra-musical and therefore the rationale and thus the value is searched for in the specifically musical; in how music is different from other things in life and other subjects in education.


As such, Dewey’s theory of valuation offers no final answers as to how to improve today’s music education. It is meant to be “an intellectual or methodological means” that can be developed only in and by use (59). However, it may give us the relevant tools required for thinking which “leave us a little better off here and there,” as Lachs has put it (60), by encouraging teachers to study not only the cultural changes that take place in society but also the culture of education and the quality of educational processes—the “hows” in the classroom. It even encourages a revolutionary reconstruction of practices when the previous ones have not been working to involve every learner equally, on their own terms, in activities that support their interest in music learning. It this way, perhaps, an evolving and democratically inclusive musical culture is built up in schools.