Archive for September 19th, 2010

At loose ends

19 September 2010

By Juliana Adelman

A friend of mine has just finished the manuscript to her first book.  Last week, as deadline panic set in and she tried to decide how much further revision was both necessary and feasible, she made an observation that struck me: historians pay more attention to introductions than conclusions.  She was worried about her conclusion but felt she had less advice and experience to fall back on as to how to shape it.  I tried to think of a history book with a strikingly good conclusion.  A brief recourse to my bookshelf seemed to prove my friend’s point: many of the books didn’t have a conclusion at all.  Several of them were fewer than five pages in length.  Does the type of introduction historians prefer obviate a conclusion?  Or do we go in like a lion and then, by acknowledging alternative interpretations, out like a lamb?  Is narrative so passé that conclusions are rendered impossible?

I tend to think that an introduction and a conclusion do two different things.  The introduction tries to catch the reader’s attention, it says ‘You should read this book and if you do you will discover…’.  The conclusion doesn’t just say ‘Since you read this book you now know…’. A good conclusion gives you something more than a summary.  But what?  Two undergraduate writing websites, from Dartmouth College and University of North Carolina, offered useful if not fully satisfying answers. Read More