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Writing effective introductions and conclusions

A good paper presents the reader with a logical, clear and detailed argument. The main strands and structure of this argument should be established clearly in the introduction. The conclusion of an paper should then bring these strands together, and reiterate the most important parts in order to convince the reader of the main argument. This does not mean the argument should come to a simplistic solution-type conclusion, but rather that whatever has been explored, once the evidence has been weighed/the text analysed/the situation assessed, should be clearly stated so that the reader of the paper has a clear understanding of the subject. This means that introductions and conclusions need to be clearly written: they are probably the sections of the paper which will need the most tweaking and re-drafting in the re-writing process.

A good introduction should:

  • indicate that you understand,  are addressing the question and how you are interpreting it
  • establish what you will be arguing and how
  • begin to define the key terms of the paper
  • locate your argument in a critical debate

Consider the examples below. In bold I have indicated what the writer is doing to introduce their argument.

 

"Traditionally, food security is defined (definition) in terms of either food self-sufficiency or food self-reliance. The former requires production of various food items in the quantities consumed domestically while the latter requires domestic availability. Based on this distinction, self-sufficiency rules out imports as a source of supply while self-reliance admits them. In modern times, given much larger worldwide capacity to produce food than consume it, few restrictions on the exports of food items in countries with the excess capacity, and the availability of the means of transportation that allow their rapid movement internationally, self-sufficiency makes little economic sense. Instead, what countries need is sufficient capacity to generate foreign exchange by specializing in goods of their comparative advantage and import the excess of quantities consumed over those produced (understanding, addressing, interpreting). Therefore, accepting food self-reliance as the means to achieve food security, we may ask how the liberalization of trade in agriculture including food will impact developing countries. In attempting to answer this question, we must distinguish between importers and exporters of the products as also between liberalization in the developed and developing countries. If the objective is to study the impact on the poor, much finer analysis is required since we must decompose the effects at the national level into effects on the poor and non-poor. This is clearly a complex exercise even conceptually so that our goals should be modest. Specifically, it may be wiser to focus on the impact of liberalization on broad groups within the nation rather than go all the way down to the household level as ambitiously suggested by McCulloch et al. (2001) (context of critical debate).1 The rest of the paper is divided into four sections. Section 2 offers some stylized facts on agricultural trade of developing countries. The objective here is to identify how many developing countries are exporters of food and agriculture and how many of them are importers. In Section 3, I successively ask how liberalization by the OECD and developing countries will impact the national welfare of the latter. In Section 4, I offer a stylized analysis of how we can translate the national-level effect into the effect on the poor. I conclude the paper in Section 5  (how argument shaped)"

From: Panagariya, A Trade and Food Security: Conceptualizing the Linkages, presented at "Trade, Agricultural Development and food security" FAO, Rome, July 2002

A good conclusion should:

  • sum up the main strands of your argument
  • refer back to the main points of the paper question and be consistent with your introduction
  • clearly establish a point, or position (which could be quite complex), reiterating the evidence which justifies this position.
  • making appropriate recommendations from these conclusions

If possible, a good conclusion should hint at possible wider implications/debates beyond the remit of the paper - i.e. establish wider relevance.

"The main aim of this paper was to develop a general framework for assessment to evaluate the ability of RIAs to serve as effective mechanisms for ‘commitment’ and ‘signalling’. Such a framework is needed, because on the one hand the effect of locking-in reform and enhancing its credibility is generally regarded as one of the most important effects of regional integration. On the other hand, however, and illustrated by the case of the Syrian-European Association Agreement, this is only true if an RIA fulfils several rather tight conditions as regards form, content and choice of partner (sum up main points) (refer back) [...] Despite several shortcomings, this agreement should be able to deliver an appropriate mechanism for signaling and commitment and thus to improve credibility of the Syrian process of reform at home and abroad. By stipulating numerous and substantial reforms, it enables the Syrian government to send clear signals about its ‘true’ motives [...] For this reason the agreement’s potential to lock-in reform, enhance its credibility and to encourage the Syrian government to shift its tax and political basis from declining import-substituting to growing export-oriented sectors could be improved significantly if some adjustments of the agreements’ provisions were considered (a position established). Those adjustments could include, for example, a further expansion of agricultural concessions, less restrictive rules of origin and the abolition of contingent protection. Moreover, to help the Syrian administration to come to terms with the high short-term adjustment costs and to strengthen domestic administrative capacities, the EU should be prepared to provide Syria with substantially increased technical and financial assistance (suggestions) [...] Thus, these agreements do not promise to deliver significant benefits for participating developing countries in terms of locking-in reform and enhancing its credibility."

From: Zorob, A The Potential of Regional Integration Agreements (RIAs) in Enhancing the Credibility of Reform: The Case of the Syrian-European Association Agreement, May 2007