6f- Concluding in a Meaningful Way

After the long work of spend­ing a semes­ter, trimester, or quar­ter con­duct­ing ethno­graph­ic research, build­ing your essay, mak­ing mean­ing­ful con­nec­tions, using effec­tive sup­port­ing detail from pri­ma­ry and sec­ondary source mate­r­i­al, and writ­ing evoca­tive prose, two words can call to you –“The End.” The desire to fin­ish, to be done, to turn in the final paper by just repeat­ing what you said you were going to write about can be strong. Nev­er­the­less, the con­clu­sion to your essay is much more than an easy fin­ish to the task.

When you have fin­ished devel­op­ing the first three sec­tions of your essay, be pre­pared to artic­u­late what it all means to you and what it all might mean for your read­ers. That is, once you have decid­ed, “I am going to write about X,” you need to begin to think about why you want to write about X.  What is the point?  Why would any­one want to know this?  How can you use this obser­va­tion to say some­thing impor­tant, or pow­er­ful about our behav­iors or pat­terns?  How can we use our larg­er obser­va­tions to sug­gest ways in which we might improve human exis­tence?

OK, the notion of “improv­ing human exis­tence” may be a bit extreme, but just as in the final para­graphs of the Research Pro­pos­al and the Resource Review, your final rhetor­i­cal work needs to address the larg­er “So What?” ques­tion. As you con­clude your work, you might want to think about a two-pronged struc­ture — con­sid­er the local/personal impli­ca­tions and con­sid­er the global/collective impli­ca­tions.  In essence, you will return to the begin­ning of your essay, the begin­ning of your own process, and talk a bit about what your project has meant to you, has done for you with respect to shift­ing your mind­set.  From this per­son­al per­spec­tive you then move to con­sid­er how a glob­al per­spec­tive might be affect­ed by what you have found.  Can your find­ings fur­ther explain or pro­vide tex­ture for under­stand­ing?  Do they sug­gest a loca­tion of hope regard­ing some social issue?

These con­clu­sions need not be earth-shat­ter­ing in the sense that you pro­pose the solu­tion to some spe­cif­ic prob­lem.  Rather, ethno­graph­ic writ­ing, in illus­trat­ing com­plex­i­ty, often has the effect of encour­ag­ing tol­er­ance or increas­ing under­stand­ing of oth­ers, of oth­er sit­u­a­tions, of alter­nate “par­tial truths.”  If you have a han­dle on how your “par­tial truths” have shift­ed and been rewrit­ten over the course of the semes­ter, you are on your way to sug­gest­ing ways that we can col­lec­tive­ly con­sid­er the par­tial­i­ty of glob­al, uni­ver­sal Truth. Your con­clu­sion serves to rein­force the “what mat­ters” of your writ­ing.