Good comedians are masters of the call back. A call back is where the comedian tells a joke late in the set which recalls a joke told earlier on. The audience experiences a sense of familiarity. It’s as if they are part of an ongoing conversation. They are ‘in the know’ because they heard about the topic earlier. The comedian has layered one joke on top of another.
Sometimes the comedian carries a running reference across several shows. If you can bear the four letter words and other rude bits, then here’s a collection of Eddie Izzard’s Jeff jokes. They’re dedicated to his brother – yes, he’s called Jeff. Anyone who follows Izzard can expect a Jeff joke at some point in his routine. Izzard uses Jeff as his call back.
When the call back is the very last joke told in the set, the audience get a sense of having come full circle. There is a pleasing symmetry to their experience – hearing, at the very end, a reference to the beginning of the comedic sequence creates a sense of neat closure.
The same sense of connection needs to be made in the standard journal article.
The opening gambit of the average journal article not only connects with and interests the reader, but creates the warrant for the paper. It sets out a problem, question, puzzle, issue of pressing concern, problematic understanding, debate or gap in knowledge and puts it in a broad context. The introduction then goes on to say why it is important that the problem, question, puzzle etc. is addressed. The text next focuses down, saying what this particular paper will do – often in fact as “This paper will… “ – and it states how the paper will address the topic.
In this sequence, the introduction creates a readerly expectation that by the end of the paper the reader will not only know about something specific, but that this specific something will speak to the bigger problem, question, puzzle, issue of pressing concern, problematic understanding, debate or gap in knowledge.
And so to the call back. At the end of the paper, in the conclusion, the paper comes full circle back to the problem, puzzle, issue of pressing concern, problematic understanding, debate or gap in knowledge. The initial rationale for the paper is re-called. And this call back creates the structure for, and positions the writer to answer, the So What, Now What and Who Cares answer. The call back creates the statement of contribution.
The idea of the call back as the framing for a journal article can be very helpful as it focuses the writer’s attention on the need to attend to the links between the start and end of the paper, to construct a connection, to produce some symmetry.
The call back also works for the thesis where the Introduction and Conclusion have to relate strongly to each other with the former establishing the warrant for the study and the latter arguing how the challenge set up at the outset has been met, and why it matters.
Call back. A handy idea. Those comedians are onto something.