Writing a Conclusion
It is not unusual to want to rush when approaching the conclusion, and even experienced writers may fade during the labor of writing an essay. However, what good writers remember is that it is vital to put just as much attention into the conclusion as in the rest of the essay. After all, a hasty ending can undermine an otherwise strong essay.
A conclusion that does not correspond with the rest of the essay, has loose ends, or is unorganized can unsettle the reader and raise doubts about the entire essay. However, if the student has worked hard to write the introduction and body, the conclusion can often be the most logical part to compose.
The Anatomy of a Strong Conclusion
The ideas in the conclusion must conform to the rest of the essay. But in a sense it’s easier to think of the conclusion of an essay as making the essay come full circle.
When students are asked what they think about writing conclusions to essays, the response is usually less than enthusiastic. When asked what makes conclusion paragraphs an unsatisfying part of their essay, the responses are often the same.
“I have nothing else to say. I’ve already said everything.”
“I know I’m supposed to summarize my main points, but I feel stupid doing that when I just stated all those points.”
A conclusion paragraph that is based primarily in summary is also less than satisfying for readers. It feels almost disrespectful in that a reader might think, “I just read all of that. Do you think I already forgot your main points?”
The good thing is that there’s a model that exists for writing conclusion paragraphs for standard essays that lets students forget the summary and leave readers nodding in agreement. The easiest way to craft this style of conclusion paragraph is to model it after the introduction.
A typical introduction, even at the freshman level in college, is formatted as follows:
- Start with a hook (often called an “opener” or a “lead” in college).
- Create a few transition sentences that move the reader along from opener to thesis statement.
- State the thesis.
Then, once all the body paragraphs have been carefully crafted, students are ready to write the conclusion. But, again, everything has been said. So the trick is not to even think about “the conclusion.” Instead, they should scroll up to the very beginning of their essay and remind themselves about how it all started. The following exists as an innovative way to write a great conclusion paragraph.
- Revisit the hook. (If the writer started with a quote, offer another quote. If the writer started with statistics, offer more statistics. If the writer asked a question, answer the question. The reader will get a sense of hearing something like that before and will anticipate that the end of the essay is on its way.)
- Restate the thesis. (Restating the thesis is important because it reminds the reader of the major arguments the writer has been trying to prove. Sometimes instructors suggest restating the thesis at the beginning of the conclusion, but then students are setting themselves up to have nothing left to say but to summarize.)
- Finish with a twist. (This final commentary often does particularly well when a sort of global extension is made. If the student’s essay is about current strategies being used to combat the devastation associated with the Pacific trash vortex, then a final statement could be something like the following: “Clearly the devastation related to the Pacific trash vortex is far-reaching and has effects beyond sea life and coastal societies. More significant, though, is the fact that human beings live every day as a more globalized society in which we have more in common than many continue to think. Since the Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest ocean on the planet, it is even more important that we, collectively, give it our greatest care.”
Students also like to finish with a final emphatic statement. This strong closing statement will cause their readers to continue thinking about the implications of their essay; it will make their conclusion, and thus their essay, more memorable. Another powerful technique is to challenge their readers to make changes in either their thoughts or their actions. Challenging their readers to see the subject through new eyes is a powerful way to ease the readers out of the essay.
When closing the essay, writers should not express that they are drawing to a close. Statements such as “In conclusion,” “It is clear that,” “As you can see,” or “In summation” are unnecessary and can be considered trite.
It is wise to avoid doing any of the following in a conclusion:
- Introducing new material
- Contradicting the thesis
- Changing the thesis
- Using apologies or disclaimers
Introducing new material in conclusions has an unsettling effect on readers. Raising new points makes reader want more information, which the writer could not possibly provide in the limited space of the final paragraph.
Contradicting or changing the thesis statement causes readers to think that they do not actually have conviction about the topic. After all, they have spent several paragraphs adhering to a singular point of view. When they change sides or open up their point of view in the conclusion, the reader becomes less inclined to believe the original argument.
By apologizing for the opinion or stating what is tough to digest, the writer is in fact admitting that even they know what they have discussed is irrelevant or unconvincing. They do not want readers to feel this way. Effective writers stand by their thesis statement and do not stray from it.
This section is adapted from OER material from “Writing Introductory and Concluding Paragraphs” in Writing for Success v. 1.0 (2012). Writing for Success was adapted by Saylor Academy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License without attribution as requested by the work’s original creator or licensor.