I. General Rules
The function of your paper's conclusion is to restate the main argument. It reminds the reader of the strengths of your main argument(s) and reiterates the most important evidence supporting those argument(s). Do this by stating clearly the context, background, and necessity of pursuing the research problem you investigated in relation to an issue, controversy, or a gap found in the literature. Make sure, however, that your conclusion is not simply a repetitive summary of the findings. This reduces the impact of the argument(s) you have developed in your essay.
When writing the conclusion to your paper, follow these general rules:
- State your conclusions in clear, simple language. Re-state the purpose of your study then state how your findings differ or support those of other studies and why [i.e., what were the unique or new contributions your study made to the overall research about your topic?].
- Do not simply reiterate your results or the discussion of your results. Provide a synthesis of arguments presented in the paper to show how these converge to address the research problem and the overall objectives of your study
- Indicate opportunities for future research if you haven't already done so in the discussion section of your paper. Highlighting the need for further research provides the reader with evidence that you have an in-depth awareness of the research problem.
Consider the following points to help ensure your conclusion is presented well:
- If the argument or purpose of your paper is complex, you may need to summarize the argument for your reader.
- If, prior to your conclusion, you have not yet explained the significance of your findings or if you are proceeding inductively, use the end of your paper to describe your main points and explain their significance.
- Move from a detailed to a general level of consideration that returns the topic to the context provided by the introduction or within a new context that emerges from the data.
The conclusion also provides a place for you to persuasively and succinctly restate your research problem, given that the reader has now been presented with all the information about the topic. Depending on the discipline you are writing in, the concluding paragraph maycontain your reflections on the evidence presented, or on the essay's central research problem. However, the nature of being introspective about the research you have done will depend on the topic and whether your professor wants you to express your observations in this way.
NOTE: If asked to think introspectively about the topics, do not delve into idle speculation. Being introspective means looking within yourself as an author to try and understand an issue more deeply, not to guess at possible outcomes or make up scenarios not supported by evidence.
II. Developing a Compelling Conclusion
Although an effective conclusion needs to be clear and succinct, it does not need to be written passively or lack a compelling narrative. Strategies to help you move beyond merely summarizing the key points of your research paper may include any of the following strategies:
- If your essay deals with a contemporary problem, warn readers of the possible consequences of not attending to the problem.
- Recommend a specific course or courses of action that, if adopted, could address a specific problem in practice or in the development of new knowledge.
- Cite a relevant quotation or expert opinion already noted in your paper in order to lend authority to the conclusion you have reached [a good place to look is research from your literature review].
- Explain the consequences of your research in a way that elicits action or demonstrates urgency in seeking change.
- Restate a key statistic, fact, or visual image to emphasize the ultimate point of your paper.
- If your discipline encourages personal reflection, illustrate your concluding point with a relevant narrative drawn from your own life experiences.
- Return to an anecdote, an example, or a quotation that you presented in your introduction, but add further insight derived from the findings of your study; use your interpretation of results to recast it in new or important ways.
- Provide a "take-home" message in the form of a strong, succinct statement that you want the reader to remember about your study.
III. Problems to Avoid
Failure to be concise
Your conclusion section should be concise and to the point. Conclusions that are too lengthy often have unnecessary information in them. The conclusion is not the place for details about your methodology or results. Although you should give a summary of what was learned from your research, this summary should be relatively brief, since the emphasis in the conclusion is on the implications, evaluations, insights, and other forms of analysis that you make. Strategies for writing concisely can be found here.
Failure to comment on larger, more significant issues
In the introduction, your task was to move from the general [the field of study] to the specific [the research problem]. However, in the conclusion, your task is to move from a specific discussion [your research problem] back to a general discussion [i.e., how your research contributes new understanding or fills an important gap in the literature]. In short, the conclusion is where you should place your research within a larger context [visualize your paper as an hourglass--start with a broad introduction and review of the literature, move to the specific analysis and discussion, conclude with a broad summary of the study's implications and significance].
Failure to reveal problems and negative results
Negative aspects of the research process should never be ignored. Problems, drawbacks, and challenges encountered during your study should be summarized as a way of qualifying your overall conclusions. If you encountered negative or unintended results [i.e., findings that are validated outside the research context in which they were generated], you must report them in the results section and discuss their implications in the discussion section of your paper. In the conclusion, use your summary of the negative results as an opportunity to explain their possible significance and/or how they may form the basis for future research.
Failure to provide a clear summary of what was learned
In order to be able to discuss how your research fits back into your field of study [and possibly the world at large], you need to summarize briefly and succinctly how it contributes to new knowledge or a new understanding about the research problem. This element of your conclusion may be only a few sentences long.
Failure to match the objectives of your research
Often research objectives in the social sciences change while the research is being carried out. This is not a problem unless you forget to go back and refine the original objectives in your introduction. As these changes emerge they must be documented so that they accurately reflect what you were trying to accomplish in your research [not what you thought you might accomplish when you began].
Resist the urge to apologize
If you've immersed yourself in studying the research problem, you presumably should know a good deal about it, perhaps even more than your professor! Nevertheless, by the time you have finished writing, you may be having some doubts about what you have produced. Repress those doubts! Don't undermine your authority by saying something like, "This is just one approach to examining this problem; there may be other, much better approaches that...." The overall tone of your conclusion should convey confidence to the reader.
Assan, Joseph. Writing the Conclusion Chapter: The Good, the Bad and the Missing. Department of Geography, University of Liverpool; Concluding Paragraphs. College Writing Center at Meramec. St. Louis Community College; Conclusions. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Conclusions. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Freedman, Leora and Jerry Plotnick. Introductions and Conclusions. The Lab Report. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Leibensperger, Summer. Draft Your Conclusion. Academic Center, the University of Houston-Victoria, 2003; Make Your Last Words Count. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Tips for Writing a Good Conclusion. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Kretchmer, Paul. Twelve Steps to Writing an Effective Conclusion. San Francisco Edit, 2003-2008; Writing Conclusions. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University; Writing: Considering Structure and Organization. Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College.
Writing a Good Conclusion Paragraph
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In a conclusion paragraph, you summarize what you’ve written about in your paper. When you’re writing a good conclusion paragraph, you need to think about the main point that you want to get across and be sure it’s included. If you’ve already written a fabulous introductory paragraph, you can write something similar with different wording. Here are some points to remember.
Use your introductory paragraph as a guide. You may have started by saying, “There are three classes at school that I absolutely can’t wait to go to every day.” You can start your conclusion by saying, “Gym, Math, and Art are the three classes I try to never miss.”
If it’s a longer paper, a good place to start is by looking at what each paragraph was about. For example, if you write a paper about zoo animals, each paragraph would probably be about one particular animal. In your conclusion, you should briefly mention each animal again. “Zoo animals like polar bears, lions, and giraffes are amazing creatures.”
Leave your readers with something to think about. Suggest that they learn more with a sentence like, “We have a lot to learn about global warming.” You can also give them something to do after reading your paper. For example, “It’s easy to make your own popsicles. Grab some orange juice and give it a try!”
To sum up, remember that it’s important to wrap up your writing by summarizing the main idea for your readers. This brings your writing to a smooth close and creates a well-written piece of work.
What is a conclusion?
- A conclusion is what you will leave with your reader
- It “wraps up” your essay
- It demonstrates to the reader that you accomplished what you set out to do
- It shows how you have proved your thesis
- It provides the reader with a sense of closure on the topic
- A conclusion is the opposite of the introduction
- Remember that the introduction begins general and ends specific
- The conclusion begins specific and moves to the general
- So, if we use shapes to demonstrate the essay’s content, it would look like this:
Body of Essay
Rephrased thesis statement
What to include
- Your conclusion wraps up your essay in a tidy package and brings it home for your reader
- Your topic sentence should summarize what you said in your thesis statement
- This suggests to your reader that you have accomplished what you set out to accomplish
- Do not simply restate your thesis statement, as that would be redundant
- Rephrase the thesis statement with fresh and deeper understanding
- Your conclusion is no place to bring up new ideas
- Your supporting sentences should summarize what you have already said in the body of your essay
- If a brilliant idea tries to sneak into the final paragraph, you must pluck it out and let it have its own paragraph in the body, or leave it out completely
- Your topic for each body paragraph should be summarized in the conclusion
- Your closing sentence should help the reader feel a sense of closure
- Your closing sentence is your last word on the subject; it is your “clincher”
- Demonstrate the importance of your ideas
- Propel your reader to a new view of the subject
- End on a positive note
- Your closing sentence should make your readers glad they read your paper
Strategies for an effective conclusion
- Play the “So What” Game.
- When you read a statement from the conclusion, ask yourself, “So what?” or “Why should anybody care?”
- Ponder that question and answer it
- Basically, I’m just saying that education was important to Douglass
- So what?
- Well, it was important because it was a key to him feeling like a free and equal citizen
- Why should anybody care?
- That’s important because plantation owners tried to keep slaves from being educated so that they could maintain control. When Douglass obtained an education, he undermined that control personally.
- Return to the theme or themes in the introduction
- This brings the reader full circle
- If you begin by describing a scenario, you can end with the same scenario as proof that your essay is helpful in creating a new understanding
- Refer to the introductory paragraph by using key words, or parallel concepts and images that you also used in the introduction
- Include a brief summary of the paper’s main points, but don’t simply repeat things that were in the paper
- Pull it all together
- Show your reader how the points you made and the support and examples you used fit together
- Include a provocative insight or quotation from the research or reading you did for the paper
- Propose a course of action, a solution to an issue, or questions for further study
- Point to broader implications
- A paper about the style of writer, Virginia Woolf, could point to her influence on other writers or later feminists
Concluding strategies that do not work
- Beginning with an unnecessary, overused phrase
- These may work in speeches, but they come across as wooden and trite in writing
- “in conclusion”
- “in summary”
- “in closing”
- “as shown in the essay”
- Stating the thesis for the very first time
- Introducing a new idea or subtopic in your conclusion
- Making sentimental, emotional appeals that are out of character with the rest of the paper
- Including evidence (quotations, statistics, etc.) that should be in the body of the paper
- “That’s My Story and I’m Sticking to It”
- Restates the thesis and is usually painfully short
- Does not push ideas forward
- Written when the writer can’t think of anything else to say
- In conclusion, Frederick Douglass was, as we have seen, a pioneer in American education, proving that education was a major force for social change with regard to slavery.
- “Sherlock Holmes”
- State the thesis for the first time in the conclusion
- Writer thinks it would be more dramatic to keep the reader in suspense and then “wow” them with the main idea, as in a Sherlock Holmes mystery
- Readers want an analytical discussion of the topic in academic style, with the thesis statement up front
- “America the Beautiful”
- Draws on emotion to make its appeal
- Out of character with the rest of the paper
- “Grab Bag”
- Includes extra information thought of or found but couldn’t integrate into the main body
- Creates confusion for the reader
- Topic sentence
- Fresh rephrasing of thesis statement
- Supporting sentences
- Summarize or wrap up the main points in the body of the essay
- Explain how ideas fit together
- Closing sentence
- Final words
- Connects back to the introduction
- Provides a sense of closure
More Concluding Paragraph Resources