Writing A Strong Essay Conclusion

So much is at stake in writing a conclusion. This is, after all, your last chance to persuade your readers to your point of view, to impress yourself upon them as a writer and thinker. And the impression you create in your conclusion will shape the impression that stays with your readers after they've finished the essay.

The end of an essay should therefore convey a sense of completeness and closure as well as a sense of the lingering possibilities of the topic, its larger meaning, its implications: the final paragraph should close the discussion without closing it off.

To establish a sense of closure, you might do one or more of the following:

  • Conclude by linking the last paragraph to the first, perhaps by reiterating a word or phrase you used at the beginning.
  • Conclude with a sentence composed mainly of one-syllable words. Simple language can help create an effect of understated drama.
  • Conclude with a sentence that's compound or parallel in structure; such sentences can establish a sense of balance or order that may feel just right at the end of a complex discussion.

To close the discussion without closing it off, you might do one or more of the following:

  • Conclude with a quotation from or reference to a primary or secondary source, one that amplifies your main point or puts it in a different perspective. A quotation from, say, the novel or poem you're writing about can add texture and specificity to your discussion; a critic or scholar can help confirm or complicate your final point. For example, you might conclude an essay on the idea of home in James Joyce's short story collection, Dubliners, with information about Joyce's own complex feelings towards Dublin, his home. Or you might end with a biographer's statement about Joyce's attitude toward Dublin, which could illuminate his characters' responses to the city. Just be cautious, especially about using secondary material: make sure that you get the last word.
  • Conclude by setting your discussion into a different, perhaps larger, context. For example, you might end an essay on nineteenth-century muckraking journalism by linking it to a current news magazine program like 60 Minutes.
  • Conclude by redefining one of the key terms of your argument. For example, an essay on Marx's treatment of the conflict between wage labor and capital might begin with Marx's claim that the "capitalist economy is . . . a gigantic enterprise ofdehumanization"; the essay might end by suggesting that Marxist analysis is itself dehumanizing because it construes everything in economic -- rather than moral or ethical-- terms.
  • Conclude by considering the implications of your argument (or analysis or discussion). What does your argument imply, or involve, or suggest? For example, an essay on the novel Ambiguous Adventure, by the Senegalese writer Cheikh Hamidou Kane, might open with the idea that the protagonist's development suggests Kane's belief in the need to integrate Western materialism and Sufi spirituality in modern Senegal. The conclusion might make the new but related point that the novel on the whole suggests that such an integration is (or isn't) possible.

Finally, some advice on how not to end an essay:

  • Don't simply summarize your essay. A brief summary of your argument may be useful, especially if your essay is long--more than ten pages or so. But shorter essays tend not to require a restatement of your main ideas.
  • Avoid phrases like "in conclusion," "to conclude," "in summary," and "to sum up." These phrases can be useful--even welcome--in oral presentations. But readers can see, by the tell-tale compression of the pages, when an essay is about to end. You'll irritate your audience if you belabor the obvious.
  • Resist the urge to apologize. If you've immersed yourself in your subject, you now know a good deal more about it than you can possibly include in a five- or ten- or 20-page essay. As a result, by the time you've finished writing, you may be having some doubts about what you've produced. (And if you haven't immersed yourself in your subject, you may be feeling even more doubtful about your essay as you approach the conclusion.) Repress those doubts. Don't undercut your authority by saying things like, "this is just one approach to the subject; there may be other, better approaches. . ."

Copyright 1998, Pat Bellanca, for the Writing Center at Harvard University

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

Structure

  • 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

Essay Structure

  • So, if we use shapes to demonstrate the essay’s content, it would look like this:

 

Introduction

Thesis statement

Body of Essay

Rephrased thesis statement

Conclusion

 


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
  • Summarize
    • 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

Ineffective conclusions

  • “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
    • Example
      • 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

Conclusion outline

  • 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

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