- The conclusion needs to 1. restate the paper’s main points 2. answer the question, “Who cares?”, and 3. finish the paper with something punchy.
You have written a beautiful introduction and body, and now you have to finish the draft off by writing the conclusion! You want to finish strong and leave the reader with an interesting closing thought.
That being said, your concluding paragraph has to 1. briefly summarize your work (without sounding redundant), 2. illustrate why your paper is significant, and 3. end with a punch.
The conclusion should be formatted like an upside-down introduction–from the most specific to the most general. Therefore, the first sentence of your conclusion paragraph should describe the main points of your paper:
“Although there were a variety of lesser factors, the ultimate demise of the Roman Empire was a result of three main ones: poor leadership, outside pressure from barbarian forces, and weakening cultural unity.”
“Although Microsoft, Google, and Apple have similar company roots–nerdy college-aged kids tinkering around in garages–they have developed into very different companies. Apple has developed around the personality of a single person, while Microsoft and Google–while heavily influenced by their founders–have taken a less centralized approach.”
The trick with this sentence (or two) is to reiterate your paper’s main idea without sounding redundant. Copying and pasting your thesis is not a good idea. Another bad idea is to start out with a hollow-sounding phrase like “In conclusion,” “In summary,” or “As a whole.” These not-so-subtle phrases are sure to bore your reader.
Next, your conclusion has to relate your issue to a broader idea or question. Let’s say you’re writing a paper on symbolism and social overtones in The Crucible (a play by Arthur Miller about the Salem Witch Trials). In your conclusion, you should explain why your paper is significant.
Who cares? Who cares about Miller’s use of symbolism?
Your conclusion should make a link between the contents of your paper and a larger issue. A larger issue could be something like
- How the social overtones in the book have influenced how people view the Salem Witch Trials in hindsight
- How Miller’s style has influenced other playwrights or authors
- How Miller’s use of symbolism was seen by his contemporaries
Now is not the time to make a wild, unsupported claim. A small connection will suffice.
[Sentence restating paper’s main points about symbols in Miller’s play.] Miller’s use of symbolism in The Crucible dramatizes the hypothetical Salem described in his play. Such dramatization calls into question how much the theoretical Salem in Miller’s play differed from the historical Salem, which is a key question that makes the play so controversial and enduring.
The ‘larger issue’ here is how Miller’s use of symbolism helps underscore the difference between the Salem described in the play and the historical Salem. The difference between the two is a key question.
Another technique you might use for your conclusion is to describe where additional study needs to be done–where your essay stops and another essay could start.
At the end of your conclusion, you should have a punchy sentence that leaves your reader with an interesting thought. One way of doing this is to reconnect your ending sentence with your title:
Say you’re writing a paper on the similarities of Zeus and his son Hercules:
Title: Like Father, Like Son: Exploring Paternal Relationships in Greek Mythology
Concluding sentences: Hercules’ demeanor, athleticism, and attitude are similar to that of his father, Zeus. Both gods exemplify Greek ideals of masculinity. Greek mythological texts, then, reinforce the idea that fathers should pass Greek cultural values onto their sons. The story of Hercules reinforces the colloquial phrase, “like father, like son.”
Here the ‘larger issue’ is how Greek cultural values are shaped by Greek mythology. The ending is punchy. It contains a nice, memorable phrase and circles back to the interesting title.
The conclusion of an essay has three major parts:
- Answer: the thesis statement, revisited
- Summary: main points and highlights from the body paragraphs
- Significance: the relevance and implications of the essay's findings
No new information that is relevant to the focus of the essay should be introduced here. If you wish to make a new point, it should be in a body paragraph.
As in the introduction, it is essential to revisit your thesis statement in the conclusion. Again, do not simply repeat it word for word. Keep the essential keywords, and rearrange it. (For strategies on rewording, the principles of paraphrasing can help.)
Often the thesis statement is revisited near the beginning of the conclusion. The rest of the conclusion expands out, giving the reader an idea of the relevance and implications of your answer:
As with the introduction, this order of elements is not set in stone. Adapt the order to suit the needs of each particular essay.
The conclusion is the final place to show the connections between all the points made in your essay. Take the most important, relevant, and useful main points from your body paragraphs and summarise them here. Use the same keywords and ideas as the body paragraphs, but don't just repeat the same sentences.
Essays are often described as an attempt to “sell” your perspective on an issue. A good essay convinces the reader of the correctness of your argument. An excellent essay goes a step further: it demonstrates to the reader why the argument is especially important or relevant for the topic.
There are several general statements that you can make in the conclusion to take it beyond merely summarising the essay. What are the implications of this argument? Why is it important? What issues does it raise?
Not every essay can end on this note. Shorter essays (those below 1200 words) do not have enough space available to describe the significance in detail. However, if you are looking for a dynamic way to end your essay a broader statement on the big picture can be highly effective.
The following example conclusion contains all three components:
- the answer (first sentence, in italics)
- a summary of the main points
- a final note on the significance (final sentence, in italics)
Above all, teachers need to inform themselves and the rest of the school community so that together they can develop a policy to discourage bullying. By educating themselves about bullying, teachers and parents have the knowledge to set up effective programmes and structures both within the classroom and for the whole school. Furthermore, by removing the opportunity for children to bully, providing children with a stimulating environment, and giving them the tools to deal with conflict appropriately, teachers can reduce children's inclination to bully. Although bullying will never be fully eradicated and must be dealt with as soon as it occurs, increasing awareness of the problem is making schools a safer and more enjoyable environment in which children can learn.
For further examples, see sample essay 1 and sample essay 2.
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Last updated on 25 October, 2012