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
Often students feel tired from the effort of researching and writing an essay and toss in a few rushed words to finish up. But, the conclusion is the last paragraph your marker will see of your writing effort. So, it is worth putting in the last dregs of your intellectual energy to come up with a convincing conclusion. Fortunately, conclusions have a pattern (recipe) you can follow so that you can write a convincing conclusion.
About conclusion paragraphs
Conclusion paragraphs are about 5% of your essay word count (e.g. about 50 or so words per 1000 word essay). In clearly-written sentences, you restate the thesis from your introduction (but do not repeat the introduction too closely), make a brief summary of your evidence and finish with some sort of judgment about the topic. You can follow this basic pattern (recipe) for writing introduction paragraphs to help you get started.
It’s a good idea to start your conclusion with transitional words (e.g. ‘In summary’, ‘To conclude’, ‘In conclusion’, ‘Finally’,) to help you to get the feel of wrapping up what you have said. The conclusion is not the place to present new facts (should be in the body of your essay), so conclusions don’t usually have references unless you come up with a ‘punchy’ quote from someone special as a final word.
Writing pattern for conclusion paragraphs
The conclusion to an essay is rather like a formal social farewell. For example, if an ASO consultant does a guest presentation at a lecture, it would be good practice to conclude the session by tying up the key points of the lecture and leave the students with a final message about the subject of the lecture:
To conclude, students, you should now know how to apply the three main steps for analysing a question (restatement main idea). If you identify the instruction words, the topic words and the restricting words accurately, this will provide you with a framework for building your essay plan (summary of key points). Essays that are analysed accurately will have much greater success in answering the set question and assist you to get better marks (statement of benefit).
A conclusion paragraph is very much tied to the introduction paragraph and the question that has been set (see Question analysis workshop), and we use special terms to describe each stage of the conclusion.
Click or hover over the conclusion paragraph to see an analysis of its structure and how the conclusion matches the set question.
We can show this as a diagram. The triangle of the introduction is the opposite in the conclusion. It begins with the narrowest topic (sentence 1), then widens to the summary of key points of the argument in the essay (sentence 2). The last sentence of the paragraph usually makes a broad statement that may be a reflection about the essay’s argument (sentence 3).
Figure 1: A pattern for conclusion paragraphs
Read the following question and the sample conclusion paragraph. The sentences are in the wrong order for a conclusion paragraph. Match the statements to the correct sentence type.
Some students who enrol in university studies have difficulties with their writing skills. Discuss the reasons for this problem and critically assess the effectiveness of university intervention writing programs.
The main causes of student difficulty appear to be that secondary school assessment has a different focus from university expectations and that universities are increasingly attracting mature age students who may require an update on their skills. In response, universities invest considerable capital into well-run programs that effectively assist students to overcome their writing problems.
To conclude, university students who are experiencing difficulty with their academic writing skills will require assistance to reach their academic potential.
In response, universities invest considerable capital into well-run programs that effectively assist students to overcome their writing problems.
These conclusion sentences are in the incorrect order. Now that you have identified the sentence types for a conclusion paragraph, put them in the correct order (restatement of main premise -> summary of key points -> broad statement).