Your Essay’s Conclusion
Conclusions are meant to provide a satisfying and graceful close to an essay – but writing a satisfying and graceful conclusion can be difficult. Writers often approach the end of the essay wondering what is left to say about their topic and, consequently, put the least amount of effort into the essay’s concluding paragraph(s). However, an essay’s conclusion is extremely important – it is, after all, the last thing a reader reads, and a poorly written conclusion can undermine the positive impression created by the rest of the essay.
If your essays tend to end “not with a bang, but a whimper” (with apologies to T.S. Eliot), the following strategies may be helpful.
- Provide a brief summary of the essay’s thesis and main points but try to reformulate these ideas in a new way, focusing on the way your ideas fit together and the growth of your understanding about your topic. Resist the temptation to merely cut and paste (or mechanically repeat) the argument as it appears in the essay’s introduction.
- Consider the larger implications of the argument you have presented – how does your argument fit into the bigger picture? Ask yourself, “So what?” and “What is the significance of what I’ve said?” As soon as you start to ask questions (as you would have done when originally generating ideas for the essay), you begin to tease out the implications of your project. Think of how your argument aligns with the larger themes of your course or the wider issue of which your analysis is a part. The things you write about do matter, so try to convey that larger meaning and significance to your reader.
- Propose a potential solution (or solutions) to a problem you have identified in your essay. You might also pose questions for further study. These strategies demonstrate that the issue you have examined is not a finite one, and that, rather than attempting to have the last word on the subject, you are opening the door to further inquiry.
- Include an apt quotation that reflects or expands on the essay’s thesis. If you used a quotation in your introduction, employing a parallel strategy to end your essay can provide a pleasing sense of symmetry. Similarly, if you began your essay with a question, return to that question in the conclusion and provide a direct answer. Using such a rhetorical strategy demonstrates your mastery of not just your essay’s content but of its structure, as well.
Note that you should avoid the following:
- Mechanically repeating the original thesis and argumentative points and failing to demonstrate that, by the conclusion, you have reached a fuller understanding of the original idea.
- Introducing completely new ideas, subtopics, evidence that should have been explored in the body of the paper, or minor (usually irrelevant) details. Particularly avoid introducing the thesis statement in the conclusion (in an academic paper, the thesis should first appear in the introduction, as the reader needs to know what the essay intends to argue from the outset).
- Bringing up a contradiction. If you address the “other side” of the issue or debate in your essay, do so early on (often immediately after the introduction, before you present your own argument). Mentioning the “other side” in your conclusion will only confuse the reader and undermine what you have said in the body of the essay.
- Concluding with sentimental, emotional, or hyperbolic (over-the-top) commentary that is out of keeping with the analytical nature of the essay. Instead, offer your reader measured, thoughtful, and useful final comments that demonstrate your credibility as a writer.