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
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