academic writing: The CONCLUSion
The ending of your text is nearly as important as your beginning; it can determine if your readers remember what you've worked so hard to tell them. Fortunately, as with introductions, there are many ways to write an effective conclusion that closes out your essay smoothly and leaves a strong impression on your audience.
FUNCTION OF THE CONCLUSION
An effective conclusion powerfully and gracefully closes out your essay and helps your work make a lasting impression on your audience. Thus, you should write your conclusion with intention and care. Try the following strategies for creating an effective conclusion. None is inherently “better” than the others; choose the one that best suits your purpose, and content, and specific audience.
TIP: This brief Prezi introduces several of the ideas explored below.
TYPES OF CONCLUSIONS
- Summarize the Main Ideas
Remember the "old saw": "Tell 'em what you’re going say; say it; and tell 'em what you said"? This "advice" has limited value for conclusions as well as introductions. In a short academic essay of three to five pages, readers aren’t likely to forget what you "told 'em", especially if you crafted a clear and well-developed multi-part thesis statement and used it to create a logical outline and clear, strong topic sentences.
In a longer piece, you might opt to summarize main ideas to be sure the audience recalls them. However, take care not to copy sentences verbatim (word for word) from the body of your essay; vary your language. Make the conclusion interesting to read, even if it's a summary. Consider combining summary with the following strategies to make your conclusion even more effective.
TIP: Summary-style conclusions are the most popular in academic writing, although as you'll see below, there are more interesting ways to end an essay, ones that can invite your audience to think further about your ideas. If you want to write summary-style conclusion, this 4-minute video gives sound advice.
- Suggest a Solution or “Next Steps”
If you have examined an issue or challenge in your paper, consider suggesting a solution or "next steps" in your conclusion. For instance, one of my students wrote a research essay examining why a significantly higher percentage of African American women die of breast cancer than Euro-American women, even though they develop the disease at similar rates. In her conclusion, she called for a public health campaign to educate African-American women about their increased risk and to urge them to do regular self-examinations and get annual screening. She also called for more research to pinpoint the causes of the disparity and to develop targeted treatments for highly lethal forms of breast cancer.
Proposing a solution or "next steps" can give your work a higher purpose: you can not only inform but also effect change, especially if your proposals are sound and your work reaches the right audience.
Proposing a solution or suggesting "next steps" is often effective in workplace writing too. Supervisors frequently make evaluations; they assess programs' or policies' effectiveness, clients' progress, employees' performance, and more. It's usually helpful to close an evaluation with praise for what's going well, cautions about emerging challenges, and suggestions for change and growth.
- Set Ideas in a Wider Context
If you want to be sure your audience understands why an issue is important or relevant, you can set your ideas into a wider context. For instance, a number of years ago, one of my African American students who was planning to start a family knew she carried sickle cell trait and wanted to know more about it. She was dismayed to learn that few obstetricians in her area knew much about it.
In her conclusion, she tallied up how many people in her home state, in America, and around the globe carry the sickle cell trait or have the disease. The numbers were staggering. By relating her own experience and her research findings, she demonstrated that doctors--especially those who practice in or near cosmopolitan cities like hers--are likely to encounter patients impacted by sickle cell and thus should be well-educated about it.
When you set your ideas into a wider context you are in effect answering those who might ask, "Yes, but why should I care about this?" You are explaining the importance of your topic and suggesting why your information might be of relevance or interest.
- Raise Further Questions and Related Issues
If you haven't been able to address everything that wanted to about your topic due to page limits, time constraints, or lack of information, you can raise unanswered questions in your conclusion. For example, one of my students recently learned that many Native American reservations are afflicted with intractable poverty, including her own distant Lakota ancestors. She was stunned and saddened by this information and moved to examine the challenges many Lakota people confront today.
In her conclusion, the student noted that reservations were intended to provide indigenous Nations opportunities to exercise sovereignty over their affairs and to keep alive their cultural traditions, but many obstacles have made that impossible, including the creation of "Indian Boarding Schools." She questioned whether the stated intent of creating reservations to ensure sovereignty and the preservation of cultural traditions was truly genuine. If so, why were families pressured to send their children to schools--often distant from their homes, people, and lands--that forced to assimilate into Euro-American culture? Why were many reservations created far from indigenous people's traditional lands? Why were Nations encouraged to pursue ways of life antithetical to their traditional ones--for instance, why was farming promoting amongst those with a nomadic history?
When you raise further questions and related issues, you don’t always have to supply answers or propose solutions. (In fact, they might not exist.) Your goal can be to keep your audience thinking about your topic and ideas, or to prompt them to search for answers or solutions themselves.
- Give Something to Remember
Ending with a bold or memorable statement can also help readers remember what you've written and keep them thinking about it. For instance, in his editorial "The Fast-Food Factories: McJobs are Bad for Kids," Amitai Etzioni argues that fast-food jobs are so routinized that they don't teach teens who work them skills of real value; require such long hours that many teens who work them don't have the time to finish their homework or participate in meaningful extra-curricular activities; and offer paychecks large enough to tantalize some teens to drop out of school to work but too small to keep them out of poverty if they do so. Etzioni concludes his essay with the directive: "Go back to school." That emphatic statement summarizes what Etzioni believes is at risk when kids work at fast-food jobs. The phrase is simple to remember; thus it will likely stick in readers' minds and help them recall Etzioni's argument.
- Circle Back to the Beginning
One popular concluding strategy is to “circle back” to the beginning of the work--to answer a question, repeat a phrase, or conclude a story introduced in the opening. Like the other strategies, this one also works best when the question, phrase, or story is interesting and tied closely to the thesis and main ideas.
For example, if you were writing about the internment of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps during World War II, you might open with the story of an American family of Japanese descent forced to abandon their home and property when sent to a camp in 1942. In your closing paragraph, you could describe what happened to them in the camp and after the war. You could even provide an update on their descendants to show the multi-generational impact of the relocation order.
FINAL NOTE: As you can see, there are many effective ways to end an essay. You might need to write several different conclusions before you hit upon the "right" one to close out your essay artfully and powerfully. Putting effort into writing a conclusion pays off; it can ensure that your ideas stay with your audience and motivate them to think and act.
This work by Sherri VandenAkker, Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.