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
Have you ever tried to wrap a present without tape? It’s no easy task, but it can be done with a bit of dexterity, patience, and lots of ribbon.
Wrapping up your essay can sometimes feel like wrapping a present without tape—it can be difficult at times, and you may feel that it’s just too much work. But don’t worry; I’ll give you some advice that’ll really stick with you and make writing conclusions a cinch.
Follow my guidelines and your essay conclusion will not only bind your writing together, but it’ll leave the reader with a sense of closure—the bow on top of the box, so to speak.
Photo via christmasstockimages.com
What (Almost) All Essay Conclusions Should Do:
There are a lot of different kinds of essays, so your conclusion is going to vary between each category. However, there are a few common elements that almost every essay conclusion should include.
Why almost every one?
Well, in a few circumstances, it’ll be okay to break the rules a little bit. But just like anything else, you should get to know the rules first before you break them.
Summary of Your Thesis Statement and Main Points
Okay, by now you should have a strong introduction complete with a hook and a thesis statement. You should also have the body of your essay written, or at least outlined.
If you don’t have these things written down, stop what you’re doing and get to writing.
Okay, are you done with your intro and body paragraphs now? Good, let’s talk about summarizing what you said.
When I say summarize your thesis statement and the main points of your body paragraphs, I don’t just mean restate them in the same or nearly the same words. You have to use different language in your essay conclusion that will make it engaging.
Still going with the gift idea for this example:
If your thesis statement is, “Wrapping gifts is important because it builds anticipation in the recipient, it makes the gift look nice, and it shows the person you really care.”
Your essay conclusion shouldn’t just say the exact same thing over again. Instead, try using more vivid language.
For example, “One of the most important aspects of gift-giving is the element of surprise, and a great way build up the surprise is to take care in wrapping your gift. Using bright colors and decorations such as ribbons and bows can make quite an impression. Your dedication to detail will let your loved one know you cared to take the time.”
Tie Up Loose Ends
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You might notice that my essay conclusion example is a little more drawn out than the thesis statement. This is because I wanted to include enough details to tie up any loose ends.
If I had just simply restated the thesis statement, the reader might wonder how wrapping a gift shows that you care about someone, or how gift wrapping makes a present look nice.
Before writing your conclusion, read over the rest of your paper with new eyes. Put yourself in the reader’s shoes and try to imagine any questions you might have left unanswered. Consider any ideas you may have skirted around but didn’t make a direct statement about.
Then, answer those questions in a clear and concise manner in your conclusion.
End with Interest
Remember your hook in the introduction? Most likely it’s something like a statistic, short anecdote, quote, or surprising fact.
Well, your essay conclusion should have a kind of ending hook as well, a statement of interest. There are a couple ways to go about writing this statement.
- Use a parallel structure. If you used a statistic in the introduction, use another statistic in the conclusion; if you used a quote, use another similar quote. However, just as you shouldn’t simply restate the thesis, you should also not use the same hook for the ending.
- Ask a rhetorical question. This can give the reader something to think about, and it can put your topic in the context of some greater problem.
These two options are merely suggestions, and you can end your conclusion however you feel is best. The point is to make sure that the reader stays hooked until the very end.
Essay Conclusions That Are Exceptions to the Rules
The tips I’ve given above are for a general essay conclusion and will hold true for most types of essays. However, there are times when you’ll need to add some details or deviate from the formula a little bit.
An Argumentative Essay Conclusion
The guidelines I have listed will cover most of what you’ll write for an argumentative essay conclusion, but there are more details you should add.
An argumentative essay presents an argument for a specific point. This argument is probably important in some way, and in your body paragraphs, you should address opposing viewpoints.
Thus, a conclusion for an argumentative essay should let the reader know why the topic you’re writing about is important, and why you think your point of view is the right one. This means quickly readdressing and dispelling the opposition.
For your point of interest at the end of your essay conclusion, it is often a good idea to give an idea of what would happen if the reader, or the world as a whole, chose the opposing point of view.
Be descriptive; paint a picture.
A Narrative Essay Conclusion
Narrative essays are just a whole other ball game. You’re not analyzing, arguing, or explaining. You are telling a story, and you probably have not come across many books that fully summarize the main points of the story at the end.
This does not mean that you can’t restate the purpose of your narrative. It just means that you have to do it in a different way.
Often this takes the form of reflection. You’ve taken the reader through a journey, and reflection in a narrative essay conclusion “takes the reader home.” It tells what you learned as a result of that journey.
The conclusion could also be a piece of dialogue that has some statement that ties everything up nicely. Think about it as an ending line in a movie.
And Now For My Conclusion
Though you may need to add more details as in the case of the argumentative essay, or change the rules completely as with the narrative essay, most conclusions follow a pretty straightforward set of rules.
It is important to use descriptive, detailed language no matter the type of essay, as this will tie up your loose ends and make the summary of your thesis and main points more interesting to the reader.
And speaking of interesting, don’t forget to keep that reader interested until the very last word. Use shocking statements, or put your topic in the context of a larger issue.
Any way you choose to end your writing, it’s important to spend time developing your essay conclusion. As novelist Colm Toibin said, “Ending a novel is almost like putting a child to sleep – it can’t be done abruptly.”
If you’re still unsure about your conclusion or any other part of your essay, the Kibin editors are here to point you in the right direction.
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