- The conclusion needs to 1. restate the paper’s main points 2. answer the question, “Who cares?”, and 3. finish the paper with something punchy.
You have written a beautiful introduction and body, and now you have to finish the draft off by writing the conclusion! You want to finish strong and leave the reader with an interesting closing thought.
That being said, your concluding paragraph has to 1. briefly summarize your work (without sounding redundant), 2. illustrate why your paper is significant, and 3. end with a punch.
The conclusion should be formatted like an upside-down introduction–from the most specific to the most general. Therefore, the first sentence of your conclusion paragraph should describe the main points of your paper:
“Although there were a variety of lesser factors, the ultimate demise of the Roman Empire was a result of three main ones: poor leadership, outside pressure from barbarian forces, and weakening cultural unity.”
“Although Microsoft, Google, and Apple have similar company roots–nerdy college-aged kids tinkering around in garages–they have developed into very different companies. Apple has developed around the personality of a single person, while Microsoft and Google–while heavily influenced by their founders–have taken a less centralized approach.”
The trick with this sentence (or two) is to reiterate your paper’s main idea without sounding redundant. Copying and pasting your thesis is not a good idea. Another bad idea is to start out with a hollow-sounding phrase like “In conclusion,” “In summary,” or “As a whole.” These not-so-subtle phrases are sure to bore your reader.
Next, your conclusion has to relate your issue to a broader idea or question. Let’s say you’re writing a paper on symbolism and social overtones in The Crucible (a play by Arthur Miller about the Salem Witch Trials). In your conclusion, you should explain why your paper is significant.
Who cares? Who cares about Miller’s use of symbolism?
Your conclusion should make a link between the contents of your paper and a larger issue. A larger issue could be something like
- How the social overtones in the book have influenced how people view the Salem Witch Trials in hindsight
- How Miller’s style has influenced other playwrights or authors
- How Miller’s use of symbolism was seen by his contemporaries
Now is not the time to make a wild, unsupported claim. A small connection will suffice.
[Sentence restating paper’s main points about symbols in Miller’s play.] Miller’s use of symbolism in The Crucible dramatizes the hypothetical Salem described in his play. Such dramatization calls into question how much the theoretical Salem in Miller’s play differed from the historical Salem, which is a key question that makes the play so controversial and enduring.
The ‘larger issue’ here is how Miller’s use of symbolism helps underscore the difference between the Salem described in the play and the historical Salem. The difference between the two is a key question.
Another technique you might use for your conclusion is to describe where additional study needs to be done–where your essay stops and another essay could start.
At the end of your conclusion, you should have a punchy sentence that leaves your reader with an interesting thought. One way of doing this is to reconnect your ending sentence with your title:
Say you’re writing a paper on the similarities of Zeus and his son Hercules:
Title: Like Father, Like Son: Exploring Paternal Relationships in Greek Mythology
Concluding sentences: Hercules’ demeanor, athleticism, and attitude are similar to that of his father, Zeus. Both gods exemplify Greek ideals of masculinity. Greek mythological texts, then, reinforce the idea that fathers should pass Greek cultural values onto their sons. The story of Hercules reinforces the colloquial phrase, “like father, like son.”
Here the ‘larger issue’ is how Greek cultural values are shaped by Greek mythology. The ending is punchy. It contains a nice, memorable phrase and circles back to the interesting title.
Make Your Last Words Count
In academic writing, a well-crafted conclusion can provide the final word on the value of your analysis, research, or paper. Complete your conclusions with conviction!
Conclusions show readers the value of your completely developed argument or thoroughly answered question. Consider the conclusion from the reader's perspective. At the end of a paper, a reader wants to know how to benefit from the work you accomplished in your paper. Here are ways to think about the purpose of a conclusion:
- To connect the paper's findings to a larger context, such as the wider conversation about an issue as it is presented in a course or in other published writing.
- To suggest the implications of your findings or the importance of the topic.
- To ask questions or suggest ideas for further research.
- To revisit your main idea or research question with new insight.
Should you summarize?
Consider what readers can keep track of in their heads. If your paper is long or complex, some summary of your key points will remind readers of the ground you've covered. If your paper is short, your readers may not need a summary. In any paper, you'll want to push beyond mere summary to suggest the implications or applications of your work.
How do you start drafting a conclusion?
Effective conclusions take the paper beyond summary and demonstrate a further appreciation of the paper's argument and its significance: why it works, why it is meaningful, and why it is valuable. To get started, you might ask yourself these questions:
- How do the ideas in your paper connect to what you have discussed in class, or to what scholars have written in their treatment of your topic?
- What new ideas have you added to the conversation? What ideas do you critique?
- What are the limitations of your data, methods, or results?
- What are the consequences of the strongest idea that comes out of your paper?
- How can you return to the question or situation you describe in your introduction?
From Mounting methodologies to measure EUV reticle nonflatness (SPIE Proceedings 7470, 2009), by UW–Madison Professor Roxanne L. Engelstad's lab. Notice how Battula et al. explain the limitations of their findings, and identify specific future developments that would make their proposal more accurately testable.
The horizontal whiffle tree mount should have performed the best considering the kinematics of the 16 support points, as well as theoretically displaying the least amount of gravitational distortions. However, due to possible friction at the pivoted joints and the current tolerances on the whiffle tree system, there were difficulties in using this mount. At this time, the process of averaging the measurements taken at four vertical orientations appears to be the best approach.
Gender and Women's Studies
From Examining Millie and Christine McKoy: Where Enslavement and Enfreakment Meet (Signs 37, 2011), by UW–Madison Professor Ellen Samuels. Notice how Samuels's conclusion briefly summarizes her article's main claims before turning to the consequences of her strongest claims.
While there are still many questions left unanswered about the McKoys, and many possible truths to be drawn from their lives, I have aimed in this article to establish that at least two things are not true: the tale of the beneficent and beloved slaveowners and the resigned, downcast expression on Millie's face in the altered picture. Moreover, I contend that turning away from historical legacies as complex and dangerous as those of enslavement and enfreakment keeps us from being able to understand them and to imagine different futures. We need to develop paradigms of analysis that allow us to perceive and interpret both the radical empowerment of the McKoys' lives and the oppressions that are no less fundamental to their story. Such an analysis must allow for dissonance, contradictions, and even discomfort in its gaze. Only then can we move forward with the work of shaping new representations and new possibilities for extraordinary bodily experience.
From UW–Madison Law Professor Andrew B. Coan's Judicial Capacity and the Substance of Constitutional Law (2012). Notice how this conclusion emphasizes the significance of the topic under consideration.
Judicial capacity has been too long misunderstood and too long neglected. It is a central institutional characteristic of the judiciary, which has significant predictive power in important constitutional domains and also significant normative implications. It deserves consideration from constitutional theorists on par with that accorded to judicial competence and judicial independence. Indeed, it is crucial to a full understanding of both of these much-discussed institutional features of the judiciary.