Essay Writing Basics: The Conclusion
Earlier hubs suggest that the thesis of an essay be established, then its body written out. This is sensible, as the thesis is the most important statement in the essay and the body will be the bulk of the essay. But the thesis cannot simply appear, and a body cannot simply stop. Allowing either to happen makes the essay appear in the reader's eyes to be incomplete, and the reader will then be disinclined to believe that the idea tested in the essay is valuable. This ultimately wastes the effort spent in composing a solid thesis and supporting it amply.
It is necessary, then, to enter into the essay smoothly, and to leave it the same way. Getting out of an essay, ending it gracefully, is a potential challenge--but, as with the other tasks involved in writing an essay, there are methods that assist meeting that challenge.
What a Conclusion Should Do
Essays do not have conclusions just so they can look nice on the page or upon the screen. Instead, they have conclusions to fulfill important functions. Conclusions have to gather together the divergent threads that the essay has pursued, braiding them into a solid line upon which the reader can hang a new understanding of the world. They have to leave the reader with the impression that the essayist is competent or better, offering something worth lingering in the mind (and because of the recency effect, the conclusion is likely to linger in the reader's mind).
Accordingly, an effective conclusion will typically do the following things:
- Refer back to the thesis (without flatly restating it)
- In a longer essay, refer back to the main ideas of the essay (without flatly restating them)
- Discuss briefly the importance of the thesis being valid
An effective conclusion will also tend to be fairly brief. It should bring the essay to an end, and to that purpose, it ought not to drag on. Similarly, since it is the end, it should not bring up additional points of discussion; if there are more main ideas to pursue, they should be treated in the body of the essay as it is revised.
An effective conclusion also will not be heavy-handed. If it is well written, there will be no need to announce that it is the conclusion (in an essay); the writing will make it obvious without needing to insult readers by pointing out what they are likely to notice already. If it is not well written, no amount of announcing that it is, in fact, a conclusion will make it a good one. Similarly, a well written conclusion will not need to announce that it is referring to the thesis or the main ideas being discussed, nor will it need to explicitly state that it is addressing the importance of the thesis being valid. It will simply do those things in such a way that the reader will understand them as occurring--and it is far better to do a thing than to say that it will be done.
Refer Back to the Thesis--Without Flatly Restating It
In essays of any length, it is necessary to return to the thesis in some measure before making concluding statements. Doing so flatly, however, is dangerous. In a short essay, it potentially comes off as insulting to the reader, implying that the reader cannot retain information for a relatively short time. In a longer essay, the flat repetition comes off as heavy-handed, lacking grace and skill. It becomes obligatory, then, to restate the thesis in some way, allowing it to be returned to the reader's mind, but in a way that does not insult or bore the reader and makes entry into concluding statements sensible and easy to follow.
The immediate temptation is to retain the structure of the thesis statement but to only change the specific wording, often through using a thesaurus to find "bigger and better" words. The temptation should be avoided, at least in the main. If, borrowing from an earlier hub, I advance the thesis that "It will behoove a prospective essay writer to develop a thesis early on and to work first to refine it before striving to write an essay about it," I will do poorly to either simply repeat it at the beginning of my conclusion or "dress up" its word choice. The latter will yield something like "It will be incumbent upon a potential treatise scriptor to expound upon a hypothesis promptly and to labor to cultivate it before endeavoring to inscribe an essay about it," which is likely to be rejected as excessively pompous. It also runs the risk of altering the sense of the thesis. Thesauri offer synonyms, which have similar meanings--not the same meaning, whether in the sense of denotation (formal, prescribed or described definitions) or of connotation (meanings associated with but not necessarily belonging to a word or phrase). Neither is helpful in demonstrating that the idea enclose in the thesis has been adequately tested and may therefore be taken as valid.
Instead, the structure of the thesis statement should be reworked for the reference to it in the conclusion. This is particularly true since the conclusion will move in a different fashion than the body that tends to follow close behind the thesis. Changing the structure of the thesis for its appearance in the conclusion therefore allows for a refreshing of it while positioning it so that it can lead into the concluding statements. To continue on with the example above, if my thesis is originally introduced as "It will behoove a prospective essay writer to develop a thesis early on and to work first to refine it before striving to write an essay about it," then its appearance in the conclusion could be something like "The thesis should be the first part of an essay written, and well written." By embedding in the rephrased thesis a clear indicator of pattern (an earlier hub discusses organizational patterns), the expectation is created that more will follow, but not more of the same that has already been presented. Readers are reminded--gently--of what has been validated, and their motion from that reminder into the concluding statements has been eased.
Refer Back to the Main Ideas--Without Flatly Restating Them
Conventional wisdom holds that it is not only the thesis that should be referenced in the concluding section of an essay, but also the main points of its discussion. The idea is that readers will benefit from being reminded of what they have just read, and the reminder plus the benefit will help convince them of the thesis's validity. There is some truth in the convention, but the truth is not quite so simple as that, and stopping at merely going back to the main ideas of the essay is no more helpful than merely repeating the thesis.
Referring back to the major points of discussion in an essay works better in longer works than in shorter works (with "longer" here being ten or more pages). In shorter works, explicit references back to the main ideas of the essay can imply an insult to the reader's short-term memory or ability to look back at the preceding pages. Such insults are not helpful in convincing readers that the idea in the thesis is sufficiently tested. But in longer works, in which are more pages to navigate and more information to keep sorted, a gentle reminder can work well, as the conventional wisdom asserts.
Even in longer works, however, simply restating the main ideas of the essay in the conclusion is not particularly helpful. As with the statement of the thesis itself, the main ideas should be reworked when included in the concluding section of the essay. Often, this can take the form of part of the reworked thesis itself. To continue on with the earlier example, my major points are these: "One important thing to remember about a thesis is that it is an opinion," "the thesis is the answer to a question," and "a thesis should make a decisive claim about a single thing, and it should do so with as little redundancy as can be managed." Reworking each--following the same principles as are applied to the thesis statement--can offer something like "A thesis is an opinion that answers a single question briskly." Were that distillation of main points to be combined with the rephrased thesis noted above, it could produce something like "The thesis of an essay, an opinion answering a single question briskly, should be the first part of the essay written." Again, the reader is gently reminded of what has gone before, and the expectation that more is to come is promoted by the opening of a pattern of organization. The reader is thereby drawn along to the next thing--and something of far greater significance than merely noting what has already happened.
Discuss Why It Matters That the Thesis Is Valid
The most important thing the conclusion of an essay does is indicate to readers why it has been worth their time to read the essay. It offers them something to take away from the essay, a reason that it matters that the thesis is valid. In brief, it answers the question "So what?"
What significance the validity of the thesis has will depend on the thesis and the type of essay. Identifying something as a problem, for example, allows for solutions to be proposed. Asserting some truth allows other work to be done (something the academic world prizes). Proving another's point of view to be in error allows for revision of other ideas (something else prized by the academic world). Identifying some deeper meaning or function of a piece of writing allows readers to extrapolate to yet other works, offering more ways to understand what others have written.
A more concrete example returns to the thesis I borrow earlier in the hub--"It will behoove a prospective essay writer to develop a thesis early on and to work first to refine it before striving to write an essay about it." If I assume that I have validated it in my essay (or in a series of hubs), in my conclusion, I will have to offer some reason why it matters that the thesis is valid. I might opt to note in my conclusion that "Securing a thesis early in the essay not only allows for more focused essay writing, but eases the experience of the reader. In doing so, the essay writer makes the experience of reading better for the writer, demonstrating greater control of the material and therefore coming across as a better authority on the subject of the essay, more likely to be believed. Since one of the underlying purposes of the essay is to be believed, what adds to it is well worth pursuing."
And so it is.
© 2013 Folgha