How to Write a Conclusion
Writing anything can be a major challenge. Then, just as the project’s end is in sight, you confront the issue of how to write a conclusion. How do you bring everything to a satisfying conclusion without merely covering the ground you’ve already trodden? Fortunately, there are some practical suggestions, and some conceptual considerations to keep in mind, that can help your writing go out with a bang.
A Note on Different Types of Writing
Of course, different types of writing have different purposes. These tips are as general as possible, and, indeed, many of the same rules apply no matter the specific format of your writing. Having said that, these tips are generally geared towards an analytic or persuasive writing form, such as a basic academic essay. Still, the principles apply to different forms as well, but be realistic: different types of writing certainly can feature different sorts of endings.
What Your Conclusion Should Accomplish
Ideally, your conclusion will accomplish several things at once. And it is well worth it to keep all possible goals in mind. But, first, a note of caution: “ideal” can be a heard standard to reach, and you don’t want to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. So don’t get hung up and any specific consideration.
Wrap Things Up.
This is the most basic goal. Consider a basic essay. If you’ve written a conventional three paragraph essay in which each paragraph asserted a particular argument, you’ll probably want to briefly restate each argument in your conclusion. In general, you want the reader to walk away reminded of the key points you’ve made.
Add Something New.
You want to restate your main points. But you don’t just want to repeat yourself. Instead, you want your conclusion to contribute to the reader’s understanding of the issue – on top of the analysis you’ve already offered.
When figuring out how your conclusion can add value to your writing, keep in mind that the conclusion is your opportunity to tie everything together. Take the earlier example of the three-paragraph essay. You’ve already made each discrete argument. But how do they all tie together? This is your chance to explain.
Leave Them Happy…
Whether you’re writing a greeting card or a multi-volume exegesis, you’ll want your reader to walk away satisfied. This means a couple of things. First, “do no harm”: try to avoid an abrupt or confusing ending. Beyond that, try to give your readers something that will give them some insight or enjoyment, whether it’s a perceptive insight or a funny thought. And try to leave the readers feeling that they’ve learned something and gained an understanding of the topic you’ve explored.
… But Also Leave Them Wanting More.
You want your readers to leave your writing with a newfound understanding of your issues, and, depending on how persuasive you’ve set out to be, you might want them to walk away with a definite opinion on the issue presented. But you don’t want them to feel entirely satisfied. If you’ve set out to explore an issue, you might want them to feel motivated to explore it further on their own. If you’ve set out to persuade, you probably want them to leave motivated to act on the opinion you’ve presented.
How to Write Your Conclusion
Even if you have a clear idea of what you want your conclusion to accomplish, there’s still the question of how to go about accomplishing your goal. Here are a few hints for how to manage the writing process when it comes to crafting your conclusion.
Refer to the Intro
The two most similar paragraphs are likely to be your first and your last. So you’ll want to refer back to your opening and you write your closing. Some people will even copy and paste the introduction as a starting point for the conclusion – which can work well, as long as you edit it enough that you don’t end up just repeating yourself.
Read it Again
Go back and read what you’ve written. What stands out? What is the overall impression you have as you read? What’s missing – and, in particular, is there one particular insight that can tie everything together? Whether you consciously ask yourself these questions as you go, or whether you simply read to absorb the gestalt of your analysis, this can be a useful exercise as you prepare to tie everything together.
What Have You Learned by Writing?
Ask yourself what you’ve learned from the project – what stands out to you, having immersed yourself in the issue you’ve addressed? In particular, what did you learn, not from researching the topic, but rather from the process of the writing itself? If there’s something that you didn’t understand when you first set pen to paper, but that you’ve come to realize as you’ve worked, that’s probably a good candidate for inclusion in your conclusion.
In addition to keeping these general concepts in mind, you can also consider a specific technique to help make your conclusion effective.
Bring it Back.
One effective strategy is to refer back to the introduction. One way to do this is to raise something in the introduction – say, an anecdote – and then refer back to the anecdote in the conclusion. In this way, you’ve used the anecdote to frame the entire paper. Just make sure that it fits in with the theme you’re trying to get across and, ideally, lends support to your main contention.
Another tactic is to end with a quote. This is something you see often in journalism. A quote can accomplish a few things. It can be a way to “outsource,” and thereby lend support to, a strong concluding statement – for instance, you can quote an expert on an urgent problem who says something along the lines of, “if we don’t address this soon, it’s only going to get worse.” Or, if you are quoting someone affected by your topic, it can be a way to lend emphasis to the importance of your topic: for example, a resident impacted by a local problem who says something such as, “if this keeps up, I don’t know how long I can hold out.”
You’ll notice that both of those quotes concerned how the issue would play out in the future. But you don’t need a quote to speculate about future events. Doing so can accomplish a few things. It “raises the stakes” by emphasizing the future significance of the issue you’ve addressed. On top of that, it adds something to your paper that inherently fits well with the specific topics you’ve addressed already.
Call to Action.
Raising the stakes can be important if you’re trying to motivate some action. If that’s the case, an explicit or implicit call to action can be an important element of an effective conclusion.
This can be tough to pull off, but if there’s a way to explain everything thus far in a new light, that can be a very effective conclusion. Think of the twist ending to a movie.
An Effective Conclusion Featuring a Quote and a Call to Action
Well, um… no pressure here! But, in all seriousness, there are many effective tactics at your disposal as a writer looking to conclude your work. But the most important things to keep in mind are, what have you set out to say? And, on top of that, what have you learned as you’ve gone about saying it? A good conclusion, like good writing, is animated by a clear understanding of why you think the way that you do. If you can boil it down to something short and memorable, you’ve written yourself a solid conclusion.