Arielle Ulrich, Consultant
Working at the writing center, I constantly hear students say that they hate writing conclusions. These students will bring in papers that seem finished, but end abruptly—or they may have written a conclusion, but it’s only a sentence or two re-stating the last paragraph.
I’m no stranger to this struggle. Even the conclusion to the simplest paper can leave me stumped, and I often have to leave the paper alone for a few hours while I try to think of the “perfect” conclusion. Of course, as the last thing the reader sees in the paper, conclusions are very important. But my obsession with the perfect conclusion instead psyches me out, leaving me with a case of writer’s block.
When this happens, I remind myself that a good conclusion cannot fix a bad paper, nor will it solve any of its organizational or structural problems. I find it more helpful to consider a conclusion as the closing statements of my argument. By this point, I should have already said everything I needed to say and written the meat of my paper. I’ve argued, elaborated, and explicated every point. My conclusion will simply wrap up my paper and place my topic into context for the reader.
- In light of this, I have a few tips for conclusions. Which tip you follow may depend on your field, so consider which strategy works best for your paper. These are my three go-to tips: Explain the significance of your paper. Make sure the reader knows why your topic is important. Usually, this involves placing your question into a broader context or comparing it to a current issue. If you cannot think of the significance, ask yourself, “so what?” This approach is especially useful in history or expository papers.
- Recommend further research. Now that you’ve examined the current research on your topic, you have the chance to take the next step and recommend a course of action for the future. Is there a topic or approach you would ask a future researcher to consider? In other words: what questions are you left with at the end your paper? This tip will work best with papers that have a significant research component.
- Synthesize your points. This strategy requires that you not only summarize your paper, but also put together the pieces for your reader. How does your argument come together? If your paper is either very long or complex (or both!), this type of conclusion would be a good choice.
Any of these strategies would guarantee that your reader leaves knowing the purpose of your paper. You also shouldn’t feel that you can use only one of these strategies at a time—in some papers, you may use all of them, provided they are relevant.
These two writing center sites also have good pointers. Feel free to peruse these before writing your next paper:
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/conclusions/
University College, Toronto: http://www.uc.utoronto.ca/intros-and-conclusions