Writing Effective Conclusions In Essays

Do you remember the last words spoken by your ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend, the final advice given in your senior year by your favorite teacher, the words spoken by your mother or father as you left for college? These important moments ended a passage in your life; thus, they took on heightened significance and resonated long after they were spoken. In the same way, a good conclusion continues speaking to and resonating with a reader long after he or she has finished reading it.

A good conclusion should

  • Remind the reader of the thesis statement and answer the question, “So What?”
  • Give the essay a sense of completion and closure
  • Leave the reader with a final, lasting impression
  • Make the reader glad that he or she read your paper

Several types of effective and memorable conclusions

The Simple Summary

If you choose this common type of conclusion, be sure to synthesize, rather than merely summarizing. Avoid a dull restatement of your major points. Don't monotonously restate your major ideas; instead, show your readers how the points you raised fit together and why your ideas matter. Also, try to avoid the phrase, “and in conclusion.” This can insult the reader's intelligence: After all, if you've organized your paper well, it will be obvious that you have begun your concluding remarks.

The Frame or Circle Technique

Here, a writer circles back to the beginning, returning to the metaphor, image, anecdote, quotation, or example he or she used in the introductory paragraph. Echoing the introduction gives essays a nice sense of unity and completion.

The Panning to the Horizon Technique

This technique moves the reader from the specifics of a paper or essay to a larger, perhaps even universal, point. It redirects the readers, giving them something meaty to chew over. You can demonstrate the importance and broad significance of your topic by using an appropriate analogy, tying the topic to a larger philosophic or political issue, posing a challenging question, or encouraging the reader to look to the future.

The Proposal or Call to Action

Especially useful in a persuasive or argumentative essay, in this type of conclusion the writer makes a proposal and/or asks the readers to do something, calling them to action. It is frequently seen in sermons and political speeches.

The Concluding Story Technique

Here, the writer sums up the essay by sketching a scene or by telling a brief anecdote that illustrates the topic's significance. Often, this approach makes an emotional connection with the reader.

The Delayed Thesis Conclusion

In some essays, the writer takes an exploratory approach, perhaps dealing with a variety of proposals and solutions. The conclusion states the thesis almost as if it is a discovery, allowing the reader to make the discovery along with you. However, this can be a difficult technique to carry off. The thesis, even though it may go unstated until the very end, should nevertheless serve as the inevitable controlling force for the entire essay.

Teresa Sweeney & Fran Hooker, Webster University Writing Center, 2005

Introductions and conclusions play a special role in the academic essay, and they frequently demand much of your attention as a writer. A good introduction should identify your topic, provide essential context, and indicate your particular focus in the essay. It also needs to engage your readers’ interest. A strong conclusion will provide a sense of closure to the essay while again placing your concepts in a somewhat wider context. It will also, in some instances, add a stimulus to further thought. Since no two essays are the same, no single formula will automatically generate an introduction and conclusion for you. But the following guidelines will help you to construct a suitable beginning and end for your essay.

Some general advice about introductions

  1. Some students cannot begin writing the body of the essay until they feel they have the perfect introduction. Be aware of the dangers of sinking too much time into the introduction. Some of that time can be more usefully channeled into planning and writing.
  2. You may be the kind of writer who writes an introduction first in order to explore your own thinking on the topic. If so, remember that you may at a later stage need to compress your introduction.
  3. It can be fine to leave the writing of the introduction for a later stage in the essay-writing process. Some people write their introduction only after they have completed the rest of the essay. Others write the introduction first but rewrite it significantly in light of what they end up saying in the body of their paper.
  4. The introductions for most papers can be effectively written in one paragraph occupying half to three-quarters of the first page. Your introduction may be longer than that, and it may take more than one paragraph, but be sure you know why. The size of your introduction should bear some relationship to the length and complexity of your paper. A twenty page paper may call for a two-page introduction, but a five-page paper will not.
  5. Get to the point as soon as possible. Generally, you want to raise your topic in your very first sentences. A common error is to begin too broadly or too far off topic. Avoid sweeping generalizations.
  6. If your essay has a thesis, your thesis statement will typically appear at the end of your introduction, even though that is not a hard-and-fast rule. You may, for example, follow your thesis with a brief road map to your essay that sketches the basic structure of your argument. The longer the paper, the more useful a road map becomes.

How do I write an interesting, effective introduction?

Consider these strategies for capturing your readers’ attention and for fleshing out your introduction:

  1. Find a startling statistic that illustrates the seriousness of the problem you will address.
  2. Quote an expert (but be sure to introduce him or her first).
  3. Mention a common misperception that your thesis will argue against.
  4. Give some background information necessary for understanding the essay.
  5. Use a brief narrative or anecdote that exemplifies your reason for choosing the topic. In an assignment that encourages personal reflection, you may draw on your own experiences; in a research essay, the narrative may illustrate a common real-world scenario.
  6. In a science paper, explain key scientific concepts and refer to relevant literature. Lead up to your own contribution or intervention.
  7. In a more technical paper, define a term that is possibly unfamiliar to your audience but is central to understanding the essay.

In fleshing out your introduction, you will want to avoid some common pitfalls:

  1. Don’t provide dictionary definitions, especially of words your audience already knows.
  2. Don’t repeat the assignment specifications using the professor’s wording.
  3. Don’t give details and in-depth explanations that really belong in your body paragraphs. You can usually postpone background material to the body of the essay.

Some general advice about conclusions

  1. A conclusion is not merely a summary of your points or a re-statement of your thesis. If you wish to summarize—and often you must—do so in fresh language. Remind the reader of how the evidence you’ve presented has contributed to your thesis.
  2. The conclusion, like much of the rest of the paper, involves critical thinking. Reflect upon the significance of what you’ve written. Try to convey some closing thoughts about the larger implications of your argument.
  3. Broaden your focus a bit at the end of the essay. A good last sentence leaves your reader with something to think about, a concept in some way illuminated by what you’ve written in the paper.
  4. For most essays, one well-developed paragraph is sufficient for a conclusion. In some cases, a two-or-three paragraph conclusion may be appropriate. As with introductions, the length of the conclusion should reflect the length of the essay.

How do I write an interesting, effective conclusion?

The following strategies may help you move beyond merely summarizing the key points of your essay:

  1. If your essay deals with a contemporary problem, warn readers of the possible consequences of not attending to the problem.
  2. Recommend a specific course of action.
  3. Use an apt quotation or expert opinion to lend authority to the conclusion you have reached.
  4. Give a startling statistic, fact, or visual image to drive home the ultimate point of your paper.
  5. If your discipline encourages personal reflection, illustrate your concluding point with a relevant narrative drawn from your own life experiences.
  6. Return to an anecdote, example, or quotation that you introduced in your introduction, but add further insight that derives from the body of your essay.
  7. In a science or social science paper, mention worthwhile avenues for future research on your topic.

How does genre affect my introduction or conclusion?

Most of the advice in this handout pertains to argumentative or exploratory academic essays. Be aware, however, that different genres have their own special expectations about beginnings and endings. Some academic genres may not even require an introduction or conclusion. An annotated bibliography, for example, typically provides neither. A book review may begin with a summary of the book and conclude with an overall assessment of it. A policy briefing usually includes an introduction but may conclude with a series of recommendations. Check your assignment carefully for any directions about what to include in your introduction or conclusion.

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