Essay Conclusions

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Conclusions are hard to write, because you need to do more than just repeat yourself. Unfortunately, many essays end somewhat like this:

In conclusion, we can now see that the thesis is correct. The essay made three points, and let me repeat them again. Point one showed us this. Point two showed us that. Point three was unrelated, but was quite interesting too. And that’s why the thesis, as mentioned, has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. The end.

Let’s see how we can improve on this kind of formulaic conclusion.

What to avoid

Here are some things to avoid in a conclusion.

1. Don’t employ generalizations, for instance about gender, historical time periods, cultural movements, etc.

2. Don’t provide a repetitive summary of everything you’ve said. This is especially true for short essays, where the reader will remember your argument.

3. Don’t resort to phrases like “In conclusion,” “In summary,” etc. We can see that the end is in sight.

4. Don’t introduce your ideas with wordy phrases like “In short, what we have seen is that . . .”

5. Don’t use some inspirational quotation from a Gandhi or a Gibran when you’ve found it online only a minute ago.

6. Don’t apologize for any shortcomings the essay may have.

7. Don’t suddenly become sentimental, personal, or moralizing.

8. Don’t use a lot of the same phrases you have used previously in the essay.

What works

There is no one way to write a conclusion, but here are some tips and suggestions:

1. Zoom out and return to the research question you started with. Make a case why your essay has demonstrated your thesis. Don’t just assume that people will by now simply accept your argument. Use fresh language to point out how smart your thesis really is.

2. If you discover that over the course of your essay your argument has changed, go back to the introduction and rewrite it.

3. Use one more quotation from the text (or a related text) that nicely captures the thesis you’ve argued. Just be careful your own voice is not drowned out by others.

4. Come back to one key term that you’ve been trying to define (e.g., paradox, euthanasia) and suggest how the essay has changed our perspective.

5. Work out some of the implications of the argument. Where could this discussion go from here?  A conclusion does not have to be the final word; any closure it provides is temporary.

6. Place your discussion in a larger context (social, historical, scientific) without using generalizations.

7. Think about the length and complexity of your sentences. A short sentence at the end of your essay suggests that you are succinct and are able to sum up complicated ideas with ease.  A longer sentence with a more complex syntax suggests mastery of a concept or argument, and implies that your argument is balanced and nuanced.