How to Write a Good Conclusion
Options—possible strategies for a conclusion
- A short paper almost never needs a summary unless your points are very technical. People stop reading when they see a summary. If you do choose to include a summary, keep it short and use fresh wording.
- Frame your essay by reminding the reader of something you referred to in your introduction and by reminding the reader of your thesis.
- End on a strong note: a quotation, a question, a suggestion, a reference to an anecdote in the introduction, a humorous and insightful comment, a call to action, or a look to the future.
What to Avoid
Do not apologize for the inadequacy of your argument ("I do not know much about this problem") or for holding your opinions ("I am sorry if you do not agree with me, but …").
- Do not use the identical wording you used in your introduction.
- Do not introduce totally new ideas. If you raise a new point at the end, your reader might expect more details.
- Do not contradict what you said previously.
- Do not be too sweeping in your conclusions. Do not condemn the whole medical profession, for example, because one person you know had a bad time in one hospital.
- Avoid the standard cliché endings: "In conclusion," "In summary." Those signal the reader that all the good material has gone by and all that remains is the ending that had to be tacked on to satisfy a teacher.
- Avoid the temptation to turn the essay into a sermon. A discussion of smoking, drug use, or abortion should not end by assuming that the reader needs to reform his/her life.
Think of your conclusion as completing a circle. You have taken readers on a journey from presentation of the topic in your introduction, to your thesis, to supporting evidence and discussion, with specific examples and illustrations. Remind readers of the purpose of the journey. Recall the main idea of the paper, and make a strong statement about it that will stay in their minds. Readers should leave your document feeling satisfied, not turning the page and looking for more.¹
Using Concluding Paragraphs to Help You Revise
You are writing your first draft. You type the last period for the last sentence, and breathe deeply: You are done.
But no, wait, sorry: You are not done, not if you want the strongest possible writing. Definitely take a deep breath and leave your paper for a while—but come back several hours or a day later.
For writers, the first draft of a conclusion provides crucial information:
- Often, a conclusion is when you realize what your argument really is. Experienced writers know that a first draft is only a beginning, and that often they don't know what they really want to argue until that first attempt at a conclusion. Sometimes writers use the concluding paragraph of a first draft—because it is often a succinct and passionate statement of an argument—as the first paragraph of the next draft.
- If you do feel that the concluding paragraph is an accurate and strong statement of your argument, go back through the rest of the paper and ask yourself: Do all the other paragraphs lead up to and support the conclusion?
- Because most writers intuitively know that concluding paragraphs should include a little passion, they include passion—but often there is no passion in the rest of the writing, and so the conclusion will seem unsuitable to readers. When you finish a conclusion, check that its emotional tone is supported by the rest of the writing, just as you check to make sure its logical claims are likewise supported.
- Use the concluding paragraph to help you make your introductory paragraph as strong and engaging as possible. Knowing the end point where you want to take readers, what might be the most effective starting point?²
- This section was adapted from Raimes, Ann. Keys for Writers. 4th ed., Houghton Mifflin, 2005.
- Wysocki, Anne Francis, and Dennis Lynch. The DK Handbook. Pearson, 2009.