Imagine the following scenario and ask yourself: how many times have I been in this position? It’s almost midnight, the night before your term paper is due, and you’re stressing over the last minute details. All the information organized in a logical way? Check. Correct spelling and punctuation? Check. Sources cited properly? Check. Then you realize…“oh no, I still haven’t written the conclusion!”
Raise your hand if that sentence has passed through your head at one point or another, because let’s face it, writing a conclusion is a pain in the neck. Whether it’s a short paper for class or your first proposal after starting work at a new company, the conclusion is always the section of the paper that you put off writing for as long as possible. Seriously, how are you supposed to sum up, say, your 200-page dissertation in just a few paragraphs?
1) Ask the question, “so what?”
Your conclusion shouldn’t ask and answer the question, “what is this?” Hopefully, the rest of your paper has already done that. Rather, ask the question “so what?” meaning ask yourself, “why is this information important and why should anybody care?” This is particularly effective if you’re a technical writer finishing up a document; you’ve just spent x amount of pages describing your product, but it won’t do much good if the audience is still unsure about buying it. Use this as a chance to make them sure.
Use the Socratic Method when thinking of how to form your ending statements. Play out a little dialogue in your head between yourself and the potential reader. If the reader asks why your argument is relevant, have a definitive answer ready and waiting. If the reader picks out a flaw in that argument, find a way to back it up. Remember, your conclusion is your last chance to make the audience realize why your points are valid. Make it count!
2) Restate your thesis.
This is where things can get tricky. First of all, reiterate your thesis, but don’t say exactly the same thing you did in your introduction. Find a way to rephrase the original statement, including some examples previously used in the paper. Synthesize your main points and show how they form a cohesive argument – explain why everything fits together. Think of your paper as a jigsaw puzzle and your conclusion is the final piece that anchors the rest of them. In doing so, you are able to not only sum up your points without being redundant, but also show your audience that you care enough about your argument to give it a good ending and not take the lazy, copy-and-paste-the-original-thesis approach.
3) Connect the topic to broader themes
This is a good way to get your audience involved in the discussion. Ask a question about your topic and then propose a solution, apply the information to something else of relevance. For instance, if you’re writing an analysis on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, then give examples of how that novel has influenced others in contemporary American literature. Likewise, if you’re writing a scientific paper, then elaborate on how the discoveries made could impact future studies. Make your audience think about how your argument connects with others like it, and in doing so, potentially discover the topic for your next paper.
And there you have it, folks: three steps for how to write an effective conclusion. It’s one of the hardest and most nerve-wracking things to write, especially if you’re a proposal writer and any part of the given proposal could determine whether or not your company gets the bid. So bear these tips in mind the next time you sit down at your desk at midnight the night before the assignment is due. Because to your teachers, the idea of a weak conclusion is totally and completely…
For more information, visit http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/conclusions/
Thanks for reading!
Erin S. O’Reilly