Essay Writing: How to Write an Effective Conclusion

Introductions and conclusions can be difficult to write, but they are worth investing time in. They can have a significant influence on a reader’s experience of your paper and they are often the final remarks your examiner will read before making a decision on how well you have met the criteria of the exam or assignment.

Just as your introduction acts as a bridge that develops and explores the question or essay title in depth, so the conclusion draws together the various strands of your argument to create a succinct and powerful evaluation of your findings. Your conclusion allows you to synthesize your thoughts; to demonstrate the validity and importance of your ideas and to elicit an awareness for a potentially new view of the subject at hand. Your conclusion should be evaluative in that it looks at the comparative importance of the various points you have raised in the main body of your essay. You should consider this hierarchical structure in your planning and then refer back to it in your conclusion.

Your conclusion can go beyond the confines of the assignment. The conclusion pushes beyond the boundaries of the prompt and allows you to consider broader issues, make new connections, and elaborate on the significance of your analysis in the main body. Your conclusion gives your reader something to take away that will help them see things differently or appreciate your topic in ways they may not have considered.

Strategies for Writing an Effective Conclusion:

One or more of the following strategies may help you write an effective conclusion

  • Play the “So What” Game. If you are stuck and feel like your conclusion isn’t saying anything new or interesting, ask a friend to read it with you. or read it aloud. Whenever you make a statement from your conclusion, ask the friend to say: “So what?” Ponder that question and answer it, verbally first and then consider a more nuanced and formal write up.
Here’s how it might go:

You: Basically, I’m just saying that education was important to Frankenstein's Monster.

Friend: So what?

You: Well, it was important because it was a key to him feeling free and to make sense of the cruel world around him.

Friend: Why should anybody care?

You: It's important because his readings of key texts such as Paradise Lost made him realise his experiences were shared with others and he was not entirely alone. Also in doing so, Mary Shelley makes an explicit comparison of Victor 's desire to mirror God's work and failing. This draws on themes of creation, identity as well as Victor as an over-reacher and the unintended consequences for his Monster.

By playing this game, the initial statement is expanded upon in much more depth and clarity. It highlights education as a catalyst for the Monster’s self-awareness and highlights the cause and effect relationship between this theme, intertextuality and other secondary motifs present in the text.

  • Return to the theme or themes in the introduction. This strategy brings the reader full circle. For example, if you begin by describing a scenario, you can end with the same scenario as proof that your essay is helpful in creating a new understanding. You may also refer to the introductory paragraph by using key words or parallel concepts and images that you also used in the introduction.
  • Synthesise, don’t summarise: Include a brief summary of the paper’s position on the concepts, but don’t simply repeat things. Instead, demonstrate to your reader the comparative importance of your points and examples. Pull it all together by illustrating their relationship with one another within the text.
  • Zoom out to the broader implications both in the texts and for the wider literature. This should give your essay a wider perspective to help consolidate your in-depth points in the main body. Think of this like the final scenes in a film when the camera pans out over the landscape.

Strategies to avoid in writing your conclusion:

  • Beginning with an unnecessary, overused phrase such as “in conclusion,” “in summary,” or “in closing.” Although these phrases can work in speeches, they come across as wooden and trite in writing.
  • Stating the thesis for the very first time in the conclusion. You should have already covered this in depth in the main body. The same goes for introducing a new idea or subtopic in your conclusion.
  • Making sentimental, emotional appeals would be are out of character with the rest of an analytical paper. Save these for persuasive speech writing or transactional writing.
  • Including evidence (quotations, statistics, etc.) that should be in the body of the paper. This is not the time for in-depth language analysis, instead this is the opportunity to draw together these strands and demonstrate a commonality with each point. Avoid falling into the trap of making this another main body paragraph.

Four kinds of ineffective conclusions:

  1. The ‘That’s My Story and I’m Sticking to It’ conclusion. This conclusion just restates the thesis and is usually painfully short. It does not push the ideas forward. People write this kind of conclusion when they can’t think of anything else to say.
  2. A ‘Ta-Dah!’ conclusion. Sometimes writers will state the thesis for the very first time in the conclusion. You may think it would be more dramatic to keep the reader in the dark until the end and then “wow” them with your main idea, as in a Sherlock Holmes mystery. The reader, however, does not expect a mystery, but an analytical discussion of your topic in an academic style, with the main argument (thesis) stated up front.
  3. An ‘Emotive Catch-phrase’ conclusion. This kind of conclusion usually draws on emotion to make its appeal, but while this emotion and even sentimentality may be very heartfelt, it is usually out of character with the rest of an analytical paper. A more sophisticated commentary, rather than emotional rhetoric would be a more fitting tribute to the topic. Similarly, treating characters within Literature essays as though they are real usually falls into the category. An essay should be objective and formal therefore such writing would be immature and out of place.
  4. The ‘Catch all’ conclusion. This kind of conclusion includes extra information that the writer found or thought of but couldn’t see a way of integrating into the main paper. You may find it hard to leave out details that you discovered after hours of research and thought, but adding random facts and bits of evidence at the end of an otherwise-well-organised essay can just create confusion. Try to be as clear as possible in your final lines and outline your argument in a measured approach. Avoid this ‘Catch all’ approach of trying to shove in every last detail even it is doesn’t quite address the question.

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