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
The conclusion is a very important part of your essay. Although it is sometimes treated as a roundup of all of the bits that didn’t fit into the paper earlier, it deserves better treatment than that! It's the last thing the reader will see, so it tends to stick in the reader's memory. It's also a great place to remind the reader exactly why your topic is important. A conclusion is more than just "the last paragraph"—it's a working part of the paper. This is the place to push your reader to think about the consequences of your topic for the wider world or for the reader's own life!
A good conclusion should do a few things:
- Restate your thesis
- Synthesize or summarize your major points
- Make the context of your argument clear
Restating Your Thesis
You've already spent time and energy crafting a solid thesis statement for your introduction, and if you've done your job right, your whole paper focuses on that thesis statement. That's why it's so important to address the thesis in your conclusion! Many writers choose to begin the conclusion by restating the thesis, but you can put your thesis into the conclusion anywhere—the first sentence of the paragraph, the last sentence, or in between. Here are a few tips for rephrasing your thesis:
- Remind the reader that you've proven this thesis over the course of your paper. For example, if you're arguing that your readers should get their pets from animal shelters rather than pet stores, you might say, "If you were considering that puppy in the pet-shop window, remember that your purchase will support 'puppy mills' instead of rescuing a needy dog, and consider selecting your new friend at your local animal shelter." This example gives the reader not only the thesis of the paper, but a reminder of the most powerful point in the argument!
- Revise the thesis statement so that it reflects the relationship you've developed with the reader during the paper. For example, if you've written a paper that targets parents of young children, you can find a way to phrase your thesis to capitalize on that—maybe by beginning your thesis statement with, "As a parent of a young child…"
- Don’t repeat your thesis word for word—make sure that your new statement is an independent, fresh sentence!
Summary or Synthesis
This section of the conclusion might come before the thesis statement or after it. Your conclusion should remind the reader of what your paper actually says! The best conclusion will include a synthesis, not just a summary—instead of a mere list of your major points, the best conclusion will draw those points together and relate them to one another so that your reader can apply the information given in the essay. Here are a couple of ways to do that:
- Give a list of the major arguments for your thesis (usually, these are the topic sentences of the parts of your essay).
- Explain how these parts are connected. For example, in the animal-shelter essay, you might point out that adopting a shelter dog helps more animals because your adoption fee supports the shelter, which makes your choice more socially responsible.
One of the most important functions of the conclusion is to provide context for your argument. Your reader may finish your essay without a problem and understand your argument without understanding why that argument is important. Your introduction might point out the reason your topic matters, but your conclusion should also tackle this questions. Here are some strategies for making your reader see why the topic is important:
- Tell the reader what you want him or her to do. Is your essay a call to action? If so, remind the reader of what he/she should do. If not, remember that asking the reader to think a certain way is an action in itself. (In the above examples, the essay asks the reader to adopt a shelter dog—a specific action.)
- Explain why this topic is timely or important. For example, the animal-shelter essay might end with a statistic about the number of pets in shelters waiting for adoption.
- Remind the readers of why the topic matters to them personally. For example, it doesn’t matter much if you believe in the mission of animal shelters, if you're not planning to get a dog; however, once you're looking for a dog, it is much more important. The conclusion of this essay might say, "Since you’re in the market for a dog, you have a major decision to make: where to get one." This will remind the reader that the argument is personally important!