So much is at stake in writing a conclusion. This is, after all, your last chance to persuade your readers to your point of view, to impress yourself upon them as a writer and thinker. And the impression you create in your conclusion will shape the impression that stays with your readers after they've finished the essay.
The end of an essay should therefore convey a sense of completeness and closure as well as a sense of the lingering possibilities of the topic, its larger meaning, its implications: the final paragraph should close the discussion without closing it off.
To establish a sense of closure, you might do one or more of the following:
- Conclude by linking the last paragraph to the first, perhaps by reiterating a word or phrase you used at the beginning.
- Conclude with a sentence composed mainly of one-syllable words. Simple language can help create an effect of understated drama.
- Conclude with a sentence that's compound or parallel in structure; such sentences can establish a sense of balance or order that may feel just right at the end of a complex discussion.
To close the discussion without closing it off, you might do one or more of the following:
- Conclude with a quotation from or reference to a primary or secondary source, one that amplifies your main point or puts it in a different perspective. A quotation from, say, the novel or poem you're writing about can add texture and specificity to your discussion; a critic or scholar can help confirm or complicate your final point. For example, you might conclude an essay on the idea of home in James Joyce's short story collection, Dubliners, with information about Joyce's own complex feelings towards Dublin, his home. Or you might end with a biographer's statement about Joyce's attitude toward Dublin, which could illuminate his characters' responses to the city. Just be cautious, especially about using secondary material: make sure that you get the last word.
- Conclude by setting your discussion into a different, perhaps larger, context. For example, you might end an essay on nineteenth-century muckraking journalism by linking it to a current news magazine program like 60 Minutes.
- Conclude by redefining one of the key terms of your argument. For example, an essay on Marx's treatment of the conflict between wage labor and capital might begin with Marx's claim that the "capitalist economy is . . . a gigantic enterprise ofdehumanization"; the essay might end by suggesting that Marxist analysis is itself dehumanizing because it construes everything in economic -- rather than moral or ethical-- terms.
- Conclude by considering the implications of your argument (or analysis or discussion). What does your argument imply, or involve, or suggest? For example, an essay on the novel Ambiguous Adventure, by the Senegalese writer Cheikh Hamidou Kane, might open with the idea that the protagonist's development suggests Kane's belief in the need to integrate Western materialism and Sufi spirituality in modern Senegal. The conclusion might make the new but related point that the novel on the whole suggests that such an integration is (or isn't) possible.
Finally, some advice on how not to end an essay:
- Don't simply summarize your essay. A brief summary of your argument may be useful, especially if your essay is long--more than ten pages or so. But shorter essays tend not to require a restatement of your main ideas.
- Avoid phrases like "in conclusion," "to conclude," "in summary," and "to sum up." These phrases can be useful--even welcome--in oral presentations. But readers can see, by the tell-tale compression of the pages, when an essay is about to end. You'll irritate your audience if you belabor the obvious.
- Resist the urge to apologize. If you've immersed yourself in your subject, you now know a good deal more about it than you can possibly include in a five- or ten- or 20-page essay. As a result, by the time you've finished writing, you may be having some doubts about what you've produced. (And if you haven't immersed yourself in your subject, you may be feeling even more doubtful about your essay as you approach the conclusion.) Repress those doubts. Don't undercut your authority by saying things like, "this is just one approach to the subject; there may be other, better approaches. . ."
Copyright 1998, Pat Bellanca, for the Writing Center at Harvard University
Step 6: Write introduction and conclusion
Introductory and concluding paragraphs function together as the frame around the argument of your essay. Or, using the visual image of book-ends holding the books – the body of your essay – together. It is important to write the introduction and the conclusion in one sitting, so that they match in mirror image to create a complete framework.
The Introductory Paragraph
When you’ve finished writing the middle paragraphs, the body of your essay, and you’re satisfied that the argument or case you’ve presented adequately supports your thesis statement, you’re now ready to write your introduction.
- Introduces the topic of your essay,
- ‘Welcomes’ the reader with a general statement that engages their interest or that they can agree with,
- Sets the scene for the discussion in the body of the essay,
- Builds up to the thesis statement,
- Prepares the reader for the thesis statement and your argument or case, but does not introduce points of argument,
- Concludes with the thesis statement.
In preparing the reader for the thesis statement, there are many approaches in writing an introduction that can be taken. The following are just a few:
- Provide historical background,
- Outline the present situation,
- Define terms,
- State the parameters of the essay,
- Discuss assumptions,
- Present a problem.
The following examples from Model Essays One and Two show how introductory paragraphs are developed.
The first six sentences in this introductory paragraph prepare the reader for the thesis statement in sentence 7 that the three key elements of a successful essay are ‘focus, organisation, and clarity‘
- Sentence 1 makes the generalisation that students ‘find essay writing difficult and frustrating’, and
- Sentences 2 and 3 expand on this generalisation.
- Sentence 4 reinforces the idea of difficulty.
- Sentence 5 turns the paragraph away from the difficulties of essay writing towards a way of addressing the difficulties by breaking the essay into components. (The word ‘however’ signals this change of direction.)
- Sentence 6 suggests that there are three of these components, preparing the way for the thesis statement that ‘focus, organisation, and clarity’ are these components.
Just as the introductory paragraph is written after the argument or case of the middle paragraphs has been written, so the title is written after the essay is completed. In this way, it can signpost what the reader can expect from the essay as a whole.
Note that the thesis statement has been re-worded, picking up the idea from the first sentence that the essay has had a long history in the phrase ‘continues to be‘ and strengthening ‘valid’ to ‘valuable‘.
The first four sentences in this introductory paragraph prepare the reader for the thesis statement in sentence 5 that the essay ‘continues to be a valuable learning and assessment medium’.
- Sentence 1 makes the generalisation that despite the age of the genre, essays are still set as assessment tasks.
- Sentence 2 notes that the genre has changed but some characteristics remain, and;
- Sentence 3 lists some of these characteristics.
- Sentence 4 asserts essay writing is demanding, but the ‘learning dividends are high’, which leads into the thesis statement.
The Concluding Paragraph:
The concluding paragraph completes the frame around the essay’s argument, which was opened in the introductory paragraph.
- Begins by restating the thesis,
- Should be a mirror image of the first paragraph,
- Sums up the essay as a whole,
- Contextualises the argument in a wider scope, but does not introduce new points,
- Leaves the reader with a sense of completion.
The following examples from Model Essays One and Two show how concluding paragraphs are developed.
- Sentence 1 restates the thesis that focus, organisation, and clarity are the key elements of a successful essay. The phrase ‘Clearly then’ implies that, having read the case for focus, organisation, and clarity being identified as the ‘key elements’, the reader agrees with the thesis.
- Sentence 2 acknowledges the importance of the essay’s content but asserts that sound content isn’t enough for success.
- Sentence 3 sums up the points made in the middle three paragraphs.
- Sentence 4 restates the generalisation the essay started with – that students find essay writing difficult – but then ends on a high note with the prediction that addressing the key elements discussed in the middle paragraphs will ensure success.
- Sentence 1 restates the thesis that the essay continues to be a valuable learning and assessment medium.
- Sentences 2 and 3 summarise the main points of the middle three paragraphs.
- Sentence 4 picks up the reference to the age of the essay genre, with which the essay begins, but then affirms the essay’s continuing relevance.
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