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!
Writing a Strong Introduction and Conclusion
Creating a strong, well-written introduction and conclusion is vital in writing an effective essay. Both give structure and meaning to the information you present in the body of your essay. In addition, they provide your reader easy access to your argument, position and purpose and keep the focus on them from the first word to the last word.
The introduction and conclusion are usually about 10 percent of your total paper length. For example, if your essay is 1000 words, both are around 100 words. This is not set in stone, but it is a good guide to help you determine the length. Aim to keep both around the same general length, and keep the information and tips below in mind as you write.
The introduction paragraph is your first chance to hook your readers. It should stay clear and concise while properly introducing your topic. A strong introduction meets the following four criteria:
- It explains the context.
- It answers the questions “what is this about?” by explaining the focus.
- It contains the thesis statement.
- It lays out the structure and organization.
The beginning is focused on context by providing background information on the topic. The first statement is somewhat broad, but be careful not to make it too broad. The goal is to establish what your essay is about by explaining the topic and subtopics you intend to share with readers.
The beginning of your introduction should be attention grabbing in some way. The following are methods with which to start your essay:
- Facts (data or statistics)
- Statement that is surprising
- General information
- Combination of any of the above
However you decide to start your essay, make sure it is interesting and makes readers want to continue reading.
Through subtopics and context that define the scope of your essay, the intro answers the questions of who, what, when, where, why and how. This means defining how your essay is limited, such as to a particular age group, time period, geographic location or something else.
Defining the scope does not involve providing lengthy explanations or definitions; save this for the body of your essay. Direct quotations should also be limited in the introduction. Facts or figures might prove helpful in identifying the background and scope, but limit these as well.
Your introduction also explains how the rest of the paper is organized. This is not detailed, but it does lay out how the information is presented. Whether the body paragraphs are organized in chronological, thematic or sequential order is identified in the introduction. Likewise, if each point is compared and contrasted, this is also explained in your first paragraph. Finally, your introduction ends with a transition to the body paragraphs.
Combined with your introduction, the conclusion puts the entire essay in context. Readers are left feeling as if the essay is unfinished when you do not write the conclusion well. Ultimately, you want the conclusion to tie things in a nice, neat bow—to show that your objectives were met. A good conclusion accomplishes three main things:
- It answers the question posed or provides solutions to the problem identified in the introduction by revisiting the thesis.
- It synthesizes/highlights the main points from the body of the essay and connects them.
- It explains the significance through relevance and implications of what the essay finds.
While the conclusion does the above things, it should also follow a similar pattern as your introduction. This means when restating the thesis, use similar language, but not the exact same wording. The conclusion is your last chance to convince readers of your argument, so take the most important points from the essay and restate them in the conclusion to sell your argument or perspective.
In addition, you can address what the implications are of a particular argument, why the argument matters or what additional questions it raises. You should not, however, introduce new information that is outside of the points addressed in the body of your essay. The following are approaches you might incorporate into your conclusion:
- Summary of main points through synthesis
- Restatement of the essay’s purpose
- Suggestions or recommendations
- Predictions about the future
- Your opinion
- Deductions based on evidence presented in the essay
How you end your essay is largely shaped on the length of your overall essay. A shorter essay does not allow much room for speculation or addressing the significance in too much detail. Instead, try ending with a broader statement on the bigger picture of a topic as it pertains to your essay. However you decide to end your essay, the final point made in the conclusion should make it clear that the essay is complete. A good conclusion answers the question of “so what?” by looking at the broader implications.
Above all else, your intro and concluding paragraphs play important roles. The introduction should make readers want to continue reading, to entice them into wanting to find out how your thesis is answered. Your conclusion takes the information from the body of your essay and revisits the introduction and thesis while addressing broader implications or the essay’s findings.