Writing a Conclusion
It’s important to write a good introduction. It’s important to keep things organized in the main body of your writing. And it’s important to write a good conclusion. In a nonfiction piece, the purpose of a conclusion is to tie things up, summarize what has been said, and reinforce the main idea. In a creative writing piece, it also helps tie things up and might also leave the reader thinking or wondering.
A good way to get started writing conclusions is to give yourself a starting point. You can begin with any of the following: to sum up, in conclusion, in summary. Make sure these sound appropriate and fit well with what you’ve written. As you grow as a writer, you might want to leave these behind and try other strategies.
Use what you’ve written to help you write your conclusion. You can often rephrase what you included in your introductory paragraph. If you began with, "The colors of autumn make it my favorite season," then you can include a similar sentence in your conclusion. For example, "It is the orange, red, and brown of the leaves that make me love the fall."
You can also end with a question. This may or may not be effective, depending on the content and style of your writing. For a story about a boy who gets a new puppy, you might end with, "Can you imagine all the wonderful things to come?" For a piece on the importance of brushing your teeth, you might make the reader think with something like, "You don’t want all of that on your teeth all night long, do you?"
However you choose to write your conclusion, be sure that it fits well with your piece. It should flow naturally and remind the reader of the wonderful things you’ve written.
Time4Writing provides practice in this area. View our coursework available in Middle School Advanced Essay or browse other related courses.
What is a conclusion?
- A conclusion is what you will leave with your reader
- It "wraps up" your essay
- It demonstrates to the reader that you accomplished what you set out to do
- It shows how you have proved your thesis
- It provides the reader with a sense of closure on the topic
- A conclusion is the opposite of the introduction
- Remember that the introduction begins general and ends specific
- The conclusion begins specific and moves to the general
- So, if we use shapes to demonstrate the essay’s content, it would look like this:
Body of Essay
Rephrased thesis statement
What to include
- Your conclusion wraps up your essay in a tidy package and brings it home for your reader
- Your topic sentence should summarize what you said in your thesis statement
- This suggests to your reader that you have accomplished what you set out to accomplish
- Do not simply restate your thesis statement, as that would be redundant
- Rephrase the thesis statement with fresh and deeper understanding
- Your conclusion is no place to bring up new ideas
- Your supporting sentences should summarize what you have already said in the body of your essay
- If a brilliant idea tries to sneak into the final paragraph, you must pluck it out and let it have its own paragraph in the body, or leave it out completely
- Your topic for each body paragraph should be summarized in the conclusion
- Your closing sentence should help the reader feel a sense of closure
- Your closing sentence is your last word on the subject; it is your "clincher"
- Demonstrate the importance of your ideas
- Propel your reader to a new view of the subject
- End on a positive note
- Your closing sentence should make your readers glad they read your paper
Strategies for an effective conclusion
- Play the "So What" Game.
- When you read a statement from the conclusion, ask yourself, "So what?" or "Why should anybody care?"
- Ponder that question and answer it
- Basically, I’m just saying that education was important to Douglass
- So what?
- Well, it was important because it was a key to him feeling like a free and equal citizen
- Why should anybody care?
- That’s important because plantation owners tried to keep slaves from being educated so that they could maintain control. When Douglass obtained an education, he undermined that control personally.
- Return to the theme or themes in the introduction
- This brings the reader full circle
- 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
- Refer to the introductory paragraph by using key words, or parallel concepts and images that you also used in the introduction
- Include a brief summary of the paper’s main points, but don’t simply repeat things that were in the paper
- Pull it all together
- Show your reader how the points you made and the support and examples you used fit together
- Include a provocative insight or quotation from the research or reading you did for the paper
- Propose a course of action, a solution to an issue, or questions for further study
- Point to broader implications
- A paper about the style of writer, Virginia Woolf, could point to her influence on other writers or later feminists
Concluding strategies that do not work
- Beginning with an unnecessary, overused phrase
- These may work in speeches, but they come across as wooden and trite in writing
- "in conclusion"
- "in summary"
- "in closing"
- "as shown in the essay"
- Stating the thesis for the very first time
- Introducing a new idea or subtopic in your conclusion
- Making sentimental, emotional appeals that are out of character with the rest of the paper
- Including evidence (quotations, statistics, etc.) that should be in the body of the paper
- "That’s My Story and I’m Sticking to It"
- Restates the thesis and is usually painfully short
- Does not push ideas forward
- Written when the writer can’t think of anything else to say
- In conclusion, Frederick Douglass was, as we have seen, a pioneer in American education, proving that education was a major force for social change with regard to slavery.
- "Sherlock Holmes"
- State the thesis for the first time in the conclusion
- Writer thinks it would be more dramatic to keep the reader in suspense and then "wow" them with the main idea, as in a Sherlock Holmes mystery
- Readers want an analytical discussion of the topic in academic style, with the thesis statement up front
- "America the Beautiful"
- Draws on emotion to make its appeal
- Out of character with the rest of the paper
- "Grab Bag"
- Includes extra information thought of or found but couldn’t integrate into the main body
- Creates confusion for the reader
- Topic sentence
- Fresh rephrasing of thesis statement
- Supporting sentences
- Summarize or wrap up the main points in the body of the essay
- Explain how ideas fit together
- Closing sentence
- Final words
- Connects back to the introduction
- Provides a sense of closure
The introduction and conclusion serve important roles in a history paper. They are not simply perfunctory additions in academic writing, but are critical to your task of making a persuasive argument.
A successful introduction will:
- draw your readers in
- culminate in a thesis statement that clearly states your argument
- orient your readers to the key facts they need to know in order to understand your thesis
- lay out a roadmap for the rest of your paper
A successful conclusion will:
- draw your paper together
- reiterate your argument clearly and forcefully
- leave your readers with a lasting impression of why your argument matters or what it brings to light
How to write an effective introduction:
Often students get slowed down in paper-writing because they are not sure how to write the introduction. Do not feel like you have to write your introduction first simply because it is the first section of your paper. You can always come back to it after you write the body of your essay. Whenever you approach your introduction, think of it as having three key parts:
1. The opening line
2. The middle "stage-setting" section
3. The thesis statement
To see how to navigate these three parts in practice, look at the below examples of a weak and strong introduction. Suppose you are taking a Near Eastern history class and your professor has distributed the following paper prompt:
“In a 4-5 page paper, describe the process of nation-building in one Middle Eastern state. What were the particular goals of nation-building? What kinds of strategies did the state employ? What were the results? Be specific in your analysis, and draw on at least one of the scholars of nationalism that we discussed in class.”
Here is an example of a WEAK introduction for this prompt:
“One of the most important tasks the leader of any country faces is how to build a united and strong nation. This has been especially true in the Middle East, where the country of Jordan offers one example of how states in the region approached nation-building. Founded after World War I by the British, Jordan has since been ruled by members of the Hashemite family. To help them face the difficult challenges of founding a new state, they employed various strategies of nation-building.”
Now, here is a REVISED version of that same introduction:
“Since 1921, when the British first created the mandate of Transjordan and installed Abdullah I as its emir, the Hashemite rulers have faced a dual task in nation-building. First, as foreigners to the region, the Hashemites had to establish their legitimacy as Jordan’s rightful leaders. Second, given the arbitrary boundaries of the new nation, the Hashemites had to establish the legitimacy of Jordan itself, binding together the people now called ‘Jordanians.’ To help them address both challenges, the Hashemite leaders crafted a particular narrative of history, what Anthony Smith calls a ‘nationalist mythology.’ By presenting themselves as descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, as leaders of the Arab Revolt, and as the fathers of Jordan’s different tribal groups, they established the authority of their own regime and the authority of the new nation, creating one of the most stable states in the modern Middle East.”
The first draft of the introduction, while a good initial step, is not strong enough to set up a solid, argument-based paper. Here are the key issues:
1. Opening line: “One of the most important tasks the leader of any country faces is how to build a united and strong nation.”
- This first sentence is too general. From the beginning of your paper, you want to invite your reader into your specific topic, rather than make generalizations that could apply to any nation in any time or place. Students often run into the problem of writing general or vague opening lines, such as, “War has always been one of the greatest tragedies to befall society.” Or, “The Great Depression was one of the most important events in American history.” Avoid statements that are too sweeping or imprecise. Ask yourself if the sentence you have written can apply in any time or place or could apply to any event or person. If the answer is yes, then you need to make your opening line more specific.
- Here is the revised opening line: “Since 1921, when the British first created the mandate of Transjordan and installed Abdullah I as its emir, the Hashemite rulers have faced a dual task in nation-building.”
- This is a stronger opening line because it speaks precisely to the topic at hand. The paper prompt is not asking you to talk about nation-building in general, but nation-building in one specific place.
2. Stage-setting: “This has been especially true in the Middle East, where the country of Jordan offers one example of how states in the region approached nation-building. Founded after World War I by the British, Jordan has since been ruled by members of the Hashemite family.”
- This stage-setting section is also too general. Certainly, such background information is critical for the reader to know, but notice that it simply restates much of the information already in the prompt. The question already asks you to pick one example, so your job is not simply to reiterate that information, but to explain what kind of example Jordan presents. You also need to tell your reader why the context you are providing matters.
- Revised stage-setting: “First, as foreigners to the region, the Hashemites had to establish their legitimacy as Jordan’s rightful leaders. Second, given the arbitrary boundaries of the new nation, the Hashemites had to establish the legitimacy of Jordan itself, binding together the people now called ‘Jordanians.’ To help them address both challenges, the Hashemite rulers crafted a particular narrative of history, what Anthony Smith calls a ‘nationalist mythology.’”
- This stage-setting is stronger because it introduces the reader to the problem at hand. Instead of simply saying when and why Jordan was created, the author explains why the manner of Jordan’s creation posed particular challenges to nation-building. It also sets the writer up to address the questions in the prompt, getting at both the purposes of nation-building in Jordan and referencing the scholar of nationalism s/he will be drawing on from class: Anthony Smith.
3. Thesis statement: “To help them face the difficult challenges of founding a new state, they employed various strategies of nation-building.”
- This thesis statement restates the prompt rather than answers the question. You need to be specific about what strategies of nation-building Jordan’s leaders used. You also need to assess those strategies, so that you can answer the part of the prompt that asks about the results of nation-building.
- Revised thesis statement: “By presenting themselves as descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, as leaders of the Arab Revolt, and as the fathers of Jordan’s different tribal groups, they established the authority of their regime and the authority of the new nation, creating one of the most stable states in the modern Middle East.”
- This thesis statement is stronger because:
1. It directly answers the question in the prompt. Even though you will be persuading readers of your argument through the evidence you present in the body of your paper, you want to tell them at the outset exactly what you are arguing.
2. It discusses the significance of the argument, saying that Jordan created an especially stable state. This helps you answer the question about the results of Jordan’s nation-building project.
3. It offers a roadmap for the rest of the paper. The writer knows how to proceed and the reader knows what to expect. The body of the paper will discuss the Hashemite claims “as descendants from the Prophet Muhammad, as leaders of the Arab Revolt, and as the fathers of Jordan’s different tribal groups.”
If you write your introduction first, be sure to revisit it after you have written your entire essay. Because your paper will evolve as you write, you need to go back and make sure that the introduction still sets up your argument and still fits your organizational structure.
How to write an effective conclusion:
Your conclusion serves two main purposes. First, it reiterates your argument in different language than you used in the thesis and body of your paper. Second, it tells your reader why your argument matters. In your conclusion, you want to take a step back and consider briefly the historical implications or significance of your topic. You will not be introducing new information that requires lengthy analysis, but you will be telling your readers what your paper helps bring to light. Perhaps you can connect your paper to a larger theme you have discussed in class, or perhaps you want to pose a new sort of question that your paper elicits. There is no right or wrong “answer” to this part of the conclusion: you are now the “expert” on your topic, and this is your chance to leave your reader with a lasting impression based on what you have learned.
Here is an example of an effective conclusion for the same essay prompt:
“To speak of the nationalist mythology the Hashemites created, however, is not to say that it has gone uncontested. In the 1950s, the Jordanian National Movement unleashed fierce internal opposition to Hashemite rule, crafting an alternative narrative of history in which the Hashemites were mere puppets to Western powers. Various tribes have also reasserted their role in the region’s past, refusing to play the part of “sons” to Hashemite “fathers.” For the Hashemites, maintaining their mythology depends on the same dialectical process that John R. Gillis identified in his investigation of commemorations: a process of both remembering and forgetting. Their myth remembers their descent from the Prophet, their leadership of the Arab Revolt, and the tribes’ shared Arab and Islamic heritage. It forgets, however, the many different histories that Jordanians champion, histories that the Hashemite mythology has never been able to fully reconcile.”
This is an effective conclusion because it moves from the specific argument addressed in the body of the paper to the question of why that argument matters. The writer rephrases the argument by saying, “Their myth remembers their descent from the Prophet, their leadership of the Arab Revolt, and the tribes’ shared Arab and Islamic heritage.” Then, the writer reflects briefly on the larger implications of the argument, showing how Jordan’s nationalist mythology depended on the suppression of other narratives.
Introduction and Conclusion checklist
When revising your introduction and conclusion, check them against the following guidelines:
Does my introduction:
1. draw my readers in?
2. culminate in a thesis statement that clearly states my argument?
3. orient my readers to the key facts they need to know in order to understand my thesis?
4. lay out a roadmap for the rest of my paper?
Does my conclusion:
1. draw my paper together?
2. reiterate my argument clearly and forcefully?
3. leave my readers with a lasting impression of why my argument matters or what it brings to light?
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