Having trouble finding the right words to finish your paper? Are your conclusions bland? This handout covers basic techniques for writing stronger endings, including
- Diagnosing and improving paragraph cohesion
- Avoiding 7 common errors when drafting and revising conclusions
- Answering the reader’s unspoken question—“So what?”
Improve paragraph cohesion
A. Make your sentences conform to a “given/new” contract
“Given” information (familiar to your reader) should come first in the sentence. For example, you could reiterate a main idea in the sentence or two beforehand, or something apparent within the context of the sentence, or an idea that taps into readers’ general knowledge of a topic. “New” information (additional, unfamiliar, and/or more complex) should comprise the second half of your sentence.
The “new” info of one sentence then becomes the “given” or familiar info of the next, improving overall flow and coherence.
B. Use “topic-strings”
Each sentence needs a topic or main idea, which should be in the “given” part of the sentence. Shift “given” info closer to the beginnings of your sentences when you can, so that the topic is clear. As well, each paragraph needs an overall topic, usually established in the first or second sentences. To check paragraph coherence, see whether your sentence topics (“givens”) connect consistently from sentence to sentence. Can you find a consistent topic throughout the paragraph, almost as if you were tracing a single colored thread? A set of sentences with clear topics creates a “topic thread.” This, along with appropriate use of transitions, helps to ensure a coherent paragraph.
- If your topic thread is not apparent or seems to get lost, revise your sentences according to a “given/new” information pattern.
- Use transitions where needed to indicate opposition, agreement or linkage, cause & effect, exemplification or illustration, degree, comparison, etc. For more on transitions, see “Making Connections: Choosing Transition Words”.
C. Reiterate without being repetitious
Readers appreciate some consistency and won’t usually find a reasonable amount of repetition boring or monotonous. But avoid repeating the same subjects/topics using exactly the same words each time, and don’t repeat your thesis word-for-word in your conclusion. Instead…reiterate, using key concepts within slightly different sentence structures and arguments. Key concepts are often expressed in introductions, thesis statements, and near the beginnings of paragraphs; they act as a governing “topic thread” for your entire paper.
Avoid these 7 common errors in your conclusions
- Opening with an empty phrase, the equivalent of “throat-clearing.
Draft: “And, therefore, it is important to keep in mind that ...” “In conclusion…”
Revision: Omit these phrases. “In conclusion” or “To conclude” may be appropriate for an oral presentation, but in writing are considered redundant or overly mechanical.
Draft: “However, it is important in arriving at such a conclusion to recognize...”
Revision: Just say what we should recognize.
- Stuffing too much information into one paragraph or not developing the paragraph sufficiently.
- Not including a clear topic sentence: i.e. one that expresses the key concept governing this paragraph (i.e. “What is this paragraph about?”). It’s usually best to express your governing concept in the first or second sentence.
- Not checking for cohesion or flow (see “given and new” above). As a result, the sentences aren’t logically organized, or there is a sudden switch in topic, or sentences do not clearly connect to each other.
- Using transitions too frequently or too mechanically.
- Ending the paragraph with a different topic. HINT: Use a key word or phrase from the last sentence of the previous paragraph in the first sentence of the new paragraph. This technique helps the reader make connections.
- Finishing your piece with entirely new information or a quote that isn’t relevant.
Remember to answer the question "So what?”
Readers need to understand why your argument or research is significant. So consider the single more important idea (key concept) you want your readers to take away with them after reading your paper. It’s not enough merely to repeat your thesis or summarize your main findings in your conclusion; you need to answer the question: “So what”? Options include outlining further areas of inquiry and/or suggesting a sense of significance: e.g. why does what you’ve written matter? What should your reader take away?
For more about writing effective conclusions, visit the following:
“Strategies for Writing a Conclusion” from Literacy Education Online
“Conclusions” from the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina
Source for paragraph cohesion strategies: Williams, J. M., & Nadel, I. B. (2005). Style: 10 Lessons in Clarity and Grace (Cdn. ed.). Toronto: Longman.
What is the most challenging part of essay writing?
Some name the process of thesis clarification, others mention essay hooks and writing an outline, but our reader Emily has knocked spots off them all when asked to share tips on writing essay conclusions!
Don’t worry, Emily, you are not alone.
Finishing your essay isn’t less but sometimes even more challenging than starting it. Our writers know it firsthand, so they give consent graciously to share expert tips on creating strong conclusions for college papers.
Keep on reading to master this craft once and for all.
Why do you need essay conclusions?
A conclusion provides closure and drives main points of your essay one last time. It’s the chance to impress and give readers understanding why your paper matters. In other words, your conclusion should answer the question “So what?”
- Give the audience something to think about after they finish reading your essay.
- A conclusion should give completeness to your paper. Ending it on a positive note would be a good practice.
It’s not about introducing new ideas but summing up your writing. The goal is to restate the thesis, summarize the essay’s body, and leave readers with a final impression.
Key aspects to remember:
- A strong essay conclusion restates, not rewrites your thesis from the introduction.
- A strong essay conclusion consists of three sentences minimum.
- It concludes thoughts, not presents new ideas.
Example source: Purdue OWL
So, here’s how to end an essay.
How to write a strong essay conclusion?
The number of sentences in your conclusion will depend on how many paragraphs (statements) you have in the essay.
Consider a standard structure for essay conclusions:
Sentence #1: restate the thesis by making the same point with other words (paraphrase).
- Thesis: “Dogs are better pets than cats.”
- Paraphrased: “Dogs make the best pets in the world.”
Sentence #2-4: review your supporting ideas; summarize arguments by paraphrasing how you proved the thesis.
- “Dogs are cleaner, better at showing affection, and ultimately easier to train.”
Sentence #5: connect back to the essay hook and relate your closing statement to the opening one; transit to human nature to impress a reader and give them food for thought.
- “Change your life for the better – go get a dog.”
Finally, combine all sentences to improved and expanded conclusion.
- Based on the above examples, it might look as follows (source):
“There is no doubt that dogs make the best pets in the world. They provide a cleaner environment for your home, are not afraid to show their feelings, and can be trained to do a variety of tricks and jobs. Every second that goes by, you are missing out on happiness. Get out of your chair and make a positive difference in your life – go get a dog!”
Also, you will need a transition word to make readers understand you are going to conclude. The most common are “In conclusion…”,“To sum up…”, and “As previously stated…”, but don’t use them! (If you don’t want to drive your teacher nuts, of course.)
Try “So…” instead. Or, visit the web page of John A. Dowell from Michigan State University to find more transition words for finishing an essay.
You’ve been hit by the structure of essay conclusions.
What about strategies to use for writing them?
Paraphrase the introduction to bring a full-circle to readers. Ending an essay with the same scenario might help to prove your point and create a better understanding.
“From the parking lot, I could see the towers of the castle of the Magic Kingdom standing stately against the blue sky. To the right, the tall peak of The Matterhorn rose even higher. From the left, I could hear the jungle sounds of Adventureland. As I entered the gate, Main Street stretched before me with its quaint shops evoking an old-fashioned small town so charming it could never have existed. I was entranced. Disneyland may have been built for children, but it brings out the child in adults.”
“I thought I would spend a few hours at Disneyland, but here I was at 1:00 A.M., closing time, leaving the front gates with the now dark towers of the Magic Kingdom behind me. I could see tired children, toddling along and struggling to keep their eyes open as best they could. Others slept in their parents’ arms as we waited for the parking lot tram that would take us to our cars. My forty-year-old feet ached, and I felt a bit sad to think that in a couple of days I would be leaving California, my vacation over, to go back to my desk. But then I smiled to think that for at least a day I felt ten years old again.”
Try looking to the future for emphasizing the importance of your essay and give readers food for thought. “When” and “if” are power words to support your points.
“Physical punishment can be a useful method of discipline. However it should be the last choice for parents. If we want to build a world with less violence we must begin at home, and we must teach our children to be responsible.”
You might want to amplify the main point of an essay or put it in a different perspective for setting a larger context. That would help readers gain a new vision on the topic and bring ideas altogether to create a new but related meaning.
“Finally, I feel that we cannot generalize about children or adults being better learners. It depends on the situation and the motivation of the person, and the level of enthusiasm he or she has for learning.”
“Society would be healthier if more people took part in sports of all kinds. We should continue to try to prevent accidents and injuries. However, we should also ensure that sports are challenging, exciting, and, above all, fun.”
How not to fail your essay conclusion?
With all of the above, you feel like a guru who writes essays that work, don’t you? The structure and strategies are clear, and nothing can stop you on the way toward high grades for college papers. Go for it!
But first a warning:
When writing a strong essay conclusion, be sure to avoid these teeny-tiny pitfalls able to sink your paper despite it was legen… wait for it…dary!
- Don’t write any new information. Your conclusion is about summarizing the thesis and statements.
- Don’t share personal thoughts unless you write a first-person opinion piece.
- Don’t restate each and all details. You have body paragraphs for that.
- Don’t just restate the thesis if you can provide some further – not new! – sophistication to original ideas.
- Don’t write lousy words in the conclusion, but use concise language instead.
Your essay needs a conclusion to drive main points and give understanding why it matters. Writing a strong finishing paragraph might be challenging, but a clear structure, together with several strategies to operate, provide room to work.
To end an essay like a boss, consider its type and audience. A conclusion is your last chance to impress readers and give them something to think about, so do your best to summarize statements and answer a “So what?” question the audience might have after reading your paper.
It’s all in your pitch.