The conclusion of your essay is the place where you restate your main points and summarize your arguments. Most importantly, it is the place where you return to your thesis and convince the reader it is true. Your conclusion should be clear, forceful and firm.
Parting words: Your conclusion has parts too!
Use the Conclusion Parts and Punches! tool, to organize your final ideas in a way that'll hit things home! Start your conclusion with a clear sentence that specifically restates your thesis. Perhaps you won't use exactly the same words, but even if you repeat your thesis exactly that is better than not referring to it at all. Your essay is about your thesis, so make sure your reader remembers that, especially for longer papers.
The rest of your conclusion should refer to the main sections in the body of the essay, the sections that illustrate why your thesis argument is valid or important “in the greater scheme of things”. Remember, your thesis and essay has “value” only because you have established its value in all that you have gathered, interpreted and written down. So, look back on your essay and refer to those key points again. Reflect on why they are important.
After summarizing those key and relevant points, end your essay with a positive and forceful “And so” or “Therefore” type of statement. It should feel like you are concluding things well and with confidence, after having worked hard to support your ideas.
Open vs. Closed
There seems to be two different schools of thought about what a conclusion should be. Some insist that an essay “should never introduce new ideas or things not discussed in the body of the paper”. But others insist that a good essay should “suggest avenues for further research, or raise a bigger question”. The first idea stresses the way an essay wraps things up, or closes things off. The second notion is that of an “open essay” and one that brings in new or original thoughts for the first time. It might even ask a new question!
You should probably ask your teacher what he/she expects in the conclusion, and specifically bring up the idea of an open conclusion. You should also carefully look at any evaluation grids you are given, on an exam for example. If the conclusion is marked heavily and an open-ended conclusion with new information is expected, you won’t get full marks if you just summarize and restate your arguments.
Strategies for ending your essay
This section suggests further reading for more advanced students, but every student should at least know there are many strategies for writing conclusions.
One good website that describes some of these strategies is the Indian University Writing Tutorials service at http://www.indiana.edu/~wts/pamphlets/conclusions.shtml. The site effectively describes 5 interesting strategies you might use. For example you could:
- answer the question, "So what?"
- connect it to a larger theme from the course
- complicate your claim with an outside source
- pose a new research question as a result of your findings
- address the limitations of your argument
Some of these strategies are more “open” than others, but all of them demonstrate how your conclusion can be a place where your essay can really shine.