Think again. While the introduction to an academic essay gives a hefty “first impression” to your reader—and is thus very important—your conclusion gives the “last.” What would you like your reader to take away from your essay? A few wilted sentences that merely take up space in a fifth paragraph? Of course not! Your conclusion should be the place where you remind your reader of your argument up until this point (that’s right: your thesis), summarize the main aspects of this argument, and address that tricky question: what’s the point?
You’ve waded through at least four paragraphs. It’s time to wrap things up! Now that you have arrived at your conclusion, do not give up. The ideal conclusion should contain (at the very least) these four parts:
A reminder or reiteration of your thesis.
If you can, try to rephrase your thesis in different words. Although your thesis may feel a bit ‘tired’ by this point (you should have, after all, been reiterating it for the previous four paragraphs), it is critical that you “conclude” with what you began. You may find that your thesis has evolved slightly since the introduction. That’s okay! In fact, your conclusion is the perfect place to introduce a modification of your thesis: arriving at a more concise and fully evolved thesis in your conclusion is an elegant way of ending an essay, a method practiced essayists strive to champion.
A summary of your main points, in different words.
Using new words once again, briefly reference the main ideas of your argument. Consider the following beginning of a conclusion which incorporates your thesis and main points:
“As this essay has demonstrated, magic realism is not confined as a narrative method to twentieth-century, Latin-American writing. Although more subtly employed, magic realism is rapidly becoming a foundational technique for many contemporary young adult novels, such as Bradley Smith’s Teardrop Lagoon and Marwina Raven’s Back to the Forest.”
What’s the point?
This is where you address the most difficult question of all: what is the point of all you have said up until now? Why should any reader bother reading your essay all the way through? This is what I like to call a “larger” or “extended thesis.” Try expanding your narrowed thesis into more universal terms: i.e., how might what you have to say about “magic realism” impact other narrative modes or genre-writing? How does your argument about sustainability in high schools translate to environmentalism on a national scale? Demonstrate here why your thesis is important to a larger or more pressing context.
A unique thought, quote, or consideration with which to leave your reader.
For a nice flourish, include something else to leave your reader thinking. This will most likely be part of your “What’s the point?” piece. I often like to include a last-minute quotation that simply didn’t get the chance to appear in the rest of the essay: but only if this is related to your final points!
Your conclusion should not:
1. Repeat your thesis argument word for word. Reiterate and rephrase; don’t repeat!
2. Feel like a conclusion, necessarily. Your reader should be clued into the fact that he or she is almost finished reading your essay. But he should not be able to trace the skeleton of your conclusion. Continue to “hook” your reader up until the last!
3. End on too general a note. It’s easy to hit your “What’s the point?” response in such a way that is too universal or generalizing. Remember to always aim for specificity in the end.
4. Raise or leave unanswered questions. This goes along with my previous point: oftentimes, an “expanded thesis” simply opens up more questions for debate. Narrowness is key: you can leave with a touch of ambiguity, but not so much that it drowns out your argument.
5. Be off-topic. Enough said.
For more information and some examples of snazzy conclusions, check out Hamilton University’s Writing Center. In the meantime, this wraps up my series on Academic Writing. Here’s to a confident future of essay-writing!
Check out the previous posts in this 8 part series on writing academically:
- Writing Academically Part 1 – What’s the Point?
- Writing Academically Part 2 – Lexicon
- Writing Academically Part 3 – Structure
- Writing Academically Part 4 – Sources
- Writing Academically Part 5 – Citation 101
- Writing Academically Part 6 – Writing Vocabulary
- Writing Academically Part 7 – How to write a gripping introduction
About the author: Kathleen McGunagle is a senior in Princeton University’s English department and Interdisciplinary Humanities Certificate Program. Concentrating in British Renaissance Literature, she will be writing a thesis this spring on Shakespeare and epistolary culture. Kathleen is an Academic Peer Adviser at Princeton, tutor through Princeton Tutoring, and avid performer. She has recently returned from a year of study at Worcester College, Oxford.