Writing an effective conclusion is one of the most difficult aspects of composition. I constantly see students struggling with repetitive prose that devalues their well-crafted essays. This problem is persistent because many of us learned to write five-paragraph essays in high school. You know the drill: broad introduction, three body paragraphs, summarizing conclusion. While this strategy is a necessary stepping stone toward effective writing, breaking away from elementary writing strategies can vastly improve your essays. Here is a list of ten strategies to consider before tackling your conclusion:
Ten Conclusion Strategies
1. Consider your essay’s length. While some summary might be necessary at the end of a 12-page essay, summary is usually redundant in a shorter assignment. First, think about your essay as a whole. Guide your reader through the essay with purpose. Since there is a great deal of bad advice encouraging writers to conclude with repetition, it is important to understand when and why your argument needs to be restated.
2. Don’t bore your reader. There is no paragraph more boring than a repetitive conclusion. The words “in conclusion” and “to summarize” alert the reader that you have nothing more to say. If there is nothing more to say, why should we waste our time reading your final thoughts?
3. Don’t be afraid to try new strategies. For a long time, I was afraid of writing an original or thought-provoking conclusion. My high school English teachers warned that a conclusion should never include new ideas. While a conclusion should not attempt to explore an unrelated or undeveloped topic, new ways of looking at your topic are useful. A conclusion should never be a simple reiteration of previously detailed ideas. Don’t be afraid to try new strategies to leave a lasting impression.
4. Bring your argument into larger context. This is my go-to conclusion strategy. Although many of us were taught to start with a broad topic and end specifically, it is often effective to end with a broad perspective. Consider the ways different groups and interests are affected by your argument. Think about the real-world consequences of your topic. For example, in a comparison of Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen and Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, part of my conclusion explores the plays in terms of British drama as a whole:
“Copenhagen and Arcadia both step away from realism into surrealism with scientific elements. Their parallel explorations of uncertainty and free will show the progress of British drama. These plays indicate that there is room in the humanities for logic and math. From Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle to Fermat’s last theorem, Frayn and Stoppard prove that there is at least room within the theatre for quantum mechanics and number theory.”
5. Finish with a call for action. A simple and effective way to conclude a persuasive essay is with a call for action. Let the reader know what they can or should do to help.
6. Answer the questions you raised throughout the essay. If you have raised any critical questions throughout your essay, your conclusion is a great place to answer those questions. Think of your literary essay as a method of entering an ongoing conversation. While it may be helpful to ask critical questions in the beginning, answering these questions will leave your reader with a sense of closure at the end.
7. Trust your instincts. If there is a natural stopping place in your essay, and you have explored your topic fully, don’t be afraid to stop. A few well-constructed sentences can tie your essay together and keep your reader engaged.
8. Include a well-placed quote. I say “well-placed” because an ill-fitting quote will not strengthen your essay. If there is a quote that accurately conveys the thought you want to leave your reader with, then don’t be afraid to use it. I would not rely on this strategy for every essay, but you should allow yourself the creative license to incorporate a fitting quote from time to time. Also, make sure your quote comes from a reliable source, such as an expert on your topic.
9. Create a strong narrative image. Descriptive language can help you leave a lasting impression on the reader. If you can develop a vivid image that stays in the reader’s mind, your conclusion will be more effective.
10. Appreciate the importance of your last sentence. An essay’s final sentence is significant. While it might be tempting to rush through your conclusion and end with a subpar thought, you should put energy into crafting a meaningful finale. Writing a great conclusion is difficult, but not impossible. It’s time to go write.