You’ve written most of your essay, but you’re now faced with a dilemma: how exactly do you end it?
You want to leave your reader impressed and convinced of your arguments, not wondering what you meant. Just like your introduction, your conclusion is a place to focus on your central argument and why it matters — only this time, you have your whole essay backing you up.
Rather than closing like a box neatly wrapped in a bow, a great conclusion should open outward, inviting your reader into further exploration and showing the broader reach of your argument. What further questions are opened up from your observations and argumentation? In what future direction might this topic go?
A strong conclusion should:
- restate the argument and how its main points fit together
- enrich the reader’s perspective on the argument
- look toward future exploration of this question/topic
- emphasize why the argument matters
A conclusion should not:
- focus on a counterargument
- introduce a completely new topic
- zoom out too broadly beyond the scope of the argument
Here’s a series of steps that will help you end your essay with a bang.
Before you even begin, go back and re-read your essay. What did you set out to argue? Is that what this paper proves? How do your main points fit together? Take a second to review what you’ve written to ensure flow between the argument and its conclusion.
Step 1: Restate your argument
Restate your central thesis and your main points. This is your final opportunity to make sure the reader understands exactly what you’re saying, so present your argument clearly. Now, the reader can better understand it since they’ve read the full essay.
One of the biggest pitfalls for students writing conclusions is to stop with step one. It might feel like all you have left to do in your conclusion is reiterate what you’ve already said. But don’t just summarize your argument. Instead, move on to steps two and three.
Step 2: Place your argument in a new light
Your conclusion is an opportunity to take your argument a step further. Ask yourself these questions — and answer them in your conclusion!
- What questions does my essay open up?
- Where does this research go from here? If I were to write another essay, conduct another experiment, or ask new questions about my topic, what would I do?
- Don’t undermine the essay you’ve already written; the conclusion isn’t the place for listing counterarguments.
- You can make recommendations for future research related to but outside the scope of your particular essay.
- Do I have another point to make that didn’t quite fit in the body of my essay, but that relates to my argument and topic? Is there something that remains to be solved?
- Don’t abandon your argument, bring up a new topic out of left field, or include a point that deserves its own body paragraph.
Step 3: Show why it matters
Your introduction is your first opportunity to establish the “so what?” of your argument, the reason why the reader should bother with your essay in the first place. But now, having followed your argument this far, the reader can better understand its stakesand, hopefully, is convinced it matters too. Ask yourself:
- How does my argument fit into a larger context/subject area?
- How does my argument change the way I think about the topic I’m writing about, the key terms I’ve used, or the real-word issues it relates to? Based on these conclusions, are my assumptions about the topic challenged?
- Don’t zoom out too broadly, inflate the argument’s stakes, or bring up a hot button issue just for the sake of it. An essay about Pentheus’ attempts to maintain the rule of law in Euripides’ The Bacchae doesn’t need an argument about the legalization of marijuana tacked on to the end of it.
- Don’t stick in a tangential quote from a famous person as a crutch.
- What do the writer and reader gain from this essay that we didn’t have before?
- Does my essay invite the potential for other new discoveries? Have I used a new approach? How might my approach be applied to other topics?
You can’t possibly address all of the questions under steps two and three in your conclusion: it would be much too long. But choosing one or two questions under each step can take your conclusion to the next level.
Steps two and three can be presented in different orders or woven together; their ideas often support each other. All three steps are necessary to writing a conclusion that leaves your reader wowed instead of underwhelmed.
MSt, Women's, Gender & Sexuality Studies (University of Oxford)
Paige Elizabeth Allen has a Master’s degree in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from the University of Oxford and a Bachelor’s degree in English from Princeton University. Her research interests include monstrosity, the Gothic tradition, illness in literature and culture, and musical theatre. Her dissertation examined sentient haunted houses through the lenses of posthumanism and queer theory.