How to conclude an essay
No matter what kind of essay you’re writing, the conclusion is one of the most important paragraphs. A strong conclusion doesn’t just summarize what you’ve already written. It aims to:
- Make connections that tie together the essay’s main points.
- Show why your argument or analysis matters.
- Leave the reader with a sense of the essay’s broader implications.
Example of a good conclusion
This conclusion is taken from our interactive essay example, which discusses the history of the Braille system. Read the conclusion first, and then hover over each part to see why it’s effective.
Braille radically enhanced blind people’s autonomy and changed cultural understandings of blindness. But the emergence of Braille did not depend solely on the technical evolution of tactile reading; it also required the societal acceptance of blind people as valuable enough to merit a separate reading system. New tools of accessibility are always shaped by their social contexts, but they also shape social conditions in turn. The success of Braille was not limited to the practical advantages of tactile reading; its enduring significance was in providing blind people broader access to culture and concomitant gains in social status. The Braille system was both a consequence and a cause of changing attitudes to disability, and its development shows that accessibility and acceptance are always intertwined.
What does a strong conclusion aim to do?
There’s no universal formula for a great conclusion, but there are some key aims that you can keep in mind to make an impact.
Synthesize the essay’s main points
The conclusion must have a clear connection to the content of your essay, but avoid simply summarizing each paragraph or repeating the main points in order.
Instead, try to bring your points together in a way that makes connections and draws out their implications. The conclusion is your final chance to show how all the paragraphs of your essay add up to a coherent whole.
Emphasize the significance of the thesis statement
The conclusion shouldn’t just restate your thesis, but it should remind the reader why it matters. For example:
- Does your argument have important implications for policy?
- Does it tell us something new about a literary genre or period?
- Does it challenge a dominant idea in your field?
- Does it have consequences for understanding current events or predicting future developments?
Whatever your essay is about, the conclusion should aim to emphasize the significance of your argument, either within your academic discipline or in the wider world.
Close the essay’s argument and open broader questions
Your conclusion should give a sense of closure and completion to your argument, but also show what new questions, implications or possibilities it has opened up.
One way to achieve this is by setting your argument in a broader context. The introduction of an essay tends to move from the general to the specific, while the conclusion can move from the specific back to the general. For example:
- If you have discussed a particular instance of social change (such as the development of Braille), you might also suggest something more general about social processes (such as the relation between disability, accessibility and acceptance).
- If you have made a historical investigation, you could make a connection with contemporary events.
- If you have focused on one particular location, you could indicate how it might relate to global patterns.
In each case, the conclusion is an opportunity to draw out ideas that go beyond the scope of your thesis statement. Try to leave the reader with a lingering sense of interest in your topic.
What should you leave out of the conclusion?
The easiest way to improve your conclusion is to eliminate these common mistakes.
Don’t include new arguments
Any evidence or argument that is essential to supporting your thesis statement should appear in the main body of the essay.
The conclusion might include minor pieces of new information – for example, a sentence or two discussing broader implications, or a quotation that nicely summarizes your central point. But it shouldn’t introduce any major new sources or ideas that need further elaboration to understand.
Don’t use “conclusion phrases”
Avoid using obvious stock phrases to tell the reader what you’re doing:
- “In conclusion…”
- “To sum up…”
- “This essay has argued…”
Like every other paragraph, your conclusion should start with a transition sentence that follows on smoothly from the preceding point. If you follow the advice above, it will quickly become clear that you are concluding the essay – you shouldn’t have to spell it out.
Don’t undermine your argument
It can be tempting to preempt possible critiques in your conclusion. Avoid using apologetic phrases that sound uncertain or confused:
- “This is just one approach among many.”
- “There are good arguments on both sides of this issue.”
- “There is no clear answer to this problem.”
Even if your essay has explored competing arguments, your own position should be clear. There may be many possible approaches to the topic, but you want to leave the reader convinced that yours is the best one!
Example of a bad conclusion
Let’s go back to the example we started with. What would it look like if you didn’t follow this advice?
In conclusion, the invention of the Braille system depended on the evolution of tactile reading from Hauy and Barbier’s systems. Its success also required the societal acceptance of blind people as valuable enough to merit a separate reading system. Braille had many practical advantages, allowing blind people access to information and helping them integrate into society. It led to greater participation in culture and gains in social status. As this essay has shown, the invention of Braille was an important turning point in the nineteenth century.
- It summarizes each paragraph in order, and feels more like a recap than an ending.
- The central point and its broader implications are unclear.
- It uses clumsy concluding phrases instead of smooth transitions.
- It ends by repeating the introductory sentence without showing how the essay has developed it.
If you make sure to avoid these mistakes, you can give your essay a real sense of an ending.