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Writing conclusions for academic essays

Date published by Date updated: September 17, 2015

In academic essays, conclusions have certain necessary components and many optional components, while a variety of ill-advised things should be avoided in the conclusion. This article gives you a sense what to do, what you can do, and what you shouldn’t do in your conclusion.

The conclusion, like the introduction, provides a frame for the body of the paper. As the introduction helps your reader into your paper’s argument, the conclusion helps your reader out of the paper’s argument, giving it a sense of finality.

Necessary components

Tracing the course of the paper

Remind your reader of the course that the paper took to get to the conclusion, but don’t merely repeat the information you gave in the introduction. The emphasis should be on how all of what you’ve said fits together to prove your thesis. This emphasis makes the way you reconstruct your argument in the conclusion unique.

Wrap up

Wrap up the paper in a satisfying way: maybe the most vacuous piece of advice I’ve ever given or been given. Here are a few tips to help you make sense of this advice and make the conclusion feel like an ending, rather than merely a recap of the paper.

Think of the conclusion as a companion to the introduction. Give the paper a sense of finality by making sure the reader understands how the paper has settled the issues that the introduction raised. As such, the conclusion, like the introduction, should cover what you’ve talked about, why you’ve talked about it, and how you’ve dealt with the issues. Consider showing how key ideas or images that you brought up in your introduction look now that you’ve established your point.

The introduction usually begins with general information that the reader should be relatively familiar with and moves to the specific content of the paper—the conclusion often moves back to some general information. The introduction guides a reader from her standpoint to the point of the paper—the conclusion often leads back to an easily relatable standpoint.

Optional components

The conclusion can also be a place to address those things not essential to the argument of the paper and therefore not appropriate for the introduction or the body of the paper. Here are some optional but occasionally useful things you might do in your conclusion if it seems appropriate:

  • Discuss the more general consequences of the argument.
  • Outline what the paper offers to future study on the topic—how can it be built upon? Of what use is it?
  • Suggest any questions the paper’s argument raises but cannot answer or does not try to answer.

Must-not’s

Recognizing what not to do is at least as important as recognizing what to do.

Don’t offer new argument or essential information

If you’re concluding paragraph offers something new that helps establish your thesis statement, it probably shouldn’t be your concluding paragraph. The conclusion always takes place after everything really important to establishing the thesis statement has already been said.

Don’t take up any more space than necessary

A reliable upper boundary for conclusion length is about 10% of the word count, but this is only a loose guideline. A conclusion should not take up much space compared to the body of the paper. Still, like the length of the introduction, the length of the conclusion depends on the size and content of the paper. The length of the conclusion in a longer paper (about 20+ pages) might require much explanation if the content of the paper is complex or if there are a variety of consequences to the argument.

Don’t begin your conclusion with phrases to signal that you are ending the paper

Common examples of such phrases are “to conclude” and “in sum.” These phrases do signal the end of the paper, but more natural and elegant ways of signalling a conclusion should be preferred. For example, use a smooth transitional phrase that references the previous paragraph. Then, instead of signalling that you will summarize (“in sum”), simply begin summarizing.

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Article by Shane Bryson

Shane finished his master’s degree in English literature in 2013 and has been working as a writing tutor and editor since 2009. He began proofreading and editing essays with Scribbr in early summer, 2014.

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