How to Write a Thesis or Dissertation Conclusion

The conclusion is the very last part of your thesis or dissertation. It should be concise and engaging, leaving your reader with a clear understanding of your main findings, as well as the answer to your research question.

In it, you should:

Discussion vs. conclusion

While your conclusion contains similar elements to your discussion section, they are not the same thing.

Your conclusion should be shorter and more general than your discussion. Instead of repeating literature from your literature review, discussing specific research results, or interpreting your data in detail, concentrate on making broad statements that sum up the most important insights of your research.

As a rule of thumb, your conclusion should not introduce new data, interpretations, or arguments.

Note
Sometimes, discussion sections are combined with conclusions. This is especially the case in shorter research papers and journal articles.

However, in a thesis or dissertation, it’s common practice to include a final chapter that wraps up your research and gives the reader a final impression of your work, separate from your discussion section.

How long should your conclusion be?

Depending on whether you are writing a thesis or dissertation, your length will vary. Generally, a conclusion should make up around 5–7% of your overall word count.

An empirical scientific study will often have a short conclusion, concisely stating the main findings and recommendations for future research. A humanities topic or systematic review, on the other hand, might require more space to conclude its analysis, tying all the previous sections together in an overall argument.

What can proofreading do for your paper?

Scribbr editors not only correct grammar and spelling mistakes, but also strengthen your writing by making sure your paper is free of vague language, redundant words and awkward phrasing.

See editing example

Step 1: Answer your research question

Your conclusion should begin with the main question that your thesis or dissertation aimed to address. This is your final chance to show that you’ve done what you set out to do, so make sure to formulate a clear, concise answer.

  • Don’t repeat a list of all the results that you already discussed
  • Do synthesize them into a final takeaway that the reader will remember.

An empirical thesis or dissertation conclusion may begin like this:

Example: Empirical research
This research aimed to identify effective fundraising strategies for environmental nonprofit organizations. Based on a quantitative and qualitative analysis of donation intention in response to campaign materials, it can be concluded that social distance and temporal distance are important factors to consider when designing and targeting campaigns. The results indicate that potential donors are more receptive to images portraying a large social distance and a small temporal distance.

A case study–based thesis or dissertation conclusion may begin like this:

Example: Humanities research
By analyzing changing representations of migration and UK border policy in the past ten years, this thesis has shown how media discourse can directly and indirectly shape political decision-making.

In the second example, the research aim is not directly restated, but rather added implicitly to the statement. To avoid repeating yourself, it is helpful to reformulate your aims and questions into an overall statement of what you did and how you did it.

Step 2: Summarize and reflect on your research

Your conclusion is an opportunity to remind your reader why you took the approach you did, what you expected to find, and how well the results matched your expectations.

To avoid repetition, consider writing more reflectively here, rather than just writing a summary of each preceding section. Consider mentioning the effectiveness of your methodology, or perhaps any new questions or unexpected insights that arose in the process.

You can also mention any limitations of your research, but only if you haven’t already included these in the discussion. Don’t dwell on them at length, though—focus on the positives of your work.

Example: Summarization sentence
  • While x limits the generalizability of the results, this approach provides new insight into y.
  • This research clearly illustrates x, but it also raises the question of y.

Step 3: Make future recommendations

You may already have made a few recommendations for future research in your discussion section, but the conclusion is a good place to elaborate and look ahead, considering the implications of your findings in both theoretical and practical terms.

Example: Recommendation sentence
  • Based on these conclusions, practitioners should consider …
  • To better understand the implications of these results, future studies could address …
  • Further research is needed to determine the causes of/effects of/relationship between …

When making recommendations for further research, be sure not to undermine your own work. Relatedly, while future studies might confirm, build on, or enrich your conclusions, they shouldn’t be required for your argument to feel complete. Your work should stand alone on its own merits.

Just as you should avoid too much self-criticism, you should also avoid exaggerating the applicability of your research. If you’re making recommendations for policy, business, or other practical implementations, it’s generally best to frame them as “shoulds” rather than “musts.” All in all, the purpose of academic research is to inform, explain, and explore—not to demand.

Step 4: Emphasize your contributions to your field

Make sure your reader is left with a strong impression of what your research has contributed to the state of your field.

Some strategies to achieve this include:

  • Returning to your problem statement to explain how your research helps solve the problem
  • Referring back to the literature review and showing how you have addressed a gap in knowledge
  • Discussing how your findings confirm or challenge an existing theory or assumption

Again, avoid simply repeating what you’ve already covered in the discussion in your conclusion. Instead, pick out the most important points and sum them up succinctly, situating your project in a broader context.

Step 5: Wrap up your thesis or dissertation

The end is near! Once you’ve finished writing your conclusion, it’s time to wrap up your thesis or dissertation with a few final steps:

  1. It’s a good idea to write your abstract next, while the research is still fresh in your mind.
  2. Next, make sure your reference list is complete and correctly formatted. To speed up the process, you can use our free APA citation generator.
  3. Once you’ve added any appendices, you can create a table of contents and title page.
  4. Finally, read through the whole document again to make sure your thesis is clearly written and free from language errors. You can proofread it yourself, ask a friend, or consider Scribbr’s proofreading and editing service.

Full conclusion example

Here is an example of how you can write your conclusion section. Notice how it includes everything mentioned above:

Conclusion example

V. Conclusion

The current research aimed to identify acoustic speech characteristics which mark the beginning of an exacerbation in COPD patients.

The central questions for this research were as follows:
1. Which acoustic measures extracted from read speech differ between COPD speakers in stable condition and healthy speakers?
2. In what ways does the speech of COPD patients during an exacerbation differ from speech of COPD patients during stable periods?

All recordings were aligned using a script. Subsequently, they were manually annotated to indicate respiratory actions such as inhaling and exhaling. The recordings of 9 stable COPD patients reading aloud were then compared with the recordings of 5 healthy control subjects reading aloud. The results showed a significant effect of condition on the number of in- and exhalations per syllable, the number of non-linguistic in- and exhalations per syllable, and the ratio of voiced and silence intervals. The number of in- and exhalations per syllable and the number of non-linguistic in- and exhalations per syllable were higher for COPD patients than for healthy controls, which confirmed both hypotheses.

However, the higher ratio of voiced and silence intervals for COPD patients compared to healthy controls was not in line with the hypotheses. This unpredicted result might have been caused by the different reading materials or recording procedures for both groups, or by a difference in reading skills. Moreover, there was a trend regarding the effect of condition on the number of syllables per breath group. The number of syllables per breath group was higher for healthy controls than for COPD patients, which was in line with the hypothesis. There was no effect of condition on pitch, intensity, center of gravity, pitch variability, speaking rate, or articulation rate.

This research has shown that the speech of COPD patients in exacerbation differs from the speech of COPD patients in stable condition. This might have potential for the detection of exacerbations. However, sustained vowels rarely occur in spontaneous speech. Therefore, the last two outcome measures might have greater potential for the detection of beginning exacerbations, but further research on the different outcome measures and their potential for the detection of exacerbations is needed due to the limitations of the current study.

Conclusion checklist

Checklist: Conclusion

0 / 6

Well done!

You've written a great conclusion! Use the other checklists to further improve your dissertation.

See all other checklists Return to checklist

 

Frequently asked questions about conclusion sections

What’s the difference between the discussion and the conclusion?

In a thesis or dissertation, the discussion is an in-depth exploration of the results, going into detail about the meaning of your findings and citing relevant sources to put them in context.

The conclusion is more shorter and more general: it concisely answers your main research question and makes recommendations based on your overall findings.

Can I present new arguments in the conclusion of my dissertation?

While it may be tempting to present new arguments or evidence in your thesis or disseration conclusion, especially if you have a particularly striking argument you’d like to finish your analysis with, you shouldn’t. Theses and dissertations follow a more formal structure than this.

All your findings and arguments should be presented in the body of the text (more specifically in the discussion section and results section.) The conclusion is meant to summarize and reflect on the evidence and arguments you have already presented, not introduce new ones.

What doesn’t go in a dissertation conclusion?

For a stronger dissertation conclusion, avoid including:

  • Important evidence or analysis that wasn’t mentioned in the discussion section and results section
  • Generic concluding phrases (e.g. “In conclusion …”)
  • Weak statements that undermine your argument (e.g., “There are good points on both sides of this issue.”)

Your conclusion should leave the reader with a strong, decisive impression of your work.

How long is a thesis or dissertation conclusion?

The conclusion of your thesis or dissertation shouldn’t take up more than 5–7% of your overall word count.

What should I include in a thesis or dissertation conclusion?

The conclusion of your thesis or dissertation should include the following:

  • A restatement of your research question
  • A summary of your key arguments and/or results
  • A short discussion of the implications of your research
Is this article helpful?
Tegan George

Tegan is an American based in Amsterdam, with master's degrees in political science and education administration. While she is definitely a political scientist at heart, her experience working at universities led to a passion for making social science topics more approachable and exciting to students. A well-designed natural experiment is her favorite type of research, but she also loves qualitative methods of all varieties.