Writing Better University Essays/Conclusion

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Conclusion[edit]

Having written the essay, you state that you have done so. This section is often separated visually, or singled out with a subheading such as conclusion or concluding remarks. What this section does, is summarizing what you have done, and providing a conclusion to the argument. Never should you bring in new material—be it examples or arguments—at this stage.

In fact, your aim is to make the conclusion as short as you can. If there is much to discuss, if there are many loose ends, you should use the previous section (discussion) to do so. In a similar way as the introduction includes an outline, the conclusion recaps the argument. What you do is to revisit the highlights of the argument. Just like the discussion leads to a conclusion, your final section will close with a concluding remark.

The following is an example of a concluding paragraph. Depending on the length of your essay, it might be reasonable to have a longer conclusion, but try to keep it as short as you can.

This paper has critically looked at an article by Katz-Gerro on cultural consumption (2002). The article was outlined, and particular attention was given to the research design, data analysis, and the persuasiveness of the argument. It was found that the article provides a coherent and plausible argument, but one which is marred by issues around the comparability of the data used, as well as the omission of some compelling alternative explanatory variables, such as status. Because of these weak points, the findings of the article may not be as generalizable as the author presents them. The article uses a good approach, but the study could have been executed in a more rigorous way, a point that would have improved the power of the argument.

This example illustrates the two functions: summarizing, and concluding. The first bit reminds the reader how we got where we are. Then the key points of the argument are briefly revisited. Finally, the paragraph and the essay are brought to a conclusion. Nothing new is added, and no time and space is wasted reiterating what was said before. Obviously, without a substantial section discussing the different strengths and weaknesses of the article, as well as the significance of those, the conclusion could never be so short.

Writing a long conclusion means that—for the last time—you run the risk of losing your reader. Reading the same thing again, albeit put in different words, is not usually very interesting to read. By keeping the discussion separate, the final paragraph can be short and to the point.

It’s important to note that you can take sides in an essay, and indeed you should. It’s unlikely that you’ll ever conclude that something is utterly useless or the golden bullet for that, but if your argument suggests that the statement you were given, for example, does not hold, then do say so. A good idea to conclude an essay is by referring back to the original question. This can be done in a subtle way, but often there is nothing lost from doing it head on. By so doing, you demonstrate that even after all the work, you’re still focused.

When to Write the Conclusion[edit]

Just as there is disagreement on when it is best to write the introduction, there is no clear consensus when to write the conclusion. On the one hand, you can write it at the end, after you know where the essay leads. On the other hand, you can write it first, and thus commit yourself to the conclusion. The idea is to force yourself to stay focused.

Unfortunately, writing the conclusion first is no guarantee of staying focused. Although I would recommend writing the conclusion last, because that's one way to get the greatest effect possible (and for that, you need to know exactly how your argument went), it’s not unreasonable to write the conclusion first. In this case, do so as an incentive to stay focused, but be prepared to modify the conclusion after you have finished.

Next: Referencing