The Concluding Paragraph
Although conclusions generally do not cause students as much trouble
as introductions, they are nearly as difficult to get right. Contrary to
popular belief, conclusions do not merely restate the thesis, and they
should never begin with "In conclusion…" They represent your last chance
to say something important to your readers, and can be used for some, or
all, of the following tasks:
Exactly which tasks your conclusion fulfills will vary according to your
subject, your audience, and your objectives for the essay. Generally, conclusions
fulfill a rhetorical purpose—they persuade your readers to do something:
take action on an issue, change a policy, make an observation, or understand
a topic differently.
Emphasizing the purpose and importance of your essay
Explaining the significance or consequences of your findings
Indicating the wider applications of the method developed in your
Establishing your essay as the basis for further investigation
To show other directions of inquiry into the subject
Conclusions vary widely in structure, and no prescription can guarantee
that your essay has ended well. If the introduction and body of your essay
have a clear trajectory, your readers should already expect you to conclude
when the final paragraph arrives, so don’t overload it with words or phrases
that indicate its status. Below is an outline for a hypothetical, abstract
essay with five main sections:
Transition from last body paragraph
Sentences explaining how paper has fit together and leads to a stronger,
more emphatic and more detailed version of your thesis
Discussion of implications for further research
Other areas that can use the same method
How your finds change the readers’ understanding of the topic
Discussion of areas in need of more detailed investigation
Why the essay was important or interesting
Any other areas in which your essay has significance: ethics, practical
Here are a few ways that some good writers ended their essays:
I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but
merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing
or preventing thought….[O]ne ought to recognize that the present political
chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably
bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify
your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot
speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark
its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language…is
designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give
an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a
moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to
time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless
phrase…into the dustbin where it belongs.
—Orwell, "Politics and the English Language"
And so, while we are left on shore with the memory of a deflated and stinking
carcass and of bullhorns that blared and scattered us like flies, somewhere
out beyond the rolled waters and the shining winter sun, the whale sings
its own death in matchless, sirenian strains.
—Finch, "Very Like a Whale"
For all we know, occasional viable crosses between humans and chimpanzees
are possible. The natural experiment must have been tried very infrequently,
at least recently. If such off-spring are ever produced, what will their
legal status be? The cognitive abilities of chimpanzees force us, I think,
to raise searching questions about the boundaries of the community of beings
to which special ethical considerations are due, and can, I hope, help
to extend our ethical perspectives downward through the taxa on Earth and
upwards to extraterrestrial organisms, if they exist.
—Sagan, "The Abstractions of Beasts"
—Gould, "The Terrifying Normalcy of AIDS"
If AIDS is natural, then there is no message in its spread.
But by all that science has learned and all that rationality proclaims,
AIDS works by a mechanism—and we can discover it. Victory is not
ordained by any principle of progress, or any slogan of technology, so
we shall have to fight like hell, and be watchful. There is no message,
but there is a mechanism.