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How to Write the Conclusion of an Essay

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Thinking About How to Write a Conclusion for an Essay

Thinking About How to Write a Conclusion for an Essay

Contents:

Introduction

“So, what is purpose of a conclusion?” The young faces of my seventh grade students stare back at me with a look of vague emptiness in their eyes, squinting slightly in reluctant concentration. As I search for some sign of life, I am reminded of a conversation with my college thesis advisor in which he described to me the very same expression on the faces of his undergraduate students when he spoke of writing.

Finally, a dim light emerges from the darkness, her voice hesitant, “Um…for summarizing what you said in the essay?”

“Yes. Good. That’s what many of you have been taught, and there is a reason for that. However,” I say with a coy smile, “how many of you have been in this situation: you are in the middle of struggling to find new words to re-say what you just said in your essay and you find yourself thinking, ‘This is stupid. I just said this. Why am I saying it again?” A sea of hands rise along with a hushed laughter. I smile at them, “Your instincts are right.”

“But I don’t understand,” a student questions. “If we’re not supposed to summarize in a conclusion, then what are we supposed to do?”

This article answers this question by explaining the true purpose of an essay conclusion and how to write one. The approach the article presents is purposefully designed to apply to any essay topic and to be useful for anyone learning how to write a good essay, ranging from middle school and high school students through college students and adults.

Welcome. Let’s get started!

how-to-write-the-conclusion-of-an-essay
The teacher is not so fond of this essay conclusion!

The teacher is not so fond of this essay conclusion!

The "Wrong Way" to Write an Essay Conclusion

In elementary school, most of us were taught to write a conclusion by summarizing what we said in the essay. This is effective at the beginning levels of writing because organizing our thinking in writing is new. Writing conclusions this way gives beginning writers a chance to check the logic of their thinking and provides an easy way for teachers to check for understanding.

While effective as a teaching tool, it is not effective writing. In real writing, summarizing in a conclusion is, at best, redundant and boring. At worst it can be insulting for your reader. Summarizing in a conclusion communicates one of two things:

  1. I think my writing was confusing the first time, so I’m going to go over it again.
  2. You (the reader) are not smart enough to remember what I just said, so I’m going to say it again.

Suffice it to say, neither of these things is likely to work very well.

An Essay Conclusion Sample: The "Wrong Way"

To make this discussion clear, here is a sample conclusion written the “wrong way.” This is written at the level one might expect from a student in late middle school or early high school. These points are just as relevant to college students and adults, however, because, while the points they make might be more nuanced and detailed, many still write conclusions that follow the same basic pattern.

Essay Prompt:

Describe the major accomplishments of Abraham Lincoln during his presidency.

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

Prompt Response (conclusion only):

As you can see, Abraham Lincoln accomplished many great things during his time as president of the United States. He saw the United States through the Civil War, helping to keep the country from falling apart. Over the course of the war, he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all the African Americans in the United States from slavery. When things got tough, he encouraged the citizens and the troops through speeches like “The Gettysburg Address.” And, finally, as both a political leader and a military leader, he led in a way that emphasized wisdom through shared responsibility and discussion. Abraham Lincoln was, without a doubt, one of the greatest presidents of the United States.

The conclusion above lists a great many accomplishments of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, so it appears to be a reasonably sound conclusion. Unfortunately, this would simply be a listing of points already made in more detail earlier in the essay, robbing it of any chance it might have had to add value to the essay.

Now this is an essay conclusion worth reading!

Now this is an essay conclusion worth reading!

The "Right Way" to Write an Essay Conclusion

Helping your reader understand why your subject matters…

So if summarizing in a conclusion is the wrong approach, what is the right approach? The answer lies in clearly understanding the real purpose of a conclusion. The main arguments and details of whatever subject you have written about have already been covered in the introduction and body of the essay. The conclusion is your opportunity to show the reader why it matters by answering the question, “So what?”

Approaching a conclusion in this way is sometimes difficult for students because, since they rarely choose the topic they are writing about, they may not especially care why it matters. For them, it is simply a required task to pass the class. The challenge before any good writer, however, is to take the subject they are given, regardless of their own personal interest in it, and dig for the deeper meaning it holds—to answer the question, “So what?”

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Constructive Criticism:

Answering the question, “So what?”

To answer this question, connect what you’ve written about to something bigger than itself. At the collegiate level, this is often done by tying what has been written to the work of others who have done similar work in the field, explaining how it supports or challenges the ideas of other writers and thinkers. Middle school and high school students—along with college students and adults who are writing outside of their specific fields of knowledge—often don’t have enough background in the subjects they are writing about to do this; they need an alternative.

The strongest, most universal way to approach this question is to tie what you have written about to bigger, more universal ideas. Relate what you have written to the universal human experience.

The Universal Human Experience

When I bring up the idea of the universal human experience in my classes, the most common response is, “Huh? What’s that?” Put simply, the universal human experience is those experiences common to the entire human race throughout time. To make this more clear, here is a list of different aspects of the universal human experience. The list is meant to provide examples and is by no means comprehensive, but it should give you the idea:

Sample Elements of the Universal Human Experience

EmotionsRelationshipsLife CycleOther Big Ideas

love

motherhood

birth

war & peace

fear

fatherhood

growth

power

hatred

brotherhood

death

weakness

joy

sisterhood

youth

prejudice

sorrow

friendship

aging

passion

 

enmity

 

altruism

So, with these concepts in mind, frame your conclusion like this: What does what I have written about have to say about __________ ? Fill in this blank with any one of the elements of the human experience listed above, or any other one you can come up with that seems fitting.

Since the elements of the universal human experience are, by definition, universal to all human beings, you are guaranteed to land on a big idea that will make sense to your reader by taking this approach, demonstrating your ability to connect what you have to say to a larger world. This is precisely what teachers and general readers are looking for in a good writer: can you show me why what you wrote matters?

how-to-write-the-conclusion-of-an-essay
how-to-write-the-conclusion-of-an-essay

Student Conclusion Worksheets!

I have now developed the concepts of this essay into easy-to-follow student worksheets that turn the theories of this article into practical tools. This includes:

  • Student Conclusion-Development Worksheets (4 pages)
  • Model Conclusion Samples and the “Universal Human Experience” Anchor Words (2 pages)
  • Detailed Teaching Instructions (7 pages)
  • Instructional PowerPoint Presentation (37 slides including annotations with teaching tips)
  • A Reproducible Copy of this Instructional Article
  • Links to “Google Docs” Versions of the Student Worksheets & “Universal Human Experience” Anchor Words for Online Implementation (located at the end of the teaching instructions)

You can find these at Newfangled Notions.

Practical Pointers for Writing a Strong Conclusion

The basic structure of a strong conclusion is quite simple. To clarify its form, I will go over the layout of a single-paragraph conclusion. This would be appropriate for shorter papers of say one to five pages. Longer papers may well require more than a one-paragraph conclusion to cover all the material there is to be discussed, but the basic structure should remain the same.

The first sentence of your conclusion (or the first paragraph, in the case of long papers) should acknowledge what you have written about in the paper thus far. Essentially, summarize what the essay was about in one sentence. Do not summarize it point by point. The rest of the paragraph should then work to connect the ideas presented thus far to the big ideas of the universal human experience that are more directly relevant to the reader.

By writing your conclusion paragraph in this way, your readers will begin to see that you have the ability to take your opinion or what you have learned and connect it. Readers of all kinds will notice a significant improvement in the quality of your writing, and they will begin to value your thoughts and feelings—they will see not only why your essay matters, but why you matter as well.

An Essay Conclusion Sample: The "Right Way"

Once again, to make this discussion clear, here is a sample conclusion that focuses on answering the question, “So what?” This conclusion is also written from the perspective of a late middle school or early high school student. More advanced writers should follow the same approach using deeper and more nuanced language.

Essay Prompt:

Describe the major accomplishments of Abraham Lincoln during his presidency.

An essay on Lincoln--Connecting to the BIG ideas!

An essay on Lincoln--Connecting to the BIG ideas!

Prompt Response (conclusion only):

As you can see, Abraham Lincoln accomplished a great many things during his presidency of the United States. Woven through each of his accomplishments, however, was a single theme—the theme of unity. He sought always, through his speeches and his leadership style, to strengthen the sense of unity among those around him. He worked not only for the preservation of a divided country but for the preservation of the divided human spirit. As we struggle today with an increasingly global society, it might serve us well to remember the actions and decisions and life of this simple, humble man. Perhaps we should listen with a new kind of seriousness to those words that he honored not only within his most famous speech, but also by the way he lived his life: that “…all men are created equal.”

Learn to craft conclusions that connect your ideas to what matters in the world, and people will start to listen.

Comments

Erica Ligocki from Colorado on June 25, 2018:

This article was incredibly interesting! Honestly, I almost didn't read it because I was thinking the same thoughts that you presented in this article- conclusions are redundant and boring. I was also thinking, who doesn't know how to write a conclusion. Haha, I'm glad you challenged my thinking though. I like how the purpose of a conclusion is to go outward and reach towards the bigger picture rather than staying within the realms of the topic being written. Nicely done!

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on May 10, 2018:

Thanks, John. This has proved to be one of the ideas that has gotten very consistently positive feedback. I hope that it is useful to as many people as possible.

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on May 10, 2018:

Thanks so much for this thoughtful response to my work. I hope that it is able to help all that it can.

John Dove on December 29, 2017:

Hi wayseeker --

Thanks for your very insightful article. As a teacher, your experience and suggestions should be taken seriously by all Hubbers who want to write thoughtful Hubs.

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on October 02, 2017:

This is definitely an important article that all writers should read. I always try to tie all the lose ends together in a short but precise way as a conclusion to my articles.

However, as I read other articles I find many times where the author just dropped off at the end, as if they felt they said everything they needed to say and didn't have any more energy.

Not a good experience. And it indicates that they never proof read their own work. I am sure if they had, they would catch that sudden termination.

You not only made that clear, but you also gave good examples of the right and wrong way to go about it.

Carlos on September 27, 2017:

It really helped me thanks for this article my teacher would be proud of me and my work that you gave me thanks again. Please write back.

V Ron Dorn from Canada on March 07, 2017:

I like this take, but should point out that once you get to university you need to scrap the "so what?" approach. Most professors/uni instructors want short concise conclusions reiterating a thesis, they aren't looking for a broad statement about society or culture or human nature coming in right at the end. This is appropriate advice for high school writers, however!

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on July 17, 2016:

Take your time. It will come.

Sahool on July 15, 2016:

I like it but it was too much its so hard for me but thank you a lot i will try to understand the meain idea . I try to learn english so i want someone to teach me .

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 08, 2016:

Disneygeek1234,

So happy it helped you out. I've been pleased to see that this seems a helpful concept to folks. It has certainly changed the way I think when I write.

Best,

Bert

disneygeek1234 on April 07, 2016:

This article really helped my writing, thanks!

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on November 09, 2015:

Susan,

Thanks for your thoughts here. I hope this is helpful to you. I have developed an instructional power point for this along with a series of worksheets that help students directly apply the techniques to their writing. I am right on the edge of posting this to Teachers Pay Teachers and will provide a link here.

May it serve your students well,

Bert

Susan on November 08, 2015:

Love this explanation, and plan to use it with my middle schoolers. Many of them struggle with the conclusion, and I believe they will find this helpful. Thank you for putting into words what many teachers need to convey to their students!

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on May 19, 2015:

Pit,

A fair question. My answer would be this: I believe that writing is an important enough skill to develop that it is worth the time and effort involved in learning to do it right as opposed to paying other people to do it for you. Developing useful skills is inherently complicated. If you skip that part, then you also lose most of the value.

I recognize that saying this is highly unlikely to change your mind, but hopefully it will help you to understand where I'm coming from.

Best,

Bert

Pit on May 19, 2015:

You can use https://write-right.net/ why do you need to complicate your life?

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on February 13, 2015:

aesta1,

I'm so pleased that you have found value in this!

Thanks for reading,

Bert

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on February 13, 2015:

This is a joy to read especially because it gives me an idea of how to do conclusion, a problem I have only recognized.

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on December 09, 2014:

Calum,

It is an honor to find that it was useful. That is all I can really ask. Thanks for letting me know, and I hope it help!

Bert

Calum Labrador from Manila, Philippines on December 08, 2014:

Very well-said and informative. You just solved one of the many problems in writing I still encounter. Thanks a many! :]

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on July 27, 2014:

Homeplace Series,

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I've used this example numerous times in my teaching, and it always seems to drive the point home.

Best,

Bert

William Leverne Smith from Hollister, MO on July 26, 2014:

I always enjoy really good examples in a tutorial hub. Thanks for sharing. Voted up, useful, and interesting! ;-)

R.Oz from Western Australia on July 21, 2014:

You're welcome :)

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on July 21, 2014:

Rebekah,

Of course! That's exactly the value I was hoping that folks might find in this work. It is humbling to see that it might be useful to some students as far away as Australia. Thanks for taking the time to respond.

Bert

R.Oz from Western Australia on July 20, 2014:

Thank you, I would like to use this with the tutoring of some students… hoping that's okay?

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on August 25, 2012:

KrisL,

This is particularly reassuring to me. I teach at the middle school level, and this comment helps to confirm for me what I have always believed—good writing is good writing, period. I sometimes feel as if I'm a bit of a "rebel" in the way I teach things as much of what I do is not always consistent with the "cookie-cutter" style that is so common in education in general, but particularly so in middle school.

It's great to know that this is finding use in other places!

wayseeker

KrisL from S. Florida on August 24, 2012:

I teach a college-level class on the research paper, and some of these ideas in the hub will go into my powerpoints. Voted up and useful.

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on August 22, 2012:

donnah75,

Once again, thanks so very much for what you say—it is very reassuring! I hope that this helps you, and thanks so much for sharing it.

wayseeker

Donna Hilbrandt from Upstate New York on August 20, 2012:

You must be an amazing teacher. This is brilliant. It is so hard to get across to some students how to craft a conclusion, and you really lay it out here in a user friendly way. I am going to Pin this for reference. :) Thanks! Voted up, useful, and awesome. Sharing.

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 19, 2012:

Simone,

This is most definitely the direction in which I was hoping this hub might point people. Once you get the idea down, it's still a lot of work to think this way, but it definitely makes the experience more worthwhile. I love the phrasing of "character-building thought experiment." This is hidden inside most writing assignments, but it requires the writer to go find it!

Thanks again for your time and support,

wayseeker

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 19, 2012:

Internetgeek,

Thanks so much for the up votes and I do hope that you find it valuable. I appreciate you taking the time to respond,

wayseeker

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 19, 2012:

Sandra,

Teaching is an honor and a joy. Thanks so much for taking the time to read.

wayseeker

Nizam Khan from Hyderabad, India. on April 19, 2012:

Wow! This is really informative and useful. Thanks for sharing and voted up :)

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on April 19, 2012:

Another stellar guide, Wayseeker. It took me a while to get that conclusions weren't just about regurgitating a summary of the arguments described in the body of an essay, but once I did, I found that in addition to getting better marks on my work, I GOT more out of the experience. The right kind of conclusion can transform an academic chore into a wonderful, character-building thought experiment.

Thanks for pointing writers in the right direction!

Sandra Busby from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on April 19, 2012:

Wayseeker, I truly enjoyed your hub about writing a conclusion to an essay. And I agree with you wholeheartedly and applaud you as a teacher of 7th graders. Keep up the good work.

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 19, 2012:

Allie,

It is staggering how hard it is to get kids to think deeply when they write. This is a small step in the right direction, but hopefully it's one that will help folks.

My thanks for stopping in!

wayseeker

wayseeker (author) from Colorado on April 19, 2012:

Dilipchandra12,

If it helps folks to strengthen their writing even a little, it has done it's job. Thanks for reading!

wayseeker

alliemacb from Scotland on April 19, 2012:

Very useful. I know a lot of my students struggle with finding the correct way to conclude their essays and this is helpful advice

Dilip Chandra from India on April 19, 2012:

Very well written article. Very useful one for me. Thanks for sharing, i like it.