Conclusions and why they matter
A guide to what they are, how they work, and how to master them
Conclusions vs. introductions
Similarly to introductions, conclusions exist to guide readers. While introductions guide readers into essays, conclusions guide readers out. These functions are equally important in the structure of an essay. A conclusion is a paragraph (or set of paragraphs) that comes at the very end of an essay and it must restate the thesis (say what the essay has argued) and summarize the argument.
Think about a conclusion from the reader's point of view as the end of a conversation
Hey! Don't hang up on me!
Sometimes it's hard to know what to say in a conclusion. after all, you've just written the essay, what else can possibly be left to say? A lot of writers feel this way. However, an essay without a conclusion is similar to hanging up the phone the instant after you've told your friend a great story - your friend is going to think about how rude you were rather than about your story. In a phone conversation, you've got to wrap things up and say goodbye, this is also true for an essay. Make sure to provide your reader with a summary.
- A summary: Since good stories are complex and can't be learned by heart the first time, give your reader a device to help remember and master your story (your argument).
- A sense of relevance: Help the reader understand the point of your story by explaining the relevance of it.
How conclusions work
What does it really mean to say that a conclusion resembles the end of a phone conversation?
- All things come to an end. Of course, you can't keep talking on the phone forever; both you and your friend expect an end to your conversation. At the same time, a conversation is something produced by two people, meaning that its end must be agreed upon, and if you hang up without warning, then you've seized all control, which isn't friendly. Even though the conclusion of an essay may be just a repetition of ideas found elsewhere, a reader needs to be able to see that things are winding down.
- An end means a last look. If you sound polite and cheerful in saying goodbye, your friend will be much more likely to recall the story you've told and to look forward to hearing from you in the future. Because the conclusion to an essay is a reader's last impression of a writer's work, the writer must maintain excellence up to the last sentence, not dash something off quickly or run out of steam.
- A last look is a kind of legacy. While you probably wouldn't tell your friend a pointless story, or one with no relation to any shared experience, making the relevance clear helps your friend know how to think about your story. Similarly, an essay that leaves a reader with something to think about is an essay that is more likely to be judged favorably and even reread. Connecting the writing to the reader is central to succeeding in communicating the importance of your story.
Acing the conclusion
The strategies below can help you write a conclusion that leaves your reader satisfied and feeling like they've gotten closure on your ideas.
Remind and encapsulate
Remember that even though you are already familiar with your essay, your reader is not. Having a reader who wants to reread your work is great, but your reader shouldn't have to reread. Giving your reader a summary is similar to taking a snapshot of your whole essay. Looking at that snapshot reminds your reader of the main points that have come before. A snapshot is a lot easier to carry around than a thousand little details.
Acknowledge loose ends
Since issues are complex and often do not have a single, neat resolution, the topic of your essay doesn't need to either. What possible resolutions do you see for the issue you have presented? Is there even a resolution? In either case, say what you see. Don't present answers if you haven't found any. Just be honest.
Show your reader the point of reading your essay. What did you learn from writing your essay? How might reading your essay be helpful to your reader? What does your essay contribute?
Don't get carried away
You don't have to revolutionize the world or say the absolute final world on an age-old debate. In fact, a grandiose conclusion may seem out of proportion in anything as short as an essay. Communicating an idea is enough.
Now let's apply these ideas to an example conclusion
The trend towards "good taste" in mass-market products draws into question the idea of good taste altogether (Thesis). Many things symbolizing high class living are in danger of losing their status simply because they can now be purchased at any Home Depot or Ikea; (Summary 1: the first main point) however, critics call décor and furniture exports such as Pier 1 Imports and Pottery Barn "cheap" not for offering sophisticated designs at bargain prices, but for offering them to all, even to mail-order costumers (Summary 2: the second main point). Worst of all, Martha Stewart is said to have reduced good taste to merely another brand name by creating a line of home wares for the suburban superstore K-Mart (Summary 3: the third main point). The implication is that a fine object loses its fineness as it gains wider appreciation, that beauty and elegance are qualities conferred by the elite and that an object's glow vanishes once too many have touched it, In other words, the wealthy and influential are not content with wealth and influence, but must have a world all to themselves; when others enter this world, they come to destroy (Relevance 1: a synthesis of the main points that reveals their significance in a wider context). Martha Stewart would have to disagree. Sconce lights might look out of place on a cattle ranch, but their popularity does not equate them with the neon signs that one sees in the windows of bars - quality is quality. If replacing the average household's melamine plates with porcelain makes some people insecure, then so be it (Relevance 2: a stance that applies to readers).