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Conclusions are among the hardest parts of an essay to write well. You need to round off your essay effectively. You need to leave your reader with the best possible impression of your work. And, you need to somehow recap all your central points without simply repeating yourself. Sound like a tricky balancing act? We explain it all in more depth below - read on for our tips on how to conclude an essay effectively.
How do I Conclude an Essay?
What is a conclusion? It’s a question that seems, on the face of it, to have a perfectly simple answer.
It’s the paragraph (or so) at the end of your essay where you bring your essay to a stop by recapping your central arguments, right? Easy.
If you were asked to list a few synonyms for an essay conclusion, I am willing to bet you’d come up with a few words or phrases like “recap”, “summary”, “restatement of your thesis”, and so on. And it’s true you’re likely to find all of this somewhere in the conclusion of an essay.
"Words and phrases like 'recap', 'summary' and 'restatement of your thesis' don't accurately describe what an essay conclusion is. A conclusion is so much more, and a lot hinges on how well it is done."
But none of the phrases above fully grasp the function of an essay conclusion. In fact, taking any one of them to be entirely synonymous with an essay conclusion is likely to lead you down the path towards writing bad essay conclusions, or at least missed-opportunity conclusions - conclusions that don’t take full advantage of their place at the end of the essay to fulfill their rhetorical potential.
OK Then, How do I Avoid Concluding an Essay Badly?
Before we get to answer the question of what an essay conclusion is, it’s useful to spend moment thinking about some of the things an essay conclusion isn’t.
It’s not a Repeat of Your Introduction.
Every university instructor has encountered an essay where a student has copied and pasted, almost word-for-word, their introduction at the bottom of their essay. It should be obvious that there’s no point in doing this. You're just eating up words by repeating the same information over again. And if a conclusion were simply a rehash of the introduction, there wouldn’t be any point in ending the essay with it. You could just end with your final body paragraph argument. Or, if you really wanted your reader to read the introduction again and remind themselves of your central arguments, you could simply say something like, “See introduction”!
OK, so copying and pasting the introduction is an extreme example, and you’re probably thinking “there’s no way I’d do something like that.” But it’s fairly common for students to conclude an essay by simply rephrasing their introduction. Just paraphrasing yourself while retaining all the content of your introduction isn’t a whole lot different from the copy-paste job. You’re still just going through the motions and repeating the same information without really getting to grips with the dedicated function a conclusion is supposed to fulfill.
It’s not Just a Summary of Your Body Paragraphs.
Another common trap students fall into is to view the essay conclusion simply as a recap. They conclude an essay by providing a concise summary of each of the arguments they’ve made. This kind of recap can form an important part of your conclusion, especially in longer essays where you’ve made a series of complex arguments. But, as with repeating your introduction, eating up valuable word count simply to rehash stuff you’ve already said is redundant and doesn’t fulfill any sort of rhetorical or persuasive function.
It’s not a Place to Add New Content or Make New Arguments.
Yes, your essay conclusion shouldn’t be simply a recap, a summary, or a repeat of what you’ve already written in your essay. But it is a place where you reflect on the arguments you’ve made rather than starting to introduce anything new.
And here’s where the whole business of how to conclude an essay starts to get a bit complicated. If a conclusion is neither simply a recap of old information nor a place for new information, what is it, exactly?
A Conclusion is a Sales Pitch!
If you’ve been paying attention you may have seen that we’ve already mentioned “rhetoric” a couple of times so far in this post - and this is no accident. You can’t really talk about essay conclusions without talking about rhetoric. The conclusion to an essay is the most purely rhetorical part of the entire piece.
By “rhetorical”, it is a conclusion’s (and indeed the entire essay’s) ability to convince or persuade the reader of certain outlooks or arguments. An essay conclusion needs to use rhetoric to emotionally connect with the reader in some way. And this is done through the use of certain language and the way the information is presented.
If alarm bells are starting to ring at the mention of rhetoric, quiet them. Rhetoric gets a bad name in public discourse. Phrases like “pure rhetoric” or “empty rhetoric” are often used to suggest that an utterance lacks substance or integrity, or is somehow dishonest or insincere. And those are the last things you want your reader to take away from reading your essay! But rhetoric is one of the oldest scholarly disciplines in the world. In Classical societies - and in fact right up to the beginning of the twentieth century - it was considered one of the most important disciplines throughout Western society. The fact that it’s acquired something of a bad name over the last hundred years or so doesn’t mean it’s not still the foundation of good writing.
More importantly, your rhetorical skills can make a huge difference to whether your reader actually buys your argument. Let’s say we have two writers. One is skilled in rhetoric; the other less so. Both could make an identical set of arguments with the same supporting evidence and elicit entirely different responses in their readers. It’s true that the excessive use of rhetorical flourishes can rub your reader up the wrong way. It could cause them to think your essay is more about style than substance. But the subtler cues - in the way you phrase, structure, and present your arguments - can unquestionably make the difference between winning over a skeptical audience and leaving them unmoved.
"How you phrase, structure, and present arguments in your essay conclusion can make the difference between winning over a skeptical audience and leaving them unmoved - which could easily make a difference to your overall grade."
So what does all this have to do with how you conclude an essay? This can all seem a bit abstract when we’re dealing with essay writing, so let’s try an analogy. Let’s imagine you’re delivering a sales pitch for a property company. That company is trying to sell waterfront properties in a desirable holiday location - the Caribbean, say. Your audience is a set of moderately well-off individuals who regularly take expensive holidays. But, they’re not sure they can afford to buy a second home in the Caribbean. Even if they can afford it, they’re unclear if it would be a good investment.
To convince the members of your audience that they want to buy one of your properties, you’re going to have to conduct quite a detailed pitch. It could easily take a couple of hours or more to list the features of the property, the merits of the location, and the financial arrangements that will allow buyers to fund their purchase. You’ll make many arguments throughout your pitch, not all of which will be equally exciting. Sure, you’ll tell your potential customers about the balcony that leads off the master bedroom, the distance to the beach, and the amenities of the town in which the properties are located.
But your customers will also want to know other details: can they let the property while they’re not using it, for example? What kind of returns will that bring, and will these be enough to offset the purchase price? How are properties taxed in the area? And how about the facilities the local authority will provide? What kind of sanitation and waste facilities does the property have? Is it connected to a sewer or does it use a septic tank?
If the buyer is going to sign on the dotted line when it’s all done, you’re going to have to provide convincing answers to all of these questions. But simply recapping your arguments in order isn’t going to end the presentation effectively. You don’t want the lingering thought in your audience’s mind to be taxes or sewage. And you certainly don’t want to hit them with any new detail in your closing few slides. In fact, you don’t really want them to leave the presentation with any of the details you’ve discussed uppermost in their mind. Dwelling on any of the details is likely to remind them that buying and owning property is time-consuming, expensive, and stressful.
The impression you want to leave them with is that of having their very own place in the sun. An island paradise that’s theirs to return to any time they want to. You don’t want them leaving the building still musing over any of the specific points of your sales pitch. They need to be moved by the overall effect - and the promise - of what you’ve offered them. Sun on their backs, sand between their toes, and a crystal-clear blue ocean stretching out ahead of them.
So How Does This Help me Conclude an Essay?
OK, we get it. You’re not selling anybody a beach getaway when you conclude an essay. But what the above analogy describes is rhetoric. In an essay, you are making a pitch. And the same principles as the property sales example above apply.
Your essay conclusion is your parting shot. It’s your opportunity to leave your reader with a favorable impression of the arguments you’ve just made. You want them, at minimum, to be convinced that you’ve achieved what you set out to achieve; that you’ve proved your points. Better yet, you want them to feel satisfied that you’ve taken them on an intellectual journey that was interesting and rewarding.
Best of all, though, is if you leave them with a feeling of excitement. Excitement that your essay promises a new way of thinking about a topic, or a promising line of intellectual inquiry. The scholarly equivalent of feeling sand between their toes, in other words.
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VOICE Research and Training Institute is the brain child of KALVI Higher Education and Research Institute, Madurai, South India with the expertise and knowledge to empower learners in the communicative skills of the English Language running through the Industrial Hub of a community that influences a country at large.
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