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The sun is peaking over the horizon, coffee is buzzing through your system and you’ve only got a little time left before your professor gets up and starts grading those essays. Fortunately, you’re nearly done. Just those last few lines and you’ll be golden.

So time to turn your mind to zero, let your eyes go slightly cross-eyed and type whatever comes to mind, right?

Absolutely wrong.

Conclusions are your last chance to make an impression, your last chance to convince, the last thing you leave your reader with. And study after study has confirmed that this is possibly the most important part of what you’re writing, as the end of an experience weighs disproportionately heavily in the mind of your reader.

So if you’ve gone through all that trouble to write a great essay to get a good grade, don’t hurry the ending. Instead, make sure you apply the following ideas:

Summarize your argument

This is a particularly good idea if your essay is longer, as in that case it’s possible that your reader has forgotten some of the points you’ve made. For that reason quickly summarize the main points of your essay so that your readers remember everything that was going on.

But don’t use the whole conclusion to do so. Your reader was there for the entirety of it and they don’t just want to hear what you’ve already said. After all, it’s a text, if they really want to make certain they’ve understood your points correctly, they can always go back.

The best summaries are one, two or perhaps three sentences, though this is not written in stone. Do not, under any circumstances, make these sentences run on. After all, the point of these sentences is to clarify, not confuse.  

Bring back the beginning

Instead, a good strategy is to return to the point that you originally made, or the question that you originally asked and provide an answer to it. This will give a nicely rounded feeling to your essay, as it ties everything together and adds a little bowtie as well.

In fact, I will often rewrite the beginning based on the argument I’ve managed to make in the end, to make certain the start and the finish hang together nicely. As a side note, you do not have to begin your essay with a question. Instead, consider making a bold and daring statement that people might find challenging, then introduce your argument in the body of your text and return to the bold statement in your conclusion and demonstrate why you were not out of line for making it. This is a very effective essay structure that will automatically increase engagement.

The final twist

Alternatively, if possible this is a great moment to give that final little-finessed twist to turn your essay about one particular aspect into something bigger or recently relevant. For example, if you’re writing an essay about Native American persecution during the time of America’s founding, you could use this as a springboard to comment on the more recent persecution of minorities, or to discuss how Native Americans are doing today.

Again, this is only a teaser. You’re not trying to write an additional essay. If you cannot add the twist with two or three sentences, or if it’s a bit too obviously (like my example above could easily be) then don’t do it. This is not the time in the essay to start swinging around a sledgehammer. 

Quotes

Why say poorly what somebody else has already said well? (I think that’s actually a quote, but I can’t find out who said it).

If you’ve got a quote that sums up what you’re trying to say – particularly if it’s something one of the people that you’ve discussed in your essay said – this can be a fantastic way to end an essay, as you lend the authority of that person to your conclusion. In fact, on occasion, if you see an especially poignant quote that nicely sums up what you’re thinking, it might be a good idea to structure the whole essay so that you can end with that quote.

Things not do to

Tell people this is the end of your essay. It’s pretty easy to see that the end is coming, so don’t feel inclined to tell them as well. That’s right. No ‘in conclusion’, ‘last words’, ‘in summary’ or ‘to sum up’. Instead, just head straight in.

Also, don’t apologize or weaken your argument by telling people ‘this is only my opinion’. They know it’s your opinion. That’s the assumption made when they start reading your essay. So there really is no need to tell them.

What’s more, the fact that you doubt what you’re saying only points out that you’ve done your job correctly. After all, if you did your research correctly you’ve read a great deal more about your essay topic than you’ve managed to put into it. Naturally, you’re going to feel like you haven’t quite done your topic justice.

But we all go through that. Every single author has to pick and choose. Nobody gets to include everything. And only the most dogmatic remain absolutely convinced about their point at the end of writing something. The better the scholar, the more doubt they’ll have.

I’m feeling the pressure

The conclusion of the essay is a vital and you can’t just rattle it off without thought. Instead, it needs to be considered carefully. There are several ways you can decide end it.

For example, you can choose to use it to summarize the main points of your argument – like how you can use quotes, how you can bring back the beginning and how you shouldn’t apologize – while leaving space to give a final twist.  

In effect a conclusion is a little bit like that last breath. Yes, it’s good to see your whole life flash before your eyes, but you also want to know what the point of it was. If that’s not there, then the whole thing can feel kind of meaningless and unsatisfactory. And both for a life and the end of an all-nighter, that would just be massively disappointing. 

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Comment by Leona Hinton on June 23, 2016 at 5:12am

Thank you Jonathan, these tips are definitely worth sharing.

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