Last Writes: How to Create Memorable Conclusions


You have come to the end of your paper, and presented all of the excellent arguments and expert analysis that should ensure you the grade you have worked hard to achieve. However, one final obstacle remains: the dreaded conclusion. How is it possible to summarize what has taken pages to explain in the short space of a single paragraph? This is possible to achieve, but only if you know how to avoid the popular myths everyone has heard regarding the conclusion, and how to remind the reader of your work without repeating it.

The first and most predominant myth that many students take as gospel truth is probably learned in middle school and never corrected till some time in university when it has already caused you to receive an inferior grade:

The conclusion should be your introduction phrased in different words.

This sounds like it makes sense, but consider what elements are supposed to appear in your introduction (see the article on introductions for a more thorough explanation of these elements): You need to state the author, the work, what it is generally about, its genre, your thesis and main supporting arguments, and perhaps some general contextual information about setting or history if relevant. Now, after you have presented these at the beginning of the essay, and assumed the reader knew these throughout the paper as you have gone into far greater detail about them, it is absurd to state them all again in the conclusion! This kind of conclusion will seem like it has been tacked on in order to fulfill the word count requirement, and it will actually result in your getting a poorer grade than you would have.

A good principle to follow in concluding is to briefly mention how the major arguments you have presented have proven the thesis you listed in your introduction. An example sentence using Orwell's 1984 might look like this:

Clearly, technology is a force of evil throughout the novel. As we have seen, it is a negative force which enables corrupt governments to remain in power, allows the citizens to be subjected to constant invasions of their privacy, and prevents the proles from uniting in a common cause.

In one quick sentence, you have accomplished what the conclusion needs to do: you have shown how what you have been arguing has proven your thesis, and reminded the reader of what you have been doing without repeating the details you used to explain it.

From this point, all that is left to do is to add a convincing concluding sentence or two which will be the polish on the finished product that is your essay. Since you have already summed up and done all the necessary things, this is the time to add a rhetorical flourish if you feel inclined; the best papers will certainly do this. An excellent way to conclude your conclusion is to stretch one of the main themes you have been exploring into contemporary life. This should not be a grand generalization, or a comment on the history of humanity (again, see the article on introductions), but rather a pithy reflection of the novel onto society today. Returning to Orwell, you might finish as follows:

Although we are more than 20 years beyond the title date of Orwell's novel, his message is not lost to us. If anything, it is a useful reminder now more than ever that technology, despite all the good it can do, must be used and developed with caution.

Without making unfounded generalizations and grandiose statements, this relation of the major theme of the work, and the essay, to contemporary life shows you have achieved an excellent understanding of the novel, and leaves your audience further convinced that your arguments are sound.

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