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Writing Strong Conclusions

One of the often-overlooked sections of a paper is the conclusion. Some students are so happy that they’ve finished all of their body paragraphs that they tack on a short or repetitive conclusion. However, a good conclusion can help readers easily remember the writer’s main points and emotionally reconnect them to the paper and writer.

Here are five basic methods for concluding your paper in a way that will leave your reader intrigued and impressed. Notice that many of them can also work in introductions.


If you began a paper with a brief story to illustrate your argument, try alluding to the story or wrapping it up in the conclusion. 

Basic Summary

For technical papers or formal research papers, a basic summary of the paper’s thesis and main points can help the reader remember what he or she read.

Here’s an example of a basic summary from Grossmont College professor Karl Sherlock:

The right to vote is, indeed, a sacred privilege adding unique voices to a system of self-government. With a process of better education, improved political awareness, and more active political participation, young people under the age of twenty-one will have their own diverse and strong voices heard in elections, contributing their energies to social change and forging their own futures.

Notice that without reading the entire paper or even the first paragraph, a reader can locate this paper’s thesis and three arguments used to defend it.

Startling Summary

Conclude the paper by restating your main argument as concisely and powerfully as possible. This often works best in informal papers or papers that use first or second person.

Here’s the conclusion from "When Good Pictures Happen to Bad People: Why We Hate That We Like the Rolling Stone Cover" by Alexandra Sifferlin in Time Magazine, July 2013 (emphasis added):

However people resolve the dissonance of seeing Tsarnaev looking comfortable, even attractive, on the cover of a magazine with the knowledge of what he is accused of doing, maybe the most important lesson the article, and the image, might teach us is this: that monsters might indeed look like rock stars.

Famous Ideas

If your paper quotes a writer or another source, conclude the paper with words from this source or a description of how he or she might feel about your topic.

Here’s the conclusion from "Meaning is Healthier than Happiness" by Emily Esfahani Smith in the Atlantic, August 1, 2013.

The terms hedonism and eudaimonism bring to mind the great philosophical debate, which has shaped Western civilization for over 2,000 years, about the nature of the good life. Does happiness lie in feeling good, as hedonists think, or in doing and being good, as Aristotle and his intellectual descendants, the virtue ethicists, think? From the evidence of this study, it seems that feeling good is not enough. People need meaning to thrive. In the words of Carl Jung, “The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.” Jung’s wisdom certainly seems to apply to our bodies, if not also to our hearts and minds. 

Hinting at Related Issues

You can consider peeking into a related topic that your paper doesn’t address, but be careful: if it seems like you’re beginning a brand new paper, your reader may wonder why you didn’t.

The above article, "Meaning is Healthier than Happiness," does this with Jung’s quote and Smith’s final sentence:

In the words of Carl Jung, “The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.” Jung’s wisdom certainly seems to apply to our bodies, if not also to our hearts and minds. 

Smith adds the element of emotional and mental well-being that the article did not explore in depth, as the article focuses on a physical trait: gene expression patterns. The writer uses Jung’s words here to reaffirm the findings in her article while hinting at a new line of thought about psychological/mental health, though she doesn’t go into it.

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