Ending the Essay: Conclusions
So much is at stake in writing a conclusion. This is, after all, your last chance to persuade
your readers to your point of view, to impress yourself upon them as a writer and thinker.
And the impression you create in your conclusion will shape the impression that stays with
your readers after they've finished the essay.
The end of an essay should therefore convey a sense of completeness and closure as well
as a sense of the lingering possibilities of the topic, its larger meaning, its implications: the
final paragraph should close the discussion without closing it off.
To establish a sense of closure, you might do one or more of the following:
- Conclude by linking the last paragraph to the first, perhaps by
reiterating a word or
phrase you used at the beginning.
- Conclude with a sentence composed mainly of one-syllable words. Simple
help create an effect of understated drama.
- Conclude with a sentence that's compound or parallel in structure;
such sentences can
establish a sense of balance or order that may feel just right at the end of a complex
To close the discussion without closing it off, you might do one or more of the
Finally, some advice on how not to end an essay:
- Conclude with a quotation from or reference to a primary or secondary
source, one that
amplifies your main point or puts it in a different perspective. A quotation from, say, the
novel or poem you're writing about can add texture and specificity to your discussion; a
critic or scholar can help confirm or complicate your final point.
For example, you might conclude an essay on the idea of home in James
story collection, Dubliners, with information about Joyce's own
towards Dublin, his home. Or you might end with a biographer's statement about
Joyce's attitude toward Dublin, which could illuminate his characters' responses to the
city. Just be cautious, especially about using secondary material: make sure that you get
the last word.
- Conclude by setting your discussion into a different, perhaps larger,
For example, you might end an essay on nineteenth-century muckraking journalism by
linking it to a current newsmagazine program like 60 Minutes.
- Conclude by redefining one of the key terms of your argument.
For example, an essay on Marx's treatment of the conflict between wage labor and capital
might begin with Marx's claim that the "capitalist economy is . . . a gigantic enterprise of
dehumanization"; the essay might end by suggesting that Marxist
analysis is itself
dehumanizing because it construes everything in economic_rather than moral or
- Conclude by considering the implications of your argument (or analysis
What does your argument imply, or involve, or suggest?
For example, an essay on the novel Ambiguous Adventure, by the
Cheikh Hamidou Kane, might open with the idea that the protagonist's development
suggests Kane's belief in the need to integrate Western materialism and Sufi spirituality in
modern Senegal. The conclusion might make the new but related point that the novel on
the whole suggests that such an integration is (or isn't) possible.
- Don't simply summarize your essay. A brief summary of your argument
may be useful,
especially if your essay is long_more than ten pages or so. But shorter essays tend not
to require a restatement of your main ideas.
- Avoid phrases like "in conclusion," "to conclude," "in summary,"
"to sum up."
These phrases can be useful_even welcome_in oral presentations. But readers can see,
by the tell-tale compression of the pages, when an essay is about to end. You'll irritate
your audience if you belabor the obvious.
- Resist the urge to apologize. If you've immersed yourself in your
subject, you now know
a good deal more about it than you can possibly include in a five- or ten- or 20-page
essay. As a result, by the time you've finished writing, you may be having some doubts
about what you've produced. (And if you haven't immersed yourself in your subject,
you may be feeling even more doubtful about your essay as you approach the
conclusion.) Repress those doubts. Don't undercut your authority by saying things like,
"this is just one approach to the subject; there may be other, better approaches. . ."
Copyright 1998, Pat Bellanca, for the Writing Center at Harvard University