Having trouble finding the right words to finish your paper? Are your conclusions bland? This handout covers basic techniques for writing stronger endings, including
- Diagnosing and improving paragraph cohesion
- Avoiding 7 common errors when drafting and revising conclusions
- Answering the reader’s unspoken question—“So what?”
Improve paragraph cohesion
A. Make your sentences conform to a “given/new” contract
“Given” information (familiar to your reader) should come first in the sentence. For example, you could reiterate a main idea in the sentence or two beforehand, or something apparent within the context of the sentence, or an idea that taps into readers’ general knowledge of a topic. “New” information (additional, unfamiliar, and/or more complex) should comprise the second half of your sentence.
The “new” info of one sentence then becomes the “given” or familiar info of the next, improving overall flow and coherence.
B. Use “topic-strings”
Each sentence needs a topic or main idea, which should be in the “given” part of the sentence. Shift “given” info closer to the beginnings of your sentences when you can, so that the topic is clear. As well, each paragraph needs an overall topic, usually established in the first or second sentences. To check paragraph coherence, see whether your sentence topics (“givens”) connect consistently from sentence to sentence. Can you find a consistent topic throughout the paragraph, almost as if you were tracing a single colored thread? A set of sentences with clear topics creates a “topic thread.” This, along with appropriate use of transitions, helps to ensure a coherent paragraph.
- If your topic thread is not apparent or seems to get lost, revise your sentences according to a “given/new” information pattern.
- Use transitions where needed to indicate opposition, agreement or linkage, cause & effect, exemplification or illustration, degree, comparison, etc. For more on transitions, see “Making Connections: Choosing Transition Words”.
C. Reiterate without being repetitious
Readers appreciate some consistency and won’t usually find a reasonable amount of repetition boring or monotonous. But avoid repeating the same subjects/topics using exactly the same words each time, and don’t repeat your thesis word-for-word in your conclusion. Instead…reiterate, using key concepts within slightly different sentence structures and arguments. Key concepts are often expressed in introductions, thesis statements, and near the beginnings of paragraphs; they act as a governing “topic thread” for your entire paper.
Avoid these 7 common errors in your conclusions
- Opening with an empty phrase, the equivalent of “throat-clearing.
Draft: “And, therefore, it is important to keep in mind that ...” “In conclusion…”
Revision: Omit these phrases. “In conclusion” or “To conclude” may be appropriate for an oral presentation, but in writing are considered redundant or overly mechanical.
Draft: “However, it is important in arriving at such a conclusion to recognize...”
Revision: Just say what we should recognize.
- Stuffing too much information into one paragraph or not developing the paragraph sufficiently.
- Not including a clear topic sentence: i.e. one that expresses the key concept governing this paragraph (i.e. “What is this paragraph about?”). It’s usually best to express your governing concept in the first or second sentence.
- Not checking for cohesion or flow (see “given and new” above). As a result, the sentences aren’t logically organized, or there is a sudden switch in topic, or sentences do not clearly connect to each other.
- Using transitions too frequently or too mechanically.
- Ending the paragraph with a different topic. HINT: Use a key word or phrase from the last sentence of the previous paragraph in the first sentence of the new paragraph. This technique helps the reader make connections.
- Finishing your piece with entirely new information or a quote that isn’t relevant.
Remember to answer the question "So what?”
Readers need to understand why your argument or research is significant. So consider the single more important idea (key concept) you want your readers to take away with them after reading your paper. It’s not enough merely to repeat your thesis or summarize your main findings in your conclusion; you need to answer the question: “So what”? Options include outlining further areas of inquiry and/or suggesting a sense of significance: e.g. why does what you’ve written matter? What should your reader take away?
For more about writing effective conclusions, visit the following:
“Strategies for Writing a Conclusion” from Literacy Education Online
“Conclusions” from the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina
Source for paragraph cohesion strategies: Williams, J. M., & Nadel, I. B. (2005). Style: 10 Lessons in Clarity and Grace (Cdn. ed.). Toronto: Longman.
Traditional Academic Essays In Three Parts
Part I: The Introduction
An introduction is usually the first paragraph of your academic essay. If you’re writing a long essay, you might need 2 or 3 paragraphs to introduce your topic to your reader. A good introduction does 2 things:
- Gets the reader’s attention. You can get a reader’s attention by telling a story, providing a statistic, pointing out something strange or interesting, providing and discussing an interesting quote, etc. Be interesting and find some original angle via which to engage others in your topic.
- Provides a specific and debatable thesis statement. The thesis statement is usually just one sentence long, but it might be longer—even a whole paragraph—if the essay you’re writing is long. A good thesis statement makes a debatable point, meaning a point someone might disagree with and argue against. It also serves as a roadmap for what you argue in your paper.
Part II: The Body Paragraphs
Body paragraphs help you prove your thesis and move you along a compelling trajectory from your introduction to your conclusion. If your thesis is a simple one, you might not need a lot of body paragraphs to prove it. If it’s more complicated, you’ll need more body paragraphs. An easy way to remember the parts of a body paragraph is to think of them as the MEAT of your essay:
Main Idea. The part of a topic sentence that states the main idea of the body paragraph. All of the sentences in the paragraph connect to it. Keep in mind that main ideas are…
- like labels. They appear in the first sentence of the paragraph and tell your reader what’s inside the paragraph.
- arguable. They’re not statements of fact; they’re debatable points that you prove with evidence.
- focused. Make a specific point in each paragraph and then prove that point.
Evidence.The parts of a paragraph that prove the main idea. You might include different types of evidence in different sentences. Keep in mind that different disciplines have different ideas about what counts as evidence and they adhere to different citation styles. Examples of evidence include…
- quotations and/or paraphrases from sources.
- facts, e.g. statistics or findings from studies you’ve conducted.
- narratives and/or descriptions, e.g. of your own experiences.
Analysis.The parts of a paragraph that explain the evidence. Make sure you tie the evidence you provide back to the paragraph’s main idea. In other words, discuss the evidence.
Transition.The part of a paragraph that helps you move fluidly from the last paragraph. Transitions appear in topic sentences along with main ideas, and they look both backward and forward in order to help you connect your ideas for your reader. Don’t end paragraphs with transitions; start with them.
Keep in mind that MEAT does not occur in that order. The “Transition” and the “Main Idea” often combine to form the first sentence—the topic sentence—and then paragraphs contain multiple sentences of evidence and analysis. For example, a paragraph might look like this: TM. E. E. A. E. E. A. A.
Part III: The Conclusion
A conclusion is the last paragraph of your essay, or, if you’re writing a really long essay, you might need 2 or 3 paragraphs to conclude. A conclusion typically does one of two things—or, of course, it can do both:
- Summarizes the argument. Some instructors expect you not to say anything new in your conclusion. They just want you to restate your main points. Especially if you’ve made a long and complicated argument, it’s useful to restate your main points for your reader by the time you’ve gotten to your conclusion. If you opt to do so, keep in mind that you should use different language than you used in your introduction and your body paragraphs. The introduction and conclusion shouldn’t be the same.
- Explains the significance of the argument. Some instructors want you to avoid restating your main points; they instead want you to explain your argument’s significance. In other words, they want you to answer the “so what” question by giving your reader a clearer sense of why your argument matters.
- For example, your argument might be significant to studies of a certain time period.
- Alternately, it might be significant to a certain geographical region.
- Alternately still, it might influence how your readers think about the future. You might even opt to speculate about the future and/or call your readers to action in your conclusion.
Handout by Dr. Liliana Naydan. Do not reproduce without permission.