The author has written scintillatingly about the latest high-tech gizmo. We’ve careened through the dizzying heights of potential productivity, led compellingly to the ultimate solution to all our programming woes. And then, THUNK. The conclusion says, dryly, “Now you’ve seen all the potential of Purple People Plotters.” Maybe there’s an exclamation point to jazz it up. Yuck. What a letdown!
Conclusions form a valuable part of any good article, chapter, proposal, or other document. If written properly, a conclusion ties together the introduction, where the topic was presented in broad terms, and the body of the work, where the details were spelled out. Many times, readers flip to the conclusion to determine whether they should read the whole article. Unless you want all those hard-wrung words to go to waste, you need to write a compelling conclusion.
In the best-case world, you write your article by dashing out a few relevant lines for an introduction and then delving carefully into the topic at hand. Once you’ve written the body of the piece, you can go back and make sure that your introduction actually introduces what you’ve written. (I like to write introductions after I’ve written the rest of the piece.)
Now that you’ve studied your introduction based on, interpreted by, and influenced by the body of the work, you should be able to paraphrase and write a happy conclusion.
If you like, copy the introduction verbatim. Then delete elements that are no longer necessary to explain and point to examples from the body of the piece for the particularly salient points. Change the wording of anything that remains intact from the introduction, and voila! You have a decent conclusion.
That “cheating” technique works for most articles that describe how something functions. If you have an argument or comparison, you need another solution.
The introduction to an argument or comparison presents the issues in the broadest of terms; the article itself states all sides of the issues at hand. By the end of the article, you need to state what side you’re on. It should be fairly obvious by the end, but now’s the chance to say it clearly for those who weren’t reading closely.
For an argument or comparison, state the issue again in the broadest of terms. Then state your opinion without hedging, and cite a reason or two directly from the article.
If you haven’t been chatty or friendly (you’ve written a dignified or academic piece), don’t suddenly switch in the final paragraphs. It’s important that the writer of the body of the piece remains recognizable at the end. If you haven’t made your opinions known throughout, consider carefully whether you want to declaim at all.
Oh, one more thing: if the template you’re using calls for a summary at the end (rather than a conclusion), please summarize. That means you need to go back through the piece pulling out the most important topics (maybe your headings provide a clue), and point toward your conclusion or result.
If you have the option to choose your own final heading, here are my three favorites:
Conclusion: A summary of how the product works or what was covered in the piece, or a statement of opinion based on the arguments made in the piece.
Summary: A collection of meaningful points directly from the piece, but not building an argument for or against anything unless there is one in the piece.
Final Thoughts: A way to end the piece with some cheerful “good luck” message, but not drawing any conclusions or summarizing.
Off Topic: Good bye to my Great Aunt Margaret, who died early Thursday morning of complications following a heart attack. She was 114. Sharp as a tack to the end, didn’t look a day over 65, still active, still a delightful character to all who knew her and a grand conclusion to a life well lived.