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Writing a Conclusion

Conclusions: some points to bear in mind

Writing a conclusion is an important part of any piece of writing. It is often possible to get a good picture of an assignment by looking briefly at the conclusion. However, writing a conclusion can be quite difficult. This is because it can often be hard to find something interesting or useful to say in the conclusion. Conclusions should be attractive and interesting but often they are rather dull and "formula written".

Although formulae for writing conclusions are tempting to use, it is always best to avoid set phrases such as "Therefore, let us conclude that..." which are clichés, and do not help to end your work in the best light.

 

FAQs

1. What are the typical ingredients in a conclusion?...read 

2. What are the differences between writing conclusions to essays and to dissertations/theses ...read

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What are the typical 'ingredients' of a conclusion? 

Trzeciak and Mackay (1994) observe a number of useful "ingredients" that form part of a conclusion. Again (as with introductions) it will not always be necessary or desirable to include all the elements they mention. However, you will probably want to use some of these in some combination, in order to conclude your work.

  • A summary of the main part of the text
  • A deduction made on the basis of the main body
  • Your personal opinion on what has been discussed
  • A statement about the limitations of the work
  • A comment about the future based on what has been discussed
  • The implications of the work for future research
  • Important facts and figures not mentioned in the main body

Pallant (2004), meanwhile, sees the conclusion slightly differently. She argues that the conclusion should "leave (the reader) with a clear impression that the purposes of the essay have been achieved" (English for Academic Study: Writing: Reading, Garnet Pulishers, p. 41). Pallant sees five basic ingredients of a conclusion as follows, though these will not always be used in the same conclusion.:

  • A summary of the main points (being careful not to repeat exactly what you have written before)
  • Concluding statements 
  • Recommendations
  • Predictions
  • Solutions

These recommendations probably apply more to discussion essays than they do to other kinds of assessed writing at university. For example, if you are writing a business plan or discussing a law scenario, or answering an examination question, you may not need the above elements, unless the question specifically asks you for them or unless it is known that it is expected of you in the discipline you are working in.

However, you will generally need a final section to indicate that you are 'rounding off' the discusion. Always be very careful to check what the conventions are in the discipline you are working in, and ideally, it is best to look at examples of past students' work so that you can see what you are aiming for.

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What are the differences between writing conclusions to essays and to dissertations/theses?  

When writing longer pieces of work, it is still very important to observe some of the principles above. For instance, you will still want to ensure that your conclusion really does conclude, and does not just go off at a tangent to discuss something that is unrelated to the thesis. Some people believe (mistakenly) that a conclusion is the place for you to relax and 'say whatever you want'. This is incorrect. If you do this, you will be likely to be marked down.

There are also likely to be some key differences in your approach when writing conclusions. Certainly, conclusions will be even more important in a dissertation or thesis, purely because of the length of the piece. Among the differences you will notice are the following:

  • As well as having an overall conclusion to your dissertation or thesis, each chapter should also have a conclusion (as well as an introduction). The reason for this is that in a longer piece of writing, it becomes more important to ¡¥remind¡¦ the reader of what you have done and why you have done it, before you move onto the next stage.
  • The conclusion of a dissertation or thesis is not an opportunity to engage in a personal 'rant'. You must draw out key aspects of the literature you have studied, along with your recommendations, and say how they are justified or contradicted by your research.
  • It is a good idea in a chapter conclusion to remind the reader what happened in the chapter (e.g. In this chapter, the literature relating to the teaching of vocabulary was considered.). After this, you need to build a bridge linking this chapter with the next one. (e.g. This will be further discussed in the next chapter.)
  • In a dissertation or thesis, there is likely to be a longer section on the limitations of your research. Important though this is, however, you also need to be sure to ¡¥sell¡¦ your research in the conclusion - so it is best not to be too negative or over-modest about your achievements at this point. The key to many dissertations and theses is the need to emphasise the contribution that it makes to research.
  • In a dissertation or thesis, it is more likely that you will have a section on the need for future research. In an MA or MSc dissertation you may like to suggest something that could be developed from your work as a PhD thesis. In a PhD thesis you may like to indicate some potential for post-doctoral work.

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Further advice on writing conclusions

When writing an assignment, be careful of the following points:

  • The topic you are writing about may not always require a full conclusion (this is particularly the case if your work is heavily analytical or mathematical, or not very discursive.) Remember not all assignments require discussion. Check what the expectations are in your own department. Ask your tutor if you are not sure.
  • Even if you do not need a full conclusion, remember that any assignment nearly always needs to be rounded off in some way and brought to an end. Consider this: will the reader will know that you have finished your work? (Or will they just think that you have run out of time - or energy)?
  • Keep in mind the balance of your assignment. The conclusion should be clear and relatively brief.
  • In discussion-type assignments, it is often a better idea to raise questions and problems in the conclusion than to provide over-simplified/ naive answers to the assignment title. Examiners will usually be very wary of essays, theses or dissertations that presume to solve all the world's problems in a simplistic and trivial way. Remember, life is never that simple. However, remember not to introduce any new material in the conclusion.
  • There is no need to go over everything again that you have already mentioned; this would be unnecessarily boring and tedious.
  • Make sure that the conclusion is based on what you have said before. It is often tempting to go off at a tangent and to say things that are completely unrelated to the topic. Be wary of this.
  • It is permissible to give your opinion in the conclusion but try to do so subtly and try not to sound too pompous or authoritarian. Usually your viewpoint will be obvious from your discussion, so there is no need to conclude with statements such as: In conclusion, I think Hamlet is a great play. Allow your enthusiasm for the topic to show in how you discuss it. Make sure that you do not use the conclusion as an opportunity to engage in an over-generalised an unfocussed 'rant'.
  • Be careful with tenses. In a conclusion, you will usually want to use the present perfect (e.g. The aim of this dissertation has been to....) followed by the simple past (Chapter 1 provided an overview of...).
  • Be very careful about using the word "conclusion" anywhere other than the conclusion itself! This can mislead the reader. If you use the word conclusion several times in an essay, the reader will give up trying to work out where the conclusion really is.

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The text was prepared by Dr Gerard Sharpling.