how to write an essay
 

Step 8: The Conclusion

Recap your main idea

If your essay was long and complex, sometimes difficult to follow, in the conclusion you'll want to recap your ideas in a clear, summarizing manner. You want your readers to understand the message you intended to communicate. However, if your essay was short and simple, don't insult your readers by restating at length the ideas they already understand. Strike a balance according to what you feel your readers need. In a short essay (600 words or less), any recapitulation should be brief (about 2 sentences), and rephrased in a fresh way, not just cut and pasted from the thesis.

Leave a memorable impression

It's not enough just to restate your main ideas -- if you only did that and then ended your essay, your conclusion would be flat and boring. You've got to make a graceful exit from your essay by leaving a memorable impression on the reader. You need to say something that will continue to simmer in the reader's minds long after he or she has put down your essay. To leave this memorable impression, try . . .

  • giving a thought-provoking quotation
  • describing a powerful image
  • talking about consequences or implications
  • stating what action needs to be done
  • ending on an interesting twist of thought
  • explaining why the topic is important

Keep it short

Keep your conclusion short, probably ten lines or less, and avoid fluff. You're just trying to make a clever exit, and presumably all the really important points have been made previously in your essay. You should not introduce any totally new ideas in the conclusion; however, you should not merely repeat your thesis either. This situation -- not presenting anything new, and neither just sticking with the old -- at first seems to be a paradox. However, with a little effort, one of the above six methods will usually yield "a quiet zinger," as John Tribble calls it.


Examples of Real Conclusions

1. Ending on an image

Today, as the phonographs which follow prove, the mystique of the cat is still very much alive in the Egyptian environment. For after all, should not the cat be important in the Muslim world, as apparently God inspired man to write its name-qi, t, t in Arabic letters-in such a shape that it looks like a cat?

--Lorraine Chittock, Cairo Cats

2. Restating the thesis in a fresh way

If this book has any future use, it will be as a modest contribution to that challenge, and as a warning: that systems of thought like Orientalism, discourses of power, ideological fictions-mind-forg'd manacles-are all too easily made, applied, and guarded. Above all, I hope to have shown my reader that the answer to Orientalism is not Occidentalism. No former "Oriental" will be comforted by the thought that having been an Oriental himself he is likely-too likely-to study new "Orientals"-or "Occidentals"-of his own making. If the knowledge of Orientalism has any meaning, it is in being a reminder of the seductive degradation of knowledge, of any knowledge, anywhere, at any time. Now perhaps more than before.

--Orientalism, Edward Said


3. Ending on an image

When one reads any strongly individual piece of writing, one has the impression of seeing a face somewhere behind the page. It is not necessarily the actual face of the writer. I feel this very strongly with Swift, with Defoe, with Fielding, Stendhal, Thackeray, Flaubert, though in several case I do not know what these people looked like and do not want to know. What one sees is the face that the writer ought to have. Well, in the case of Dickens I see a face that is not quite the face of Dickens's photographs, though it resembles it. It is the face of a man of about forty, with a small beard and a high colour. He is laughing, with a touch of anger in his laughter, but no triumph, no malignity. It is the face of a man who is always fighting against something, but who fights in the open and is not frightened, the face of a man who is generously angry-in other words, of a nineteenth-century liberal, a free intelligence, a type hated with equal hatred by all the smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls.

--"Charles Dickens," George Orwell

4. Ending on a quotation

A popular tale, which I picked up in Geneva during the last years of World War I, tells of Miguel Servet's reply to the inquisitors who had condemned him to the stake: "I will burn, but this is a mere event. We shall continue our discussion in eternity."

--Jorge Luis Borges, Nonfictions

5. Moving towards the general

The practice of rhetoric involves a careful attention to the characteristics and preferences of the audience for whom the writer intends the message. Although Syfers' and Limpus' essays might be somewhat out of place for a contemporary audience, in the 1970s they were not. However, as argued throughout this essay, it is Syfers' memorable sarcasm and wit that ultimately win over her audience. Being humorous while also driving home a worthwhile point is a difficult feat to accomplish in writing. Because Syfers accomplishes it so well, she seems to have stepped over the boundaries of time and reached a much larger audience than she may have originally intended.

--imitation of a student essay

6. Talking about implications or consequences

I am quite convinced that what hinders progress in the Arab world is the absence of a free press. The dirt in our society has been swept under the carpet for too long. But I am certain that this won't be the case for much longer. Arabs are beginning to engage in lively debate over their political and social predicament. And Al-Jazeera offers a ray of hope. Already, other Arab stations are imitating The Opposite Direction, though with limitations. Press freedom leads to political freedom. Someday, in spite of the attempts by today's totalitarian rulers, a free Arab press may help to create real democracy in the Arab world.

--Fasial al-Kasim, "Crossfire: The Arab Version"

Tom Johnson. tjohnson@aucegypt.edu. Last updated May 2004.