Planning and structure

Conclusions: what they do

Summing up

Your conclusion should give a sense of completion to your essay and should point to your central idea or to the argument you have been making. You should try and summarise the main points you have made – although you should not simply go over everything again. You should also revisit the question to show how you think your essay has answered it.

You do not have to try and give a definitive answer e.g. “Thus I have conclusively proved that X is the case”. This is highly unusual in academic writing where there is usually only “a sense in which X might – or might not – be the case”. Of course, if you’ve found out something interesting then say so. On the other hand, don’t try to be original just for the sake of it.

Moving the subject on

Conclusions can point readers towards new ideas or new possibilities. Here’s a fictitious example:

“As we have seen, the majority of writers on soap operas still concentrate on ‘classics’ such as Brookside, Coronation Street, and Eastenders. Until commentators pay proper attention to teen soaps such as Hollyoaks and to the popularity of daytime soaps imported from Australia, we will not get a full picture of the representation of women.”

Here the writer is saying where work needs to be done and, most importantly, showing that she understands inadequacies in the evidence she has gathered.

Here’s something I forgot earlier

Conclusions can point readers towards new ideas or new possibilities. However, they are not the place to start introducing large quantities of new material. A conclusion is not the place to remember that you have forgotten to include important information and hastily patch it in. A conclusion is not the place to include material from a book you managed to get from the library last night – it may unbalance what you have already written.

It’s not about you

Students often think that a conclusion is the place to introduce a personal opinion. However, you should be very careful about doing this. Remember that the conclusion of an essay has to follow on from the rest of the essay. You can’t spend the essay reviewing information or examining theories and then say “But what I think is…”. If you have a viewpoint to put across in your conclusion, you should already have made a case for it in the main body.

Some things a conclusion can do

Sum up your argument.

Revisit the essay title and show that it has been answered.

Give a sense of completion.

Indicate what the essay has and has not done.

Show that the writer has done what she said she was going to do in her introduction.

Offer a point of view in light of the evidence, opinions, ideas or theories that have been examined in the essay.

Establish a point or position.