Crafting Effective Conclusions

Have you ever read something that ended before you were finished? In other words, the writer seemed to simply stop writing at some point, leaving you dissatisfied. You turned the page expecting more, and there was none!

Perhaps because conclusions come at the end, writers don't always give them the attention they deserve. You need to remember, however, that what is read last is often remembered most! Your last paragraph needs to convince the writer that your essay was worth reading. Here is where you will give the reader the final punch, where you will explain the "so what" of your essay.

A brief, timed essay like that written for the Regents' Test makes writing a dynamic conclusion even more of a challenge. You're almost out of time; the temptation is to repeat your two or three points and be finished! Such an ending is both repetitious and boring, however; the reader just read your points 45 seconds ago. Does he or she really need to be reminded of them again?

What you need, therefore, is a strategy that works for writing a quick and powerful conclusion. How can you craft a conclusion that is satisfying to readers, one that seems exactly right?

One Strategy

The best strategy for writing your ending begins as you do your prewriting. As you're formulating your points for your body, be thinking that important "so what" question. Consider the question, "How do you expect your college education to change the rest of your life? Discuss." So college will change your entire life. So what? So it will change your communication skills, your level of pride and self-confidence, and your career. So what?

What is the overall effect on your life? What is it going to cost you? And is it worth it?

At this point, you might think, "It is so much hard work. I'm making many sacrifices. But my life will be so much better. I will be a more complete person. I can be happier. I can make other people happier. Therefore, my college education is worth doing whatever it takes."

So you've got the "so what" in your head already as you face writing the conclusion. As you've written your body, you've been mulling over the "so what" in one of the recesses of your mind. Now, you're here at the conclusion and you're ready to put your thoughts into words.

Your next step is to read your essay, perhaps even silently moving your lips as you go through it. Pay particular attention to your introduction. What specific detail can you "play upon" in your conclusion? In other words, you want to find a detail that you can twist and turn a bit in your conclusion. The purpose of reading the entire essay, and not just the introduction, is to give yourself a "jumpstart" on your conclusion. The words are flowing from your lips, and the conclusion might be right there inside you, ready to follow. You just need to write it out. Of course, if it's sticking more than flowing, don't despair. Look back to your introduction again and think about how you can transform an introductory detail into a concluding point.

For example, if you mention in your opening anecdote that you made the decision to attend college after working an 18-hour shift at Burger King, you might return to the image of Burger King in the conclusion:

I have spent too many months standing on the wrong side of the counter at Burger King. I'm ready to have someone else hold the mayo while I hold a college textbook. I realize that in order to have it "my way," I must complete my college degree. No matter what sacrifices I must currently make, I'm ready for education to change my life.

By returning to a detail from the introduction, you complete the "cycle" of the essay and bring closure to the reader. In the analogy of the shirt on the hanger, you've sewn the hem and have left no ragged ends. The conclusion has ended because the essay is finished. Not only have you returned to a detail from the introduction, but you have also touched on the thesis again but not in a repetitive way.

If you can't come up with a good content transition to the conclusion, you can write the standby, "In conclusion." Don't ever write, "In concluding," however, or you will set up a dangling modifier unless your next word is I. For example, the sentence, "In concluding, my college education will change my life," the dangling modifier makes your education do the concluding instead of you.