By the time you get to your research paper conclusion you probably feel as if there is nothing more to be said. But knowing how to write a conclusion for a research paper is important for anyone doing research and writing research papers. If you finish strong, you will impress your readers and be effective in communicating your ideas.
Return to the Opening
A research paper should be circular in argument according to Ralph Berry in his book, The Research Project: How To Write It. Berry explained, “That is, the formal aim of the paper should be stated in the opening paragraph; the conclusion should return to the opening, and examine the original purpose in the light of the data assembled. It is a prime error to present conclusions that are not directly related to the evidence previously presented.”
But a conclusion does more than restate your thesis and the reasoning presented in your introduction. Professor Rosemary Jann of George Mason University pointed out the true purpose of a research paper conclusion in her article, “Writing Your Conclusion.” Professor Jann advised, “Whereas your introductory paragraph starts broad and then funnels down to your thesis…the concluding paragraph establishes what you’ve proved in the paper and then broadens out the meaning of what you’ve established in the course of your analysis.”
There are several approaches that you could take in writing the conclusion to your research paper other than to refer back to your introduction.
- You could summarize your main points but if you use this method then be sure to make your summary interesting rather than a just list of points.
- Present a bold statement that takes your topic to a deeper meaning and state the overall importance of what you have said in your paper.
- Conclude your paper by restating what you have found, acknowledge that there is more to be explored on the topic and briefly describe the issues that remain.
Different Types of Papers Mean Different Conclusions
If your paper was written to argue a point or to persuade the reader, then your conclusion will summarize the main points of your arguments presented in the paper. You will also want to restate your thesis and conclude with a statement of your position on the topic.
On the other hand, you paper may be an analysis of a topic where you have done in-depth study on a particular subject and presented your findings. Your conclusion will summarize your analysis of the topic, restate your thesis, and pose suggestions for further study.
Often the purpose of a research paper is to compare and contrast the facts and circumstances surrounding a topic in order to prove an argument that you state in your thesis. In your conclusion you will want to restate your thesis and summarize how you have proven your argument.
Problem and Solution
Another approach to the conclusion is to suggest a solution to the problem that you presented in your thesis. Advice on essay conclusions provided by the University of Victoria could also be applied to the research paper. The UVic Writer’s Guide said, “Once you have tied up your argument, a good way to conclude is to use the final lines of your essay to suggest a way in which the material you have covered applies to a larger concern. As in the introduction you explained the thesis in terms of a bigger picture, so in the conclusion you can demonstrate the effects or the problems inherent in what you have discussed.”
The conclusion of your research paper should tie up all of the trains of thought that you presented in your paper and to show where they might ultimately lead. It is not, however, the place to introduce new claims or information that you have not presented anywhere else in your paper.
The conclusion need not be long. It can be accomplished in as little as two sentences. For example: The effects of climate change can be reversed (credit zacharey at dresshead.com). It will, however, take political will and consistent effort from both representatives and business leaders.
Tips and examples for writing your research paper conclusion can be found at the University of Houston Victoria Academic Center site: http://www.uhv.edu/ac/research/write/pdf/draftconclusion.pdf.
The last thing your reader will see is your research paper conclusion. It should impact the reader with a definite statement that communicates your main point without raising new questions.
So much is at stake in writing a conclusion. This is, after all, your last chance to persuade your readers to your point of view, to impress yourself upon them as a writer and thinker. And the impression you create in your conclusion will shape the impression that stays with your readers after they've finished the essay.
The end of an essay should therefore convey a sense of completeness and closure as well as a sense of the lingering possibilities of the topic, its larger meaning, its implications: the final paragraph should close the discussion without closing it off.
To establish a sense of closure, you might do one or more of the following:
- Conclude by linking the last paragraph to the first, perhaps by reiterating a word or phrase you used at the beginning.
- Conclude with a sentence composed mainly of one-syllable words. Simple language can help create an effect of understated drama.
- Conclude with a sentence that's compound or parallel in structure; such sentences can establish a sense of balance or order that may feel just right at the end of a complex discussion.
To close the discussion without closing it off, you might do one or more of the following:
- Conclude with a quotation from or reference to a primary or secondary source, one that amplifies your main point or puts it in a different perspective. A quotation from, say, the novel or poem you're writing about can add texture and specificity to your discussion; a critic or scholar can help confirm or complicate your final point. For example, you might conclude an essay on the idea of home in James Joyce's short story collection, Dubliners, with information about Joyce's own complex feelings towards Dublin, his home. Or you might end with a biographer's statement about Joyce's attitude toward Dublin, which could illuminate his characters' responses to the city. Just be cautious, especially about using secondary material: make sure that you get the last word.
- Conclude by setting your discussion into a different, perhaps larger, context. For example, you might end an essay on nineteenth-century muckraking journalism by linking it to a current news magazine program like 60 Minutes.
- Conclude by redefining one of the key terms of your argument. For example, an essay on Marx's treatment of the conflict between wage labor and capital might begin with Marx's claim that the "capitalist economy is . . . a gigantic enterprise ofdehumanization"; the essay might end by suggesting that Marxist analysis is itself dehumanizing because it construes everything in economic -- rather than moral or ethical-- terms.
- Conclude by considering the implications of your argument (or analysis or discussion). What does your argument imply, or involve, or suggest? For example, an essay on the novel Ambiguous Adventure, by the Senegalese writer Cheikh Hamidou Kane, might open with the idea that the protagonist's development suggests Kane's belief in the need to integrate Western materialism and Sufi spirituality in modern Senegal. The conclusion might make the new but related point that the novel on the whole suggests that such an integration is (or isn't) possible.
Finally, some advice on how not to end an essay:
- Don't simply summarize your essay. A brief summary of your argument may be useful, especially if your essay is long--more than ten pages or so. But shorter essays tend not to require a restatement of your main ideas.
- Avoid phrases like "in conclusion," "to conclude," "in summary," and "to sum up." These phrases can be useful--even welcome--in oral presentations. But readers can see, by the tell-tale compression of the pages, when an essay is about to end. You'll irritate your audience if you belabor the obvious.
- Resist the urge to apologize. If you've immersed yourself in your subject, you now know a good deal more about it than you can possibly include in a five- or ten- or 20-page essay. As a result, by the time you've finished writing, you may be having some doubts about what you've produced. (And if you haven't immersed yourself in your subject, you may be feeling even more doubtful about your essay as you approach the conclusion.) Repress those doubts. Don't undercut your authority by saying things like, "this is just one approach to the subject; there may be other, better approaches. . ."
Copyright 1998, Pat Bellanca, for the Writing Center at Harvard University