How to Write a Great Essay Conclusion

When you write the conclusion of your essay, it can be really difficult to avoid being too repetitive. I think that’s the number one thing that people struggle with – they want their conclusion to be somewhat interesting still, but they end up often simply repeating themselves. So the question is, how can we make our conclusions fresh and interesting? And what we’ll do here is we’ll look at some problems that you might find with the conclusion or might have, and then we’ll talk about how you can make things better.

So this is a conclusion then about the Civil War in the United States, and the essay is talking about the rights of black people before and after the Civil War. You can see that we’ve started with some fairly formulaic phrasing, and you want to avoid phrases like “in conclusion” or “in summary” or “thus I have demonstrated.” You can often do this kind of concluding language in a much more subtle way. You could say for instance, “After the Civil War, black people were thus theoretically free,” and that’s a lot more subtle but it still has that kind of concluding force to it.

The next thing to watch out for is too much summary, as mentioned, and all of this really is summary here. So we’re talking here about how black people still struggled with prejudice, they struggled against the Black Codes and the Jim Crow laws, and this went right up to the civil rights movements in the 1960s and so on. So do we need that much summary or can we really compact this? Because of course the reader already knows all of this from the rest of the essay. And if we can squish this all together a bit more quickly then that leaves us more room for something more interesting and for allowing us to work things out a little bit.

Another thing to watch out for is that the argument is not incoherent, and I think we do have a bit of an incoherent argument as we go on. That’s partially because we’ve spent so much time on summary that we have sort of forgotten what is really at stake here. Then afterwards we have some observations about law, we have a quotation about the civil rights movement, but it’s not really hanging together yet. So is the whole essay really focused on law? Is it about the civil rights movement?

How do these things kind of hang together? And we can spend a bit more time focusing on making the argument coherent. Another thing to watch out for is the kind of quotation that’s general, or lame, or is one of these inspirational quotations. And sometimes we feel the need to fill space by just sticking a quote in.

But that’s not always the best idea. So here we have a quotation from the encyclopedia. It’s very general — doesn’t tell us that much — and maybe that’s not the best choice. We also want to avoid repeating the kind of phrases that we have seen throughout the essay. So let’s say that this phrase here (legal persecution, prejudice, and economic hardship) — maybe these three kind of aspects of civil rights or the prejudice against black people … maybe this has been at the heart of the rest of our essay and we have kept using these terms over and over again. Well maybe then we need to actually vary our phrasing a little bit and we need to have some have some varied diction.

Change up the vocabulary! That’s another thing to watch out for. Another thing to observe is that we don’t want a very sudden shift in tone. Think about your tone.

If you’ve been very academic throughout then changing to a sudden personal kind of tone (very intimate) that may not be appropriate. In other essays that may be appropriate — to be intimate and personable all the way through. But you don’t want to suddenly make this shift and say, “well, the lesson I’ve learned for me myself is that I’m going to apply this in this way.” If that doesn’t fit with the academic tone throughout then don’t do that. And lastly, don’t apologize.

You don’t need to apologize for the insufficiencies of your essay. I’ve seen this too often, that people say at the end, “My essay falls short because I wish I could have done more. But I can’t. We’re limited by space and time and so on. Don’t apologize.

Just make the best case that you can. Those are some things to watch out for then, and what we’ll do next is we’ll have a look at the rewritten version of this conclusion, which is already starting to get a little bit better. Okay, so what works? Well, first of all we can have some summary, but we want it to be more succinct, and you can see here that we have squished things together quite a bit.

Our summary goes up to … well it’s the first few sentences and then it shifts to “today.” So here we have the Civil War, we have theoretical freedom — this is all still the same, and then we have this reference to the Black Codes and the Jim Crow laws. And then this is kind of new after this.

At this point we’re saying, “we have learned a lot about the 19th century, the early 20th century, but we’re going to sort of talk about the bigger picture, and we’re gonna zoom out.” We’ve done that in the other version as well but it’s going to be a little clearer this time. So we’re going to zoom out and we’re going to talk about what is really at stake in this argument. Here it says then, “Even today, after the advances made during the civil rights era, black people still struggle against prejudice.” You can see that there’s a very dramatic break here. Even today we still have some of these issues.

But we also need to make sure that our argument is going to be a bit more coherent and consistent. What we’ve done is we’ve gotten rid of the very general references to law. We’ve ditched the lame quotation.

And what we have now is we have this question of “how can we achieve equality?” We used to have this problem with slavery, we thought we were free, or we thought black people were free, but it doesn’t seem to have worked. And so where do we need to go from this historical moment? What we’ve done is we’ve connected it to the civil rights era, but we’ve also connected it to the Black Lives Matter movement, which is much more recent, much more current, and so we have sort of drawn a line historically right up to today. We haven’t stopped with the civil rights movement.

So that’s good. Then we’ve also said, “Well, true equality can only be achieved through a combination of fair laws, changes in social attitudes, and economic opportunity.” That’s kind of our central argument here and you can see how this picks up on our discussion of legal persecution and social prejudice before, and now it spells out very specifically the three criteria that we feel are necessary to create a change in our society. And then the last thing we’ve done here is we’ve talked about the kind of dominant metaphor that interests us.

So in this case we’ve talked about the journey, and the perception might be that the journey in terms of black history is from slavery to freedom. But maybe it’s not, or maybe that’s the overall journey but we haven’t actually got to freedom. And so there are all these misperceptions about how far along the road we are. The road is a nice metaphor in this case because people often talk about the Exodus — if you think about the Old Testament, the exodus from Egypt, the exodus from slavery. That’s a very powerful metaphor, and it’s one that’s often also a part of black history and black culture. So we’ve picked that metaphor then to kind of bring things to a close.

There are lots of ways to do this though. This is not a formula, and I’ll suggest some other ways that you can make your conclusion fresh. So you can still use a quotation, but make sure that that quotation is really a good one, and is specific and detailed, and don’t let it overpower your own argument. If you end with a quotation, you are sort of allowing somebody else to have the final word.

And you have to think about how you frame that quotation. We’ve talked about how you can zoom out, and have a larger kind of narrative or perspective. We’ve talked about how you can use a metaphor. You can also flesh out the implications of the argument, so things that haven’t been talked about before.

You can come back to some key term or idea and really say, “Well, in the introduction maybe we talked about paradoxes, let’s say, but now after we’ve seen all of these things our understanding of this term has changed, and now we need to reassess this.” So those are all ways to really make sure that you keep your conclusion fresh. A little bit of summary but a lot of new perspective or zooming out and making things interesting still, because the point of a conclusion is to create closure, a feeling that we are at the end. But what you don’t want to do is you don’t want to close things off.

Don’t close things off. An essay is just a start. It’s an expression of an idea, but it’s not the final word, and there can be other essays that can be a larger discussion.

So don’t close it off. Just create a sense of closure, but keep people thinking about the particular topic you’re interested in. And then the last piece of advice that I’ll give you is to think about the the length of your sentences. So think about sentence structure, and we haven’t done that too much in this particular conclusion, but sometimes it can be really good to end with a short succinct sentence to say, “hey, look at me! I can summarize very well.

I can pack all of these ideas into something that’s startlingly clear.” And so that short final sentence can make a big impact. You can also do the opposite.

You can create quite a complex sentence and say, “Look at me. I can balance all of these ideas. I can bring them together and I can create this complex blend of ideas that will impress you.”

So just think a little bit about sentence structure as you conclude, because even the form in which you express your ideas can make a difference. Lots of ideas in this video, but hopefully that gives you some something to go on in terms of making your conclusion more than just repetition and something that still draws the reader in and makes him or her think.

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