Wrapping it Up: The Art of Conclusions

A client recently said to me, “I feel like the conclusion of my paper is too similar to the introduction. I also feel like it’s boring and repetitive. What can I do to make the conclusion something someone would actually want to read?”

Like abstracts, conclusions are difficult to write because they require us to look back and summarize our own work, which can be astonishingly challenging, especially when we are still immersed in the details.

Here are some ideas to help you wrap up your project in ways that are graceful and functional.

Whereas the introduction lays out what you are going to do, the conclusion lays out what you did, and is thus usually written at least partly in past tense. You can expect to include some repetition of main ideas and actions from your project, but I discourage you from cutting and pasting your own words verbatim from one part of the project to another. Restate what you have done in a slightly different way.

Look backward and forward. Sum up what the project did and also write about future research or any remaining questions. Very few of us finish projects thinking, “Well, I solved that problem / answered that question once and for all.” We are usually left with new questions or insights. Sometimes we are left with an awareness that we weren’t asking the right questions or that our methods weren’t adequate to get us to the answers we wanted. Don’t be afraid to talk about what didn’t work or meet your expectations. You may want to include some combination of the following:

What new questions did your project raise?
What areas of research are still needed?
What would you have done differently with this project given what you know now? Would you have changed your research question, your research instruments, your methods?
How would you continue this line of research if you had additional time and/or resources?

Helpful Hint: some version of these questions are likely to show up in your thesis or dissertation defense.

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