By Maria McCann
Writing tip from Maria McCann, Royal Literary Fund Fellow in the Department of Arts and Cultural Industries.
Coming to Conclusions
Writing conclusions can feel repetitive, as if you are merely going over old ground. It may help to remember the following pointers:
The worst conclusion of all is no conclusion. An essay that just fizzles out is frustrating to the reader and will be marked accordingly. Always make the effort, even if you don’t think your conclusion is particularly impressive.
The conclusion is where you come to a decision. You’re not just repeating. You’re stating your position now that you’ve covered the ground and given thought to each aspect of the subject. Your viewpoint should be clear (even if that viewpoint is that the material itself is ambiguous or the evidence inconclusive).
Your conclusion is also where you demonstrate that you’ve fully covered the question set. At this stage it makes sense to revisit the title of the assignment: demonstrate that your conclusion is in line with it. How do you do that? If you’ve constructed earlier paragraphs properly, they should each come to a mini-conclusion: look back at these mini-conclusions to show how each step of your argument leads to your final conclusion. Don’t be tempted into padding by repeating this previous material unprocessed: anything you write in the last paragraph is a reminder of what you’ve already established, not a repetition of it.
New ideas popping up in the last paragraph are often symptoms of panic (‘It’s not long enough! Now what?’). On the other hand, genuine flashes of insight sometimes arrive at the last minute. Be ruthless: is the new idea inspired or just the result of your brain flailing around, trying to find something to bulk out the conclusion? If it’s too good to omit, go back and redraft. Introduce it into the main body of the essay. If you just want a fuller conclusion, what you need is to make better use of the material you already have (new and/or irrelevant ideas at this stage will only distract and irritate the reader). You may, however, be able to acknowledge the limits of the assignment: for example, to point out that there are other aspects of the question (identify them!) which are interesting but could not be explored in a 3,000 word essay. Again, this is not an excuse to pad. Different subject tutors will have different preferences about this last strategy and the rule (as always) is to follow their guidance.
For what it’s worth, studies show that the best-remembered parts of an essay are the opening and the conclusion. Get these right, and markers are more likely to see ‘wobbles’ in the middle as temporary blips in an essentially sound piece of work, while a feeble opening and weak conclusion have the opposite effect.
If you’d like to book a confidential one-to-one session with me to work on your writing skills email me at Maria.McCann@uwe.ac.uk. I’m in 3S201 on Frenchay on Wednesdays and Thursdays.