Knowing when and how to end your paper can be difficult. Writing a strong conclusion is like tying a ribbon around a gift package. It's the last thing you do, but it also gives your paper a finishing touch. If the ending is powerful and effective, your reader will feel satisfied.

What to avoid

Before you can write a strong conclusion, you should know what to avoid. Here are some common errors.

  • Don't introduce a new topic that has not been discussed in your paper. For example, if your essay has been about the loss of forests and possible solutions for the high consumption of wood products, don't end with a paragraph about a different environmental issue, such as the disappearance of the California condor.
  • Don't trail off with a weak statement or a statement that leaves your reader up in the air.

The Internet, free of regulation, has opened a world of information and ideas to everyone. Children enjoy learning on the computer.

  • Don't simply repeat your thesis or main idea in the same words.

As stated earlier, clothing imagery shows the changes in King Lear throughout the play.

  • Don't apologize for or suggest doubts about your thesis.

For a variety of reasons, middle‐class expectations today differ from those in the 1980s. It is possible, however, that the difference is not particularly illuminating about life in the United States.

In a short paper (less than five pages, for example), you may use a brief concluding sentence instead of a formal conclusion. Formal conclusions can sometimes be superfluous, particularly if the conclusion is a long summary of what he or she just read. Instead, end your paper with a strong final sentence.

Suggestions for conclusions

A strong conclusion should tie up the loose ends of your essay, refer to the central theme (thesis), give your readers a sense of completion, and leave them with a strong impression. You can do this with a single statement or with a paragraph. If you write a concluding paragraph, consider the following possibilities.

  • End with an appropriate quotation. Notice in the following example how the writer also pulls together loose ends and briefly refers to the thesis.

Throughout the novel the characters suffer both from their isolation and from their attempts to end it. Kerewin burns her tower, Joe beats his son and goes to prison, and Simon who barely survives the beating must painfully find his way back to those he loves. Recurring images dramatize their journeys, which end in a reconciliation between being alone and being part of a community. Kerewin describes the home that will now take the place of her lonely tower: “I decided on a shell‐shape, a regular spiral of rooms expanding around the decapitated Tower …privacy, apartness, but all connected and all part of the whole.”

  • Without repeating your thesis word for word, you can unify your essay by relating the final paragraph to a point in the introduction.

Preserving old‐growth forests and finding substitutes for wood should concern everyone who cares about the environment. The days when Americans could view this country as an unlimited provider of resources are as gone as roaming herds of buffalo and pioneers in covered wagons.

  • End with a story related to your thesis.

On a recent trip to the airport, I stood at the ticket counter behind an angry woman. It seems she'd forgotten her photo ID, and the attendant told her she couldn't fly without it. After calling the clerk a storm trooper and threatening to sue the airline, the woman turned to me and said, “You tell me. Do I look like the kind of person who would blow up a plane?” I didn't answer, but I wondered how in the future this woman would react to a fifteen‐minute interview about herself or to a uniformed attendant patting her down.

  • Another way to conclude a paper is to summarize the main points. But because summaries aren't particularly interesting conclusions, consider using this technique only if your paper is fairly long and if a summary would be helpful to your reader. Keep the summary brief, and avoid indecisive or overly general final sentences, such as For all these reasons, the Internet should not be regulated.