Research Paper Conclusions
I. General Rules
The function of your paper's conclusion is to restate the main argument. It reminds the reader of the strengths of your main argument(s) and reiterates the most important evidence supporting those argument(s). Do this by stating clearly the context, background, and necessity of pursuing the research problem you investigated in relation to an issue, controversy, or a gap found in the literature. Make sure, however, that your conclusion is not simply a repetitive summary of the findings. This reduces the impact of the argument(s) you have developed in your essay.
When writing the conclusion to your paper, follow these general rules:
- State your conclusions in clear, simple language. Re-state the purpose of your study then state how your findings differ or support those of other studies and why [i.e., what were the unique or new contributions your study made to the overall research about your topic?].
- Do not simply reiterate your results or the discussion of your results. Provide a synthesis of arguments presented in the paper to show how these converge to address the research problem and the overall objectives of your study
- Indicate opportunities for future research if you haven't already done so in the discussion section of your paper. Highlighting the need for further research provides the reader with evidence that you have an in-depth awareness of the research problem.
Consider the following points to help ensure your conclusion is presented well:
- If the argument or purpose of your paper is complex, you may need to summarize the argument for your reader.
- If, prior to your conclusion, you have not yet explained the significance of your findings or if you are proceeding inductively, use the end of your paper to describe your main points and explain their significance.
- Move from a detailed to a general level of consideration that returns the topic to the context provided by the introduction or within a new context that emerges from the data.
The conclusion also provides a place for you to persuasively and succinctly restate your research problem, given that the reader has now been presented with all the information about the topic. Depending on the discipline you are writing in, the concluding paragraph maycontain your reflections on the evidence presented, or on the essay's central research problem. However, the nature of being introspective about the research you have done will depend on the topic and whether your professor wants you to express your observations in this way.
NOTE: If asked to think introspectively about the topics, do not delve into idle speculation. Being introspective means looking within yourself as an author to try and understand an issue more deeply, not to guess at possible outcomes or make up scenarios not supported by evidence.
II. Developing a Compelling Conclusion
Although an effective conclusion needs to be clear and succinct, it does not need to be written passively or lack a compelling narrative. Strategies to help you move beyond merely summarizing the key points of your research paper may include any of the following strategies:
- If your essay deals with a contemporary problem, warn readers of the possible consequences of not attending to the problem.
- Recommend a specific course or courses of action that, if adopted, could address a specific problem in practice or in the development of new knowledge.
- Cite a relevant quotation or expert opinion already noted in your paper in order to lend authority to the conclusion you have reached [a good place to look is research from your literature review].
- Explain the consequences of your research in a way that elicits action or demonstrates urgency in seeking change.
- Restate a key statistic, fact, or visual image to emphasize the ultimate point of your paper.
- If your discipline encourages personal reflection, illustrate your concluding point with a relevant narrative drawn from your own life experiences.
- Return to an anecdote, an example, or a quotation that you presented in your introduction, but add further insight derived from the findings of your study; use your interpretation of results to recast it in new or important ways.
- Provide a "take-home" message in the form of a strong, succinct statement that you want the reader to remember about your study.
III. Problems to Avoid
Failure to be concise
Your conclusion section should be concise and to the point. Conclusions that are too lengthy often have unnecessary information in them. The conclusion is not the place for details about your methodology or results. Although you should give a summary of what was learned from your research, this summary should be relatively brief, since the emphasis in the conclusion is on the implications, evaluations, insights, and other forms of analysis that you make. Strategies for writing concisely can be found here.
Failure to comment on larger, more significant issues
In the introduction, your task was to move from the general [the field of study] to the specific [the research problem]. However, in the conclusion, your task is to move from a specific discussion [your research problem] back to a general discussion [i.e., how your research contributes new understanding or fills an important gap in the literature]. In short, the conclusion is where you should place your research within a larger context [visualize your paper as an hourglass--start with a broad introduction and review of the literature, move to the specific analysis and discussion, conclude with a broad summary of the study's implications and significance].
Failure to reveal problems and negative results
Negative aspects of the research process should never be ignored. Problems, drawbacks, and challenges encountered during your study should be summarized as a way of qualifying your overall conclusions. If you encountered negative or unintended results [i.e., findings that are validated outside the research context in which they were generated], you must report them in the results section and discuss their implications in the discussion section of your paper. In the conclusion, use your summary of the negative results as an opportunity to explain their possible significance and/or how they may form the basis for future research.
Failure to provide a clear summary of what was learned
In order to be able to discuss how your research fits back into your field of study [and possibly the world at large], you need to summarize briefly and succinctly how it contributes to new knowledge or a new understanding about the research problem. This element of your conclusion may be only a few sentences long.
Failure to match the objectives of your research
Often research objectives in the social sciences change while the research is being carried out. This is not a problem unless you forget to go back and refine the original objectives in your introduction. As these changes emerge they must be documented so that they accurately reflect what you were trying to accomplish in your research [not what you thought you might accomplish when you began].
Resist the urge to apologize
If you've immersed yourself in studying the research problem, you presumably should know a good deal about it, perhaps even more than your professor! Nevertheless, by the time you have finished writing, you may be having some doubts about what you have produced. Repress those doubts! Don't undermine your authority by saying something like, "This is just one approach to examining this problem; there may be other, much better approaches that...." The overall tone of your conclusion should convey confidence to the reader.
Assan, Joseph. Writing the Conclusion Chapter: The Good, the Bad and the Missing. Department of Geography, University of Liverpool; Concluding Paragraphs. College Writing Center at Meramec. St. Louis Community College; Conclusions. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Conclusions. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Freedman, Leora and Jerry Plotnick. Introductions and Conclusions. The Lab Report. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Leibensperger, Summer. Draft Your Conclusion. Academic Center, the University of Houston-Victoria, 2003; Make Your Last Words Count. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Tips for Writing a Good Conclusion. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Kretchmer, Paul. Twelve Steps to Writing an Effective Conclusion. San Francisco Edit, 2003-2008; Writing Conclusions. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University; Writing: Considering Structure and Organization. Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College.
Many students dread writing the conclusion paragraphs for their research papers. You’ve already said everything you have to say, what could be left? Will you just sound like you’re repeating yourself? What is really the point of a conclusion paragraph anyway?
Well, you should feel comforted that there are easy ways to succeed in writing up the conclusion paragraph to your research paper.
Idea of a Research Paper Conclusion
Before you can write an effective conclusion paragraph, you need to understand its purpose. A conclusion is your last chance to impress your ideas upon the reader. Thus, you do not want to introduce any new ideas, but rather recap everything throughout the rest of your piece of writing. Now, this is where most students worry about redundancy.
Instead of rewriting the points exactly as you have before, you want to shorten them up by taking the main ideas of the whole paper and turning them into concise sentences that get straight to the point. It is also your chance to show how you’ve proven your thesis throughout the research paper.
Structure of Your Conclusion
An introduction paragraph should go from broad (first sentence as a hook to bring readers in) to narrow (thesis statement that specifically addresses your paper’s claim). The conclusion is the exact opposite of that, so you can use your introduction paragraph as somewhat of a template.
In the conclusion, start narrow by first restating your thesis (in different words than in your introduction) and showing how you proved it. Then, work on broadening your conclusion to the outer world.
Your conclusion should also make an attempt to address the significance of your topic. When writing a research paper, you are utilizing other authors’ information in order to present a claim. In the conclusion, attempt to answer this question: “why is my claim about this topic important? why should people read my paper or care that I’ve written it?”.
Difference Between Synthesizing and Summarizing
In your conclusion, you want to synthesize the information in your paper, not simply summarize it. Your readers already looked through your piece of writing and know what it says.
To synthesize effectively, you need to show your readers how everything you put in your research paper fits together to create a cohesive whole. You can think of your paper like a recipe. To bake a cake, you first have all of the ingredients stand on their own. However, once you combine them all together, you have created something new. What did you create when you put all of your ideas and evidence down onto paper?
Some students suffer from writing conclusion paragraphs that are either too short or much too long. You don’t want to risk not saying enough, but you also don’t want to drone on. As a good rule of thumb, your conclusion should be about the same length of your introduction paragraph. Of course, if the length of your introduction paragraph is off, then your conclusion will be too.
Another good way to gauge how long your conclusion should be is by counting how many supporting ideas you have in your paragraph. If you have 5-6 supporting ideas, then try to synthesize that down into 2-3 sentences. Then add another 3-4 sentences to account for recasting your thesis, connecting your sentences together, and making your final connection to the outer world for a total of 5-7 sentences in your paragraph.
Those figures are just a guideline, however, and keep in mind that you need to vary sentence structure and length in order for it to work as intended. You could easily write 5 sentences that are extremely long and you likely still have a conclusion that’s too long despite limiting your sentence number.
What to Avoid
Here’s a quick list of things that you should never, ever incorporate in your conclusion paragraph:
- New ideas. If a new idea strikes you and you think it’s brilliant, then go back and make a full body paragraph for it, don’t just sandwich into your conclusion.
- Additional supporting evidence (quotations, paraphrasing). You need to have already given all of your proof prior to the conclusion. This is the time for recapping the case you’ve made, not continuing to make it via new sources.
- Clichés. You should really avoid clichés in all areas of your writing, but it goes extra in your conclusion since it’s the last bit of your . This means no “in conclusion,” “in summary,” or anything like that. This also means that you shouldn’t break the standard that you set in your paper.
Don’t let writing your conclusion paragraph intimidate you. Follow the above tips and then ask yourself the ultimate “so what?” question. Once you feel you’ve adequately proven the significance of your research paper to your reader, then your job is done.