Can you imagine reading a work of fiction that brilliantly introduces the ideas held in the novel only to realize when you got to the last page that the concluding chapter was identical to the opening one?
Perhaps if reading a work of Russian fiction with pages numbering in the near thousands that may be necessary but for papers written in academic settings, a conclusion should never merely repeat the introduction.
Honestly, that doesn't give too much credit to the reader and feels lazy on behalf of the writer. Truly deftly written papers should leave a reader thinking.
Coming upon the concluding paragraph can be daunting and perhaps the easy thing to do is summarize what you've said to do a little recap for the reader.
You think you're doing them a service, but you aren't.
Consider the hourglass shape of an essay. Starting broad with context in the introductory paragraph, slimming down to get to the meat in the body paragraphs, and then moving broad again in the conclusion. This way the paper feels balanced.
Here are some ways to consider concluding that will leave readers talking:
In a maximum of two to three sentences, wrap up your final thoughts as you transition from the narrower part of the essay and move into the broader context of the paper again. Review the context that started the essay and bring the ideas back to the top, so that you reconnect with the context but take it one step farther.
For example, if you talked about love or marriage in an introductory paragraph to engage readers and then the essay was about varying perspectives from the text when the writer goes broad again, he/she can go back into the idea of marriage or love in the 21st century and how perhaps it has changed or not. Perhaps make a final connection to something every reader would understand as a comparison that directly links back to the predominant ideas argued in the paper.
Although I don't love an abundance of rhetorical questions, when used appropriately, they can engage a reader when concluding ideas are being made.
Remember not to add any new evidence from the text in a concluding paragraph. This should all be done in the previous paragraphs when building the argument.
Don't leave any loose ends in the paper. Everything should tie up nicely in terms of what you are trying to prove or argue; it's okay to reference these ideas in the final paragraph, but also tie them to the reader.
Do NOT merely cut and paste your introductory paragraph, allowing it to serve as your conclusion as well.
Try to avoid simple transitions like "In Conclusion, in summation, as you can see, etc" - seeing as the reader is at the final paragraph of the paper, it is safe to assume that you are concluding.
Writing an essay is truly an art form and the concluding paragraph needs to be as powerful as the introductory paragraph was at hooking the reader, to begin with. As we leave our readers with final thoughts about what we've sought to prove, we encourage them to linger on our ideas. A good concluding paragraph does this.
What would you like to linger over? How do you encourage students to finish strong when writing essays? Please share
*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in December of 2015