Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wrap it up...

Alright. I have made it a habit to discuss conclusions with just about every one of the students that I see in the Center. The problem here is that I have no idea how to describe what a conclusion is. Usually it is hit or miss:

"Wrap it up, bring up the main topics, try not to introduce new points, etc." *student nods happily* (hit).

"You know...conclude the paper." *student looks blank* (miss).

Anyways, I find it so hard to describe what the heck a conclusion is. I know what it is in my mind (I write them all the time) but for the life of me I cannot describe what it is to a student.

I thought that I would consult my fellow consultants on consulting with students about conclusions. What do you think? How do YOU explain these exciting endings to the students you visit with?


  1. Sometimes I describe the conclusion as a part of the paper where the writer is speaking directly to the reader. This happens in the introduction as well. I try to stress that these are the two moments in a paper where they really have the full attention of the reader, and they should try to direct their attention and effort to that reader.

    I then describe conclusions as being the part of a paper where the writer explains WHY it was important for the reader to have just read the paper; that the conclusion should make connections to larger issues and make the reader aware of how the subject relates to his or her life.

    Not all of this works for every paper, of course. In those cases, I think I'm stuck telling them to "wrap-up the main ideas."

  2. I too like to bring up the intro. In my own writing, I'll look back at the intro, examine the particular language that I used, what themes or ideas I identified, and then draw on that for my conclusion. It helps to "bookend" the paper and it is also an easy way to figure out if what you promised in the introduction was actually fulfilled in the paper. (I promised to show how meerkats were plotting against me and I forgot? Huh?)
    I agree with Andrew in that the conclusion is a great way to explain the WHY of the paper in a larger, thematic way. Is there an overarching message you want to leave the reader with? (Like, we must always be on the watch against meerkats.) Then the conclusion is a great place for that.

  3. I like the idea David brought up about bookending the paper with the intro and conclusion. One strategy I've started to use in sessions and in my own writing is to read the intro and conclusion back to back. If those tow paragraphs together feel like they belong together, even without extensive analysis, then it's probably a decent conclusion that doesn't go too far off the topic I started with. Another strategy I use and teach my students is the idea of embedding the paper within a metaphor that helps clarify the concepts I'm trying to explain.

    For example, in high school, I did a gradtuation speech about how going to college is like cliff-jumping. I made a number of connections throughout, talked about how it related to college, and then made one final statement bringing the metphor back in. That way, the intro is linked to the conclusion, and the reader feels like there was a point to everything in between that eventually led to the poignant statement at the end. The conclusion then takes on the tone of "so as you can now see clearly, my provocative thesis actually does make sense, and now you know why."

  4. When I tutor or teach, I explain that the way to writer the conclusion is directly connected to the form -- the genre.

    Argument conclusions summarize.

    Analysis conclusions answer the "so what?" question.

    Persuasive conclusions cause the reader to act.

    Opinion conclusions cause the reader to "consider" thinking like me.