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The ABC's of Good Conclusion Writing

A lot of writers can have trouble when they reach the end of their paper or story. We know we want to say something revealing or unique or "special", but we're not sure what to say or how to say it or how much to say. Well, there is a simple equation that I've used before to help students learn how a writer develops their final thoughts on a project, whether that project is long or short. It helps writers "think" through logically what they've already said and create a sound conclusion that adds value and depth to the piece.

A conclusion should deliver greater understanding, a new element or elements that derive or evolve from the "elements" you've already presented and argued or even dramatized. Creating this interpretative "element" delivers a conclusion that is original and perceptive. It also strengthens the entire writing effort. Thus, in this final important section of your writing project, you need a practical "equation" that tells you how to develop or "think" through your topic and what you've already said about it and get to your aha or intellectual/emotional revelation.

A good conclusion always has an aha or new understanding or new idea that you've developed by discussing your topic and making your arguments. An aha is sort of like having a light bulb go off in your head. It's what you deliver to your reader that makes the entire effort memorable and clearer. The process you need to take as the writer is to stand back and look at the whole scene, your entire work effort, and determine precisely what your discussion said that leads to revealing points and makes all the words extraordinary and insightful. That equation is your memory tool. It will help you think through what you've said and determine what you learned that you now want to communicate to others at the end of the piece.

In math, if you combine two digits, you'll get a combination of those digits that's new, but still related, i.e., 2 + 2 = 4. In chemistry, if you combine two individual elements you'll get a third, i.e., sodium (Na) + Chlorine (Cl) = NaCl (or salt). When writing an outstanding conclusion, apply the same concept. Your writing genre may be a research paper, a college admissions essay, a lab report, a research proposal, sales copy, or even a longer work of nonfiction or fiction. In each case, however, you want to offer a conclusion that's uniquely relevant, i.e., final thoughts and interpretations on your topic and your thesis or your ideas about it, or a great dramatic ending that changes your characters and resolves their story significantly. You don't want a conclusion that simply summarizes everything you already discussed once or restates it just to fill space You want to take an important step, a new step, the next step. When you create a good conclusion, you deliver the best understanding of all to your reader.

A great conclusion is always relevant to your topic and its arguments and leaves a lasting impression that says the work is well written and lets your reader to ponder and remember your ideas. Good conclusion writing is vital in academic and technical writing and also in nonfiction and fiction, as well as shorter queries and proposals that writers submit to gain grant money or a publishing contract.

In good conclusion writing, you can use this simple-to-use outline. I call it the ABCs of conclusion writing where "A" (your idea) combines with "B" (your arguments) to get "C" by using integrated thinking to form new, related understanding. The equation is an easy one to remember: A + B = C. But what does it mean and how does it work when you are actually writing?

  1. Your topic/thesis statement. It presents the questions you are trying to answer or a hypothesis you will support with good arguments or the opening of a plot you will develop by using great characters and exciting scenes.
  2. The segments/arguments/plot you then present in detail in the main portion of the work.
  3. Your conclusion. It draws from both A + B and supplies answers to your original thesis question and reflects on the meaning of the evidence you've provided. It can also offer final denouement or outcomes of a story for your characters and a plot.

It's very important not to get off track when you write a conclusion. Don't summarize everything you're already said or, worse still, start a new topic or another thesis you've brainstormed from the one you just discussed. Both red herrings are easy to do. You can become very involved in "talking more" about your idea than you should and get a bit carried away. Then you'll start wandering off topic and away from your original goal and thesis and best conclusion. Be very specific with your conclusions. Don't be wishy washy or restate what you said at the opening just to "get done" because you're sick of writing. Add new analysis, new reflections, even potential new directions that suggest additional understanding and potentially future research (just don't start that next research in the current paper).

In effect, when you're writing a great conclusion, you have to know when to stop writing. Avoid the "kitchen sink" syndrome because you think you have to get "everything" into a final page or two before you forget something. Don't "cut and run" either, and write a single paragraph. Write something that needs a bit of explanation for perhaps a page or two. Stay focused and always think "A + B = C". Then you'll write an amazing conclusion that is insightful and doesn't run on or stop too soon. You'll end your work in the absolutely right place, say something relevant and important, and set the stage hopefully for your next great paper or book sequel.

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