Having trouble finding the right words to finish your paper? Are your conclusions bland? This handout covers basic techniques for writing stronger endings, including
- Diagnosing and improving paragraph cohesion
- Avoiding 7 common errors when drafting and revising conclusions
- Answering the reader’s unspoken question—“So what?”
Improve paragraph cohesion
A. Make your sentences conform to a “given/new” contract
“Given” information (familiar to your reader) should come first in the sentence. For example, you could reiterate a main idea in the sentence or two beforehand, or something apparent within the context of the sentence, or an idea that taps into readers’ general knowledge of a topic. “New” information (additional, unfamiliar, and/or more complex) should comprise the second half of your sentence.
The “new” info of one sentence then becomes the “given” or familiar info of the next, improving overall flow and coherence.
B. Use “topic-strings”
Each sentence needs a topic or main idea, which should be in the “given” part of the sentence. Shift “given” info closer to the beginnings of your sentences when you can, so that the topic is clear. As well, each paragraph needs an overall topic, usually established in the first or second sentences. To check paragraph coherence, see whether your sentence topics (“givens”) connect consistently from sentence to sentence. Can you find a consistent topic throughout the paragraph, almost as if you were tracing a single colored thread? A set of sentences with clear topics creates a “topic thread.” This, along with appropriate use of transitions, helps to ensure a coherent paragraph.
- If your topic thread is not apparent or seems to get lost, revise your sentences according to a “given/new” information pattern.
- Use transitions where needed to indicate opposition, agreement or linkage, cause & effect, exemplification or illustration, degree, comparison, etc. For more on transitions, see “Making Connections: Choosing Transition Words”.
C. Reiterate without being repetitious
Readers appreciate some consistency and won’t usually find a reasonable amount of repetition boring or monotonous. But avoid repeating the same subjects/topics using exactly the same words each time, and don’t repeat your thesis word-for-word in your conclusion. Instead…reiterate, using key concepts within slightly different sentence structures and arguments. Key concepts are often expressed in introductions, thesis statements, and near the beginnings of paragraphs; they act as a governing “topic thread” for your entire paper.
Avoid these 7 common errors in your conclusions
- Opening with an empty phrase, the equivalent of “throat-clearing.
Draft: “And, therefore, it is important to keep in mind that ...” “In conclusion…”
Revision: Omit these phrases. “In conclusion” or “To conclude” may be appropriate for an oral presentation, but in writing are considered redundant or overly mechanical.
Draft: “However, it is important in arriving at such a conclusion to recognize...”
Revision: Just say what we should recognize.
- Stuffing too much information into one paragraph or not developing the paragraph sufficiently.
- Not including a clear topic sentence: i.e. one that expresses the key concept governing this paragraph (i.e. “What is this paragraph about?”). It’s usually best to express your governing concept in the first or second sentence.
- Not checking for cohesion or flow (see “given and new” above). As a result, the sentences aren’t logically organized, or there is a sudden switch in topic, or sentences do not clearly connect to each other.
- Using transitions too frequently or too mechanically.
- Ending the paragraph with a different topic. HINT: Use a key word or phrase from the last sentence of the previous paragraph in the first sentence of the new paragraph. This technique helps the reader make connections.
- Finishing your piece with entirely new information or a quote that isn’t relevant.
Remember to answer the question "So what?”
Readers need to understand why your argument or research is significant. So consider the single more important idea (key concept) you want your readers to take away with them after reading your paper. It’s not enough merely to repeat your thesis or summarize your main findings in your conclusion; you need to answer the question: “So what”? Options include outlining further areas of inquiry and/or suggesting a sense of significance: e.g. why does what you’ve written matter? What should your reader take away?
For more about writing effective conclusions, visit the following:
“Strategies for Writing a Conclusion” from Literacy Education Online
“Conclusions” from the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina
Source for paragraph cohesion strategies: Williams, J. M., & Nadel, I. B. (2005). Style: 10 Lessons in Clarity and Grace (Cdn. ed.). Toronto: Longman.
Vocabulary and spelling series
Transitional Words & Phrases
Using transitional words and phrases
helps papers read more smoothly, and at the same time allows the reader to flow more smoothly from one point to the next.
Transitions enhance logical organization and understandability
and improve the connections between thoughts. They indicate relations,
whether within a sentence, paragraph, or paper.
This list illustrates categories of "relationships" between ideas,
followed by words and phrases that can make the connections:
also, again, as well as, besides, coupled with, furthermore, in addition, likewise, moreover, similarly
When there is a trusting relationship coupled with positive reinforcement, the partners will be able to overcome difficult situations.
accordingly, as a result, consequently, for this reason, for this purpose,
hence, otherwise, so then, subsequently, therefore, thus, thereupon, wherefore
Highway traffic came to a stop as a result of an accident that morning.
Contrast and Comparison:
contrast, by the same token, conversely, instead, likewise,
on one hand, on the other hand, on the contrary, rather,
similarly, yet, but, however, still, nevertheless, in contrast
The children were very happy. On the other hand, and perhaps more importantly, their parents were very proactive in providing good care.
here, there, over there, beyond, nearly, opposite, under, above,
to the left, to the right, in the distance
She scanned the horizon for any sign though in the distance she could not see the surprise coming her way.
by the way, incidentally
He stumbled upon the nesting pair incidentally found only on this hill.
above all, chiefly, with attention to, especially, particularly, singularly
The Quakers gathered each month with attention to deciding the business of their Meeting.
aside from, barring, beside, except, excepting, excluding, exclusive of, other than, outside of, save
Consensus was arrived at by all of the members exclusive of those who could not vote.
chiefly, especially, for instance, in particular, markedly, namely,
particularly, including, specifically, such as
Some friends and I drove up the beautiful coast chiefly to avoid the heat island of the city.
as a rule, as usual, for the most part, generally, generally speaking, ordinarily, usually
There were a few very talented artists in the class, but for the most part the students only wanted to avoid the alternative course.
for example, for instance, for one thing, as an illustration,
illustrated with, as an example, in this case
The chapter provided complex sequences and examples illustrated with a very simple schematic diagram.
comparatively, coupled with, correspondingly, identically, likewise, similar, moreover, together with
The research was presented in a very dry style though was coupled with examples that made the audience tear up.
in essence, in other words, namely, that is, that is to say, in short, in brief, to put it differently
In their advertising business, saying things directly was not the rule. That is to say, they tried to convey the message subtly though with creativity.
at first, first of all, to begin with, in the first place, at the same time,
for now, for the time being, the next step, in time, in turn, later on,
meanwhile, next, then, soon, the meantime, later, while, earlier,
simultaneously, afterward, in conclusion, with this in mind,
The music had a very retro sound but at the same time incorporated a complex modern rhythm.
after all, all in all, all things considered, briefly, by and large, in any case, in any event,
in brief, in conclusion, on the whole, in short, in summary, in the final analysis,
in the long run, on balance, to sum up, to summarize, finally
She didn't seem willing to sell the car this week, but in any case I don't get paid until the end of the month.