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.
The Conclusion of a Review Paper
Recall from the initial discussion of Review papers that these publications make two kinds of contribution: 1) an organized synthesis of the current state of an area of research according to a (novel) perspective; 2) critical commentary from the writer who eventually recommends directions for further research and/or application.
There are two ways of furnishing critical commentary.
First, critique may be provided at the endof each topical subsection. Sometimes, recommendations are also provided, especially if the Review is particularly complex.
Second, all critique/recommendations are saved for the conclusion.
Which is the best pattern? As always, consider the reader. The more complicated the reading task, the more difficult it is for the reader to absorb the writer’s message. If the topical subsections are fairly straightforward, with little controversy/conflict involved, then it’s okay to save all critique/recommendations for the end of the paper. Many published review papers save the critique until the end, in the concluding section of the paper.
Often, the topics are not so straightforward. In that case, it is easier for the reader (and also for the writer) to finish each section with the writer’s critical evaluation of the material. In this manner, each topical subsection reads like a fairly complete mini-essay; the reader can pause, grab a cup of coffee and a Snickers, and return to the review without sacrificing comprehension. Note that all critical evaluation comes at the END of a subsection. If you find yourself logically needing to provide some critique before continuing on within a particular section, then you need to create a second-level subsection (a subtopic within your main topic subsection – for the visual thinkers, these are the child nodes connections coming off a main/parent node). Keep in mind: the prime directive here is that all critical evaluation is written in a separate paragraph at the end of a section.
Example of Critique and Recommendations
How does all of this relate to the conclusion? In a review paper, the conclusion is a short, bottom-line piece of writing. First, the conclusion offers a brief summary of the main ideas of each topic subsection (generally, only a single sentence or so per MAIN subheaded section) – this is the summary function of a conclusion.(NOTE: If critique in included in the body of the paper, then you can also added a short summary of the critique. This is not required, and depends on the length and complexity of the paper; the longer and harder it is to read, the more likely the author is to include a summary of the critique in the conclusion.)
Second, assuming that critique is NOT in the body of the paper, you'll write the critique. This is an important step for the reader: they've just read your synthesis, and now would like to know what you think about all the work you've done! Much like a research report, the reader wants to know how the reviewed information impacts the field. This is what your critique helps provide.
Finally, the review conclusion ends with your recommendations based on the reviewed research and critique -- what should happen next? Be as targeted as you can here, but do not make suggestions outside the constraints of the perspective you stated in the introduction. For example, if you reviewed the efficacy of a particular activity in terms of its economic impact, you need to make recommendations related to that idea. You'll also find that recommendations for future research can be quite general and bland, e.g. "This area merits further investigation".
Thus, your conclusion will depend partly on the decisions made about critique. If critical evaluation is provided in the body of the paper, it need not be repeated in the conclusion, though it can be. If critical evaluation is not provided in the body of the paper, then it must be provided in the conclusion.
Organization of Conclusion
Critique and/or Recommendations in Body of paper –
Thus, the Conclusion consists of the summary + recommendations for further research.
Legend Summary of Info Summary of Critique Recommendations
Situation 2: Critique in Conclusion of Paper – there are two organizational patterns
- #1 – The first paragraph is summary, second paragraph is critique, third paragraph is recommendations (note: second paragraph is more properly understood as a functional section as you may need more than one paragraph!)
In summary, during the normal ageing process, animals experience age-related cognitive decline. Historically, it was thought that primary contributions to the aetiology of this decline were massive cell loss1 and deterioration of dendritic branching17, 18. However, we now know that the changes occurring during normal ageing are more subtle and selective than was once believed. In fact, the general pattern seems to be that most age-associated behavioural impairments result from region-specific changes in dendritic morphology, cellular connectivity, Ca2+ dysregulation, gene expression or other factors that affect plasticity and ultimately alter the network dynamics of neural ensembles that support cognition.
Of the brain regions affected by ageing, the hippocampus and the PFC seem to be particularly vulnerable, but even within and between these regions the impact of ageing on neuronal function can differ. The morphology of neurons in the PFC is more susceptible to age-related change, as these cells show a decrease in dendritic branching in rats30, 31 and humans32, 33. There is also evidence of a small but significant decline in cell number in area 8A of monkeys that is correlated with working memory impairments16.Although there is evidence of Ca2+ dysregulation in aged PFC neurons65, the functional consequences of this are not yet known. Moreover, so far, there are no reports of multiple single unit recordings in the PFC of awake behaving animals. More is known about the impact of ageing on hippocampal function. Ca2+ dysregulation51, 53, 54 and changes in synaptic connectivity69, 74 might affect plasticity and gene expression, resulting in altered dynamics of hippocampal neuronal ensembles.Because more is known about the neurobiology of ageing in this brain region, there are therapeutic approaches on the horizon that might modify hippocampal neurobiology and slow age-related cognitive decline or partially restore mechanisms of plasticity. For example, agents that reduce intracellular Ca2+ concentration following neural activity could modulate the ratio of LTD and LTP induction, thereby partially restoring normal network dynamics. Considering that the average lifespan is increasing worldwide, understanding the brain mechanisms that are responsible for age-related cognitive impairment, and finding therapeutic agents that might curb this decline, becomes increasingly important.
- #2 – Each paragraph consists of summary of a particular section, the critique for that section, then the recommendations for that section. The number and order of paragraphs parallels the number and order of main topical sections of the paper.
Legend Summary of Info Summary of Critique Recommendations Other Statements
What have these reviews indicated about the efficacy of specific CAM therapies for pain from arthritis and related diseases? First, there are a sufficient number of studies in some areas despite claims often heard about the lack of evidence for CAM. Second, research findings for some of the CAM therapies reviewed here have demonstrated consistent beneficial outcomes for patients with arthritis and related diseases. Specifically, there is moderate support for acupuncture in reducing pain as compared with sham acupuncture and limited support for acupuncture as compared with a wait list for OA of the knee. However, no claims can be made for the superiority of acupuncture across locations of OA and across comparison groups. Further, only limited support exists for the efficacy of acupuncture for FMS with the caveat that acupuncture may actually exacerbate the pain for some patients with FMS. At this point, little is known about acupuncture for patients with RA.
Homeopathy has been demonstrated to be twice as efficacious as placebo for rheumatic conditions, but the outcome was not specifically pain. Furthermore, the interventions included both simple and complex homeopathy as well as individualized and standard treatments and may not represent the system of homeopathy as practiced. More research is needed in this area.
Some herbals and nutraceuticals are also beneficial in reducing pain. Both avocado/soybean unsaponifiables and devil's claw demonstrated promising support for pain of OA with moderate support for Phytodolor and topical capsaicin.Among the herbals used for or promoted for RA, there is strong support for GLA as found, for example, in borage seed oil, evening primrose oil, and blackcurrant seed oil. However, evidence is lacking for other herbals and more high quality research is needed. Research findings also support the benefits of chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine, and SAMe in reducing pain, particularly pain related to OA of the knee. Furthermore, these treatments appear safe to use.
For another example of marked-up conclusion, see this doc.
Early hypotheses on DBS mechanisms proposed that stimulation inhibited neuronal activity at the site of stimulation, imitating the effects of surgical ablation. Recent studies have challenged that view and suggested that while somatic activity near the DBS electrode may be suppressed, high frequency stimulation increases and regularizes the output from the stimulated nucleus by directly activating axons of local projection neurons. It now appears that suprathreshold currents spreading into regions comprised of axonal fibers passing near or through the target structure as well as surrounding nuclei may also contribute to the beneficial effects of DBS. Together, the stimulation-induced regularization of neuronal output patterns are thought to prevent transmission of pathologic bursting and oscillatory activity within the basal ganglia thalamocortical network, thereby enabling compensatory mechanisms that facilitate normal movements.This theory, however, does not entirely explain why therapeutic latencies differ between motor symptoms and why after turning off a DBS system the reemergence of motor symptoms differs among patients.Understanding these processes on a physiological level will be critically important if we are to reach the full potential of DBS as a surgical therapy and will in turn undoubtedly lead us to technological and clinical advancements in the treatment of other neurological disorders.