- Leave your readers satisfied
- Bring your texts to a climax and powerful ending
The purpose of a text is to lead the reader somewhere, which means it cannot end in a
wasteland—that is, without a conclusion. The introduction sets the direction,
and the body signposts the way. The conclusion says “you have arrived,” ideally
after a rewarding journey. Sometimes it is announced as such—with a title that
gives away its function, or with a phrase like “to conclude.” But the best
conclusions need no introduction: They flow naturally from the text before, and
the reader feels instinctively that the moment “to conclude” has come.
conclusion marks a momentous transition in a text. It comes at the moment when
the reader emerges from following the argument, and shifts to making sense of
it. Throughout the body of an article, the author strings ideas together, lays
out evidence, pulls in witnesses and describes scenes. All these items build an
image in the mind of the reader: The topic takes shape as its components fall
into place, one after the other, in a sequence whose logic is slowly revealed,
not unlike a puzzle. By the time you, the author, have completed that picture,
the reader unconsciously starts drawing conclusions: Am I convinced? How do I
feel about this piece? What, if anything, am I going to take away?
That is when your conclusion kicks in, almost to whisper the right answers. Textbook advice on how to end a book or an article may help conjure some good ones. Merely repeating your opening argument will do little to convince your audience that everything in between amounted to much. Rather, your conclusion should seek to add a final touch that ties together the whole picture. You may answer the question: “So what?” Why is it important to know what you shared? Here you may pull in the broader implications of your argument, or a solution to the problem you laid out. You may reformulate your central idea in a sharper, more impactful way, informed by everything that the reader assimilated since your introduction.
The conclusion says “you have arrived,” ideally after a rewarding journey
loop back to your starting point, presenting the audience with some of the
deeper lessons learned along the journey. That is why some authors describe
them as a gift to the readers—something small and valuable they can take back
into their own lives as they extract themselves from the universe your writing
ushered them into. Essential, therefore, is the sense of completion—that your
piece accomplished what it set out to do. Reminding yourself what that is may
be the best clue to putting it down in writing.
Finding meaning in what we write or read usually brings us back to our core beliefs
conclusions is both hard and necessary, for the same reason: We are forced to
determine the real value of our work, what it meant to us, and what it should
mean to others. Unlike the body, which contains a relatively dispassionate
series of thoughts, sights and facts, the finale has a more personal,
emotional, existential dimension. Once the story or argument has climaxed, we
enter a more contemplative psychological mode. Finding meaning in what we write
or read usually brings us back to our core beliefs, our struggles, our hopes.
The rule is to make your conclusions heartfelt, even in a methodological note
like this one. Let your audience sense how this piece changed you, and they
likely will feel transformed themselves.
sentence or punchline is a slightly contrived exercise. By way of comparison,
it’s rare to see even a great film finish on anything other than a cliché.
Likewise, songs don’t tend to culminate in a burst of sound that makes you
eager to hear more. Endings soothe and satisfy, like the moment you get off a
roller-coaster you were too thrilled to truly process and enjoy. Your very last
words typically connect to a universal sentiment—like the pleasure of seeing
5 June 2018
Illustration credit: Nude Study for ‘The Active Life’ for Lunette in the Administration Building by Kenyon Cox on Wikipedia / public domain.