The conclusion of a research paper is where you wrap up your ideas and remind the reader why the work presented in the paper is relevant. However, it can be a bit confusing to distinguish the conclusion section/paragraph from a summary or a repetition of your findings, your own opinion, or the statement of the implications of your work. In fact, the conclusion should contain a bit of all of these other parts but go beyond it—but not too far beyond!
The structure and content of the conclusion section can also vary depending on whether you are writing a research manuscript or an essay. If you are even more confused now, don’t worry—in the following, we’ll explain how to write a good conclusion section, what exactly it should (and should not) contain, how it should be structured, and what you should avoid when writing it.
Table of Contents:
- What Should the Conclusion Section Contain?
- Essay Conclusion
- Research Paper Conclusion
- Conclusion Paragraph Outline and Example
- What Not to Do When Writing a Conclusion
What Should the Conclusion Section Contain?
You presented your general field of study to the reader in the introduction section, by moving from general information (the background of your work, often combined with a literature review) to the rationale of your study and then to the specific problem or topic you addressed, formulated in the form of the statement of the problem in research or the thesis statement in an essay.
In the conclusion section, in contrast, your task is to move from your specific findings or arguments back to a more general depiction of how your research contributes to the readers’ understanding of a certain concept or helps solve a practical problem or fills an important gap in the literature. The content of your conclusion section therefore depends on the type of research you are doing and what type of paper you are writing. But whatever the outcome of your work is, the conclusion is where you briefly summarize it and place it within a larger context. It could be called the “take-home message” of the entire paper.
Your conclusion section needs to contain a very brief summary of your work, a very brief summary of the main findings of your work, and a mention of anything else that seems relevant when you now look at your work from a bigger perspective, even if it was not initially listed as one of your main research questions. This could be a limitation, for example, a problem with the design of your experiment that either needs to be considered when drawing any conclusions or that led you to ask a different question and therefore draw different conclusions at the end of your study (compared to when you started out).
Once you have reminded the reader of what you did and what you found, you need to go beyond that and also provide either your own opinion on why your work is relevant (and for whom, and how) or theoretical or practical implications of the study, or make a specific call for action if there is one to be made.
Academic Essay Conclusion
The most typical conclusion at the end of an analytical/explanatory/argumentative essay is a “summarizing conclusion” that is simply, as the name suggests, a clear summary of the main points of your topic and thesis. Since you might have gone through a number of different arguments or subtopics in the main part of your essay, you need to remind the reader again what those were, how they fit into each other, and how they helped you develop or corroborate your hypothesis. For an essay that analyzes how recruiters can hire the best candidates in the shortest time or on “how starving yourself will increase your lifespan, according to science”, a summary of all the points you discussed might be all you need. Note that you should not exactly repeat what you said earlier, but rather highlight the essential details and present those to your reader in a different way.
If you think that just reminding the reader of your main points is not enough, you can opt for an “externalizing conclusion” instead, that presents new points that were not presented in the paper so far. These new points can be additional facts and information, or ideas that are relevant to the topic but have not been mentioned or discussed before. Such a conclusion can stimulate your readers to think about your topic or the implications of your analysis in a whole new way, and thereby adds substance to your paper. At the end of a historical analysis of a specific event or development, for example, you could direct your reader’s attention to some current events that were not the topic of your essay but that help put your findings in a whole new context.
In an “editorial conclusion”, another common type of conclusion that you will find at the end of papers and essays, you do not add new information but instead present your own experiences or opinions on the topic to round everything up. What makes this type of conclusion interesting is that you can choose to agree or disagree with the information you presented in your paper so far. For example, if you have collected and analyzed information on how a specific diet helps people lose weight, you can nevertheless have your doubts on the sustainability of that diet or its practicability in real life—if such arguments were not included in your original thesis and have therefore not been covered in the main part of your paper, the conclusion section is the place where you can get your opinion across.
Research Paper Conclusion
A research paper is usually more concise and succinct than an essay, because, if it is written well, it focuses on one specific question, describes the method that was used to answer that one question, describes and explains the results, and guides the reader in a logical way from the introduction to the discussion without going on tangents or digging into not absolutely relevant topics.
The conclusion section at the end of a research manuscript should therefore not start with a long-winded repetition of what was done and why and how, but rather get to the point in as few words as possible. Instead of beginning with “In conclusion, in this study, we investigated the effect of stress on the brain using fMRI…”, you should try to find a way to incorporate the repetition of the essential (and only the essential) details into the summary of the key points. “The findings of this fMRI study on the effect of stress on the brain suggest that…” or “While it has been known for a long time that stress has an effect on the brain, the findings of this fMRI study show that, surprisingly…” would be better ways to start a conclusion.
You should also not bring up new ideas or present new facts in the conclusion of a research paper, but stick to the background information you have presented earlier, to the findings you have already discussed, and the limitations and implications you have already described. The one thing you can add here is a practical recommendation that you haven’t clearly stated before—but even that one needs to follow logically from everything you have already discussed in the discussion section.
Conclusion Paragraph Outline and Example
Let’s go with the study on the effect of stress on the brain we mentioned before and see what the common structure for a conclusion paragraph looks like, in three steps. Following these simple steps will make it easy for you to wrap everything up in one short paragraph that contains all the essential information:
One: Short summary of what you did, but integrated into the summary of your findings:
While it has been known for a long time that stress has an effect on the brain, the findings of this fMRI study in 25 university students going through mid-term exams show that, surprisingly, one’s attitude to the experienced stress significantly modulates the brain’s response to it.
Note that you don’t need to repeat any methodological or technical details here—the reader has been presented with all of these before, they have read your results section and the discussion of your results, and even (hopefully!) a discussion of the limitations and strengths of your paper. The only thing you need to remind them of here is the essential outcome of your work.
Two: Add implications, and don’t forget to specify who this might be relevant for:
Students could be considered a specific subsample of the general population, but earlier research shows that the effect that exam stress has on their physical and mental health is comparable to the effects of other types of stress on individuals of other ages and occupations. Further research into practical ways of modulating not only one’s mental stress response but potentially also one’s brain activity (e.g., via neurofeedback training) are warranted.
This is a “research implication”, and it is nicely combined with a mention of a potential limitation of the study (the student sample) that turns out not to be a limitation after all (because earlier research suggests we can generalize to other populations). If there already is a lot of research on neurofeedback for stress control, by the way, then this should have been discussed in your discussion section earlier and you wouldn’t say such studies are “warranted” here but rather specify how your findings could inspire specific future experiments or how they should be implemented in existing applications.
Three: The most important thing is that your conclusion paragraph accurately reflects the content of your paper. Compare it to your research paper title, your research paper abstract, and to your journal submission cover letter, in case you already have one—if these do not all tell the same story, then you need to go back to your paper, start again from the introduction section, and find out where you lost the logical thread. As always, consistency is key.
What Not to Do When Writing a Conclusion
- Don’t suddenly introduce new information that has never been mentioned before (unless you are writing an essay and opting for an externalizing conclusion, see above). The conclusion section is not where you want to surprise your readers, but the take-home message of what you have already presented.
- Don’t copy your abstract, the conclusion section of your abstract, or the first sentence of your introduction and put it at the end of the discussion section. Even if these parts of your paper cover the same points, they should not be identical.
- Don’t start the conclusion with “In conclusion”. If it has its own section heading, that is redundant, and if it is the last paragraph of the discussion section, it is inelegant and also not really necessary. The reader expects you to wrap your work up in the last paragraph, so you don’t have to announce that. Just look at the above example to see how to start a conclusion in a natural way.
- Don’t forget what your research objectives were and how you initially formulated the statement of the problem in your introduction section. If your story/approach/conclusions changed because of methodological issues or information you were not aware of when you started, then make sure you go back to the beginning and adapt your entire story (not just the ending).
Consider Academic Editing Services
When you have arrived at the conclusion of your paper, you might want to head over to wordvice.ai to receive a free grammar check for any academic content.
After drafting, you can also receive paper editing services for your journal manuscript. If you need advice on how to write the other parts of your research paper, or on how to make a research paper outline if you are struggling with putting everything you did together, then head over to the Wordvice academic resources pages, where we have a lot more articles and videos for you.