Lesson Five: Introductions and Conclusons
The conclusion is your last chance to persuade the reader or impress upon them your qualifications. Endings are the last experience an admissions officer has with your essay, so you need to make those words and thoughts count. You should not feel obligated to tie everything up into a neat bow. The essay can conclude with some ambiguity, if appropriate, as long as it offers insights. The aim is for the admissions officer to leave your essay thinking, “That was a satisfying read.” Here are some Do’s and Don’ts as you develop your conclusion.
Expand upon the broader implications of your discussion. This could include the following strategies:
Consider linking your conclusion to your introduction to establish a sense of balance by reiterating introductory phrases.
Redefine a term used previously in your body paragraphs.
End with a famous quote that is relevant to your argument. Do not TRY to do this, as this approach is overdone. This should come naturally.
Frame your discussion within a larger context or show that your topic has widespread appeal.
Tie the conclusion back to your introduction. A nice conclusion makes use of the creativity you used in your introduction. If you used an anecdote in your intro, use the conclusion to finish telling that story.
Try to end on a positive note. You may want to restate your goals in terms of how they will be fulfilled at the institution to which you are applying.
Summarize. Since the essay is rather short to begin with, the reader should not need to be reminded of what you wrote 300 words beforehand. You do not need to wrap up your essay in a nice little package. It should be an ending, not a summary.
Use stock phrases. Phrases such as, “in conclusion,” “in summary,” “to conclude,” belong only in dry, scientific writing. Don’t use them.
Try to Explain the Unexplainable. Your essay need not be so tidy that you can answer why people die or why starvation exists -- you are not writing a sitcom -- but it should forge some attempt at closure.
Before you move on to Lesson Six: Editing and Revising, you should take a break. Let your draft sit for a day or two. You need to distance yourself from the piece so you can gain objectivity. If there is anything more difficult than trying to edit your own work, it is trying to edit your own work right after you have written it. Once you have let your work sit for a while, you will be better able to tackle the final steps of editing and revising.
Move on to Lesson Six: Editing and Revising
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Step Two: In your conclusion paragraph, try one or more of the following techniques:
Technique #1: Explore the consequences.
Address the negative consequences by asking: What happens if we don’t learn the lesson of the thesis? What has been (or what will be) the negative impact?
Address the positive consequences by asking: What can we do learn from the thesis, and what positive benefit will be gained if we do employ it?
Technique #2: Raise a counter-argument, then debunk it.
Bring up a point someone might make against your college essay. Then say why that person is wrong.
Tip #1: Make sure you’re using a counter-argument that you can debunk!
Tip #2: Be careful not to contradict or disprove your original thesis.
Technique #3: Provide a Call to Action.
Ask: What must we do as a result of this thesis/lesson?
Technique #4: Raise an Unexpected Value
Ask: What else may we learn or gain a result of this thesis/lesson?
Tip: this one works well within a "Not only... but also..." construct.
Sounding kinda’ vague? Keep reading.
Remember the key is to:
Clarify the thesis.
Answer “So what?”
Here's an example thesis and some possible directions for the conclusion:
Thesis: Children should be taught the value of other cultures and religions from a very young age.
Negative Consequences: What might happen if children aren’t taught the value of other cultures and religions?
Positive Consequences: What might happen if they are?
Counter-argument—debunked: What might someone argue as a barrier/potential downside to teaching children about the importance of other cultures’ values and religions? (Example counter-arguments: Children might lose sight of their own values/religions (or) they may be uncomfortable at first… both are easy to debunk.)
Call to Action: If we believe children should be taught about other cultures and religions from a young age, what must we do? Either individually or as a society?
Unexpected Value: What else might we (as Americans, as humans) gain from this?
For an example of how a really awesome writer did this in Time magazine, read Jeffrey Sachs’s one-page article Class System of Catastrophe.
Take note of the:
Call to Action
Check out my annotated version of this article here.
To re-cap: first clarify your thesis. Then ask:
- What are the positive/negative consequences of this?
- What's a counter-argument I can debunk?
- What's a call to action--what must we do as a result?
- What's an unexpected value--something else we'll gain if we learn or employ the lesson of the thesis?
Got it? Email me with questions.