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How to Write a Conclusion for a Research Paper

How to Write a Conclusion for a Research Paper

A performance artist named Brother Nut hit the streets of Beijing with a vacuum cleaner. In 100 days, he vacuumed enough smoke to make an actual brick from it. No wonder most people in Beijing wear face masks.

You wouldn't want that kind of pollution in your city, would you? Such are the consequences of idleness.

At its best, a research paper conclusion goes beyond summarizing the essay. The reader must feel guilty for not taking action yet. You never know if the next Elon Musk is in your audience.

With this article, you’ll learn how to end a research paper and inspire action.

First, we’ll go over some general rules before presenting a step-by-step guide. All the valuable rhetorical tips are near the end, so be sure to stick around!


Table Of Contents

Basic Research Paper Conclusion Requirements

Conclusions and introductions both have hooks. However, by the conclusion, your reader is informed and part of the conversation.

Basic research paper conclusion requirements

There’s little point in re-stating information the reader already knows. To write an effective conclusion, you must not only make your paper ‘come full circle,’ but remind the reader of the goals of your paper

Here are three general guidelines to stick to:

  1. Re-state the purpose of your essay but keep it brief! You want to show how your paper supports or contradicts other studies in the field. Have you made any unique contributions to the subject matter?
  2. Synthesize your arguments. Show the reader how your arguments work together to support the goals of the essay. Explain your decisions. Why did you choose these specific sources to support your argument?
  3. Look to the future. There are always plenty of essays discussing your subject. Has your work opened the doors for future research and development in the field? Highlight any needs for improvement and show that you’re passionate about the subject. Future research may depend on it!

Nail these three basic points, and you’re golden! They will make your conclusion more than just a mini-version of your essay.

Related Article: How to start a research paper

How to Conclude a Research Paper: A Step-by-Step Guide

Theory aside, let’s get into the technical aspects. Remember that you can work on these steps in any order.

step-by-step guide on how to conclude a research paper

Feel like you got the point already? You can skip down to the tips section. There, we go over some useful rhetorical devices to help convince your reader to take action.

1st Sentence: Restate the Topic and Why You Chose It

The reader can always see your title. So why restate your topic?

Here are a few reasons why a catchy entrance will make your conclusion memorable:

  • Freshen Up. After processing a ton of information, it would be nice to return to simplicity. Remind the reader what the initial idea was, and the goals of your essay.
  • Bring the journey full circle. You know how every Christopher Nolan film you ask yourself, “What’s going on?” and in the end, you’re like “aaaaah! I get it!” Same effect.
  • Stating a recurring sentence/quote related to your topic. If your essay is based on a phrase like MLK’s “I have a dream” speech, the phrase takes on a different meaning on each body paragraph. Start your conclusion with that phrase.
  • Keep it to a one-sentence hook. Make a catchy entrance to the finale. Back to bullet point one: freshen up your audience with a hook to alleviate the tension of information overload.
  • Topic and Thesis are not the same things. Do not confuse it with restating a thesis. We’ll get to that in a sec.

Check our list of 120 Awesome Research Paper Topics

2nd Sentence: Restate Thesis

Next step is to remind the reader of your main point; your primary argument; your thesis.

  • Re-wording your thesis is bad advice. Most people get the impression that restating the thesis is like finding a synonym on Thesaurus. It’s not.
  • Think of it like reminding the audience of your argument. Here’s an example:
    “My research paper aimed to prove that alcohol should truly be considered as dangerous as most illegal drugs. However, in the process, I learned that the true evil is not booze, it’s miseducation.”
  • Did you know you’re allowed to quote yourself? It’s your research paper after all. Just say “I’d like to quote my thesis in light of the information presented in my paper.”

There are as many opinions as there are people. In the end, the research paper belongs to you. Hard truth: you must find your own way to get your point across.

3rd-4th Sentence: Summarize Main Points of Body Paragraphs

The next thing to do is to summarize all the main points of your essay (body paragraphs). Tell ‘em what you told ‘em.

Here’s the checklist:

  • The cheat-trick here is to gather all the topic sentences of each body paragraph.
  • Go through these topic sentences without saying them.
  • DO NOT include supporting details and source references.
  • In fact, any fresh insights on your subject are a big no-no in the conclusion. Just stick to re-writing what you already wrote.
  • No, please do not LITERALLY re-write topic sentences. Refer to the “rewrite Thesis” example in the section above.

Say what you said. Avoid new information. Pretty simple stuff.

Full guide on how to make a RESEARCH PAPER OUTLINE

The next two steps are flexible concerning when they should appear and their length.

Flexible: Answer the “So What” Question

So you’ve done the research, you’ve written the paper and proved that Batman isn’t real.

So what? Does it mean that we can go out and commit crimes without fear of caped crusaders swooping down to fight us?

Of course not! We are the ones responsible for keeping the world a safe place for our children. That’s the whole point: Batman can be anyone.

When you’re done writing a research paper, you must always ask yourself “so what?” This question is the ethos of why conclusions are essential. The reader must always receive the answer to this question from you.

Otherwise, you’re just killing the Batman.

Flexible: Call Reader to Take Action!

So now you know that global warming is real. Whatcha gonna do about it?

If your research paper tackles a theme like global warming, a call to action is much needed. Global warming is not something we can’t individually work towards fixing. For example, recycling plastic is a great start.

Calling to action is not necessary for EVERY research paper. It should be limited to papers dealing with political, social, or environmental issues. If you’re criticizing a bad film, you’re not trying to tell people, “DON’T SEE IT” (insert Simpsons “Phoney” meme.)

How To Make a Conclusion Effective Rhetorically

Important to remember: effective conclusions are about synthesis rather than summary.

How To Make a Conclusion Effective Rhetorically

Synthesize, don’t summarize.

To summarize means to make a brief statement of the main points. To synthesize means to combine information into a coherent whole. You want to tie the paper together neatly.

By synthesizing, you’re basically turning your paper into a complete thought rather than a list of ideas.

Make the paper go full circle.

Linking the introduction and the conclusion gives your paper “fullness.” Ever seen a film where a tiny detail in the beginning is reintroduced in the end? Same effect.

There are a few technical tricks to making this effect:

  • Pose a question in the introduction and answer it in the conclusion.
  • Start a joke or a story, and finish it in the conclusion.
  • A creative idea: if you’re writing about recycling you can start with the story of a plastic bag, and make it go full circle. The plastic bag gets thrown away, recycled, and becomes a plastic bag again. A beautiful and compelling story of reincarnation.
  • Rely on imagery. Create a pattern of words and images in the introduction, and mirror it in the conclusion. It creates a subconscious feeling of totality.

These rhetorical devices will help your essay stick in the minds of readers. They can be powerful tools and really prompt change.

For more ideas, look to the greats! George Orwell is one of the masters of rhetorical devices such as mirroring and imagery. His essay Shooting an Elephant has made lots of people cry.

Making a Conclusion Effective Logically

If you aim to make a clear and focused conclusion rather than an inspiration one, you want to go with hard facts.

Merely stating the problem and consequences isn’t enough though. People don’t want to hear hard facts, and you have to trick them into paying attention. Here are a few smart techniques:

  • Give the reader a graphical illustration of the consequences of idleness. Remember, most won’t care until they see how it relates to their life. Check out the introduction to the blog for an example.
  • Recommend a solution or a course of action. This may have been the goal of your research paper all along.
  • Refer back to a relevant scientist, expert, or great thinker. If Einstein said it, most people would likely believe you too.
  • Demonstrate urgency. Do we really need oceans to flood the financial centers of New York City to believe in climate change?
  • Show a critical statistic which speaks facts. Statistics can be catchy. However, as mentioned in point one, nobody cares until they see how it relates to them
  • Reflect on yourself and personal experience. It may be subjective, but this way you connect to the audience on a human level. Illustrate your conclusion with a situation from your life.
  • Reuse a hook from the introduction, but show it in light of all this new knowledge. Remember that anecdote everyone laughed at in the introduction? Well now they know the truth, and it isn’t funny anymore. In fact, it’s a bit scary.
  • Give the readers a new hook they can take home and think about.
  • If your research doesn’t answer the question or provide solutions- say it! Hopefully, someone in the audience will pick up where you left off.

Posing the Right Questions

Speaking of that last one…

Your research paper may not be so important for a passive audience of lazy classroom friends. However, for academia, it may be invaluable.

Posing the right question allows the audience will form their own conclusion. This is a powerful technique if you can pull it off. By using this technique, you can save yourself a lot of synthesis in the conclusion. The reader will use information from your research paper to answer that essential question.

This technique usually works great in papers dealing with social, environmental or political issues. Ask yourself, do you want your city mayor to be a washed out corrupt mafia boss who cares nothing about the city’s pollution problems?

These kinds of questions give birth to critical thinking, rationalization, and hopefully action.

Come to think of it, that’s what essays are for.

Common Pitfalls Resulting in Bad Grades

We know the Do’s, not let’s go over the don’ts. Hopefully, by the end of this article, your conclusion will shine like a nice recycled plastic bottle.

Common pitfalls resulting in bad grades

Failure to be Concise

Yes, this means get to the point. Many conclusions blabber too much. It’s not the place to talk in detail about your methods and results. You’ve already done that. The conclusion gives a relatively brief summary of your paper. The focus here is mainly on insights and implications. Let’s keep it there.

Not Relating to Larger Issues

If you do not show how your studies connect to your field of study, then your essay is essentially a failure. Your task is to introduce your subject within a specific study and then narrow it down to your argument. In the conclusion, you must show how your argument traces back to the bigger picture. If you fail to do so, you will most certainly get a bad grade.

Not Talking Problems

Essays are not merely a polished presentation of successful results. Those are one-sided, manipulative, and biased papers with a corporate agenda. Don’t confuse the two. In an essay, you must present both your successes and failures in obtaining results. If you’ve mixed two strange chemicals in a lab hoping to get gold but they exploded - say it. You might be saving lives.

Skipping the Summary Bit

To make a reasonable conclusion, you must make sure the reader is on the same page with you. It’s what summaries are for. If you skip the summary, your professor will skip right to the C grade.

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