In last week's post (Six Steps to a Great Intro Paragraph), I did say that Introductions are vital to getting your reader to stick with you through the rest of the paper.
When you're in the thick of writing, though, the conclusion is where all the magic happens! You grapple your way through why your paper is important, what other studies have found about your topic, how you collected data for your study, and what the heck you found.
In the process of writing through all of those sections, you found your argument, and you shaped it into several concluding paragraphs. Those paragraphs sum up why this paper, your paper, is awesome and worthwhile.
Three things your concluding paragraphs should do:
1. Establish why your paper is relevant to what other people in your field have done. This is tricky because you have to convince the reader that your topic is similar to other studies but has some different, unique, profound twist.
One example: Like other studies on religion, your study probes into the lives of Christian Americans. BUT all of the other studies have focused on Christians as a whole. YOUR study looks deeply into Christian converts – that's where things get interesting!
(This is a contribution to the literature. You focus on a portion of the population that has not been thoroughly examined by other studies.)
Second example: Like other studies on drug users, your study looks deeply into the lives of cocaine addicts. BUT all of the other studies have been quantitative, using surveys and questionnaires. YOU talked to cocaine addicts, interviewed them, followed them around in their daily lives – that's where the gold mine of information is!
(This is a methodological contribution. You studied the same population as others before you, but using a different methodology.)
2. Sum up your most important findings. Yes, you may have five, six, seven really interesting findings. You should have only one or two large take-away points, the nuggets that people could talk to their friends about after they read your paper. Your one or two most important findings may operate as umbrellas for the rest of the smaller findings.
One example: Broadly speaking, Christian converts are very different than lifetime Christians because they latch onto different religious practices. (<- umbrella) Specifically, they are more likely to attend small group Bible studies (<- specific) and retreats (<-specific), but they are less likely to pray at mealtimes (<-specific). Providing an umbrella helps your reader categorize the findings and remember your findings later. 3. Convince the reader that your findings are important, dangit! You had better get fired up about why your findings are important, otherwise, what was the freaking point of all that research? Take all the ambition that helped you do this study in the first place and channel it into a stellar paragraph about this paper could change the world.
Power writers don't stop at the conclusion
Good writers will write a fantastic conclusion.
Power writers will write a fantastic conclusion, THEN make sure those freaking awesome points are woven in throughout the text.
Where should those points go?
You guessed it – right back into the Intro, the Lit Review, Methods, and Results.
Each of your awesome points should show up once in earlier sections, so that the reader will slowly come to see how worthwhile your paper is. Then, during the conclusion, you hit them with all of the awesome points, all in a row – bam, bam, bam.
The reader is then dazzled by your paper. That's how we roll, here at Paper Raven Editing, anyway.