Ending Essays With A Question

This is one of a series of lists of questions, published in association with the study guide Writing essays. These are suggested questions to ask as you write your essay, and during the review and editing process. They can be asked in any order.

Questions to ask of your introduction

  • Have I shown that I understand the task that has been set?
  • If appropriate, have I started off broad then narrowed down to the focus of my essay?
  • Have I given an outline of the way I plan to respond to the title?
  • Is my introduction a true indication of what the reader is about to read?
  • Do I think that the reader will be confident, after he or she has read my introduction, that I have interpreted the title sensibly?

Questions to ask of your conclusion

  • Have I referred back to the title of the essay?
  • Is my conclusion genuinely well-supported by the evidence and argument that I have presented?
  • Is my conclusion directly relevant to the essay title?
  • Have I identified the most important conclusion, not just an interesting side issue?
  • Have I made sure that I have not introduced a new argument at this stage?

Be Alert! These are not necessarily the only questions you need to ask.

Having trouble finding the right words to finish your paper? Are your conclusions bland? This handout covers basic techniques for writing stronger endings, including

  • Diagnosing and improving paragraph cohesion
  • Avoiding 7 common errors when drafting and revising conclusions
  • Answering the reader’s unspoken question—“So what?”

Improve paragraph cohesion

A. Make your sentences conform to a “given/new” contract

“Given” information (familiar to your reader) should come first in the sentence. For example, you could reiterate a main idea in the sentence or two beforehand, or something apparent within the context of the sentence, or an idea that taps into readers’ general knowledge of a topic. “New” information (additional, unfamiliar, and/or more complex) should comprise the second half of your sentence.

The “new” info of one sentence then becomes the “given” or familiar info of the next, improving overall flow and coherence.

B. Use “topic-strings”

Each sentence needs a topic or main idea, which should be in the “given” part of the sentence. Shift “given” info closer to the beginnings of your sentences when you can, so that the topic is clear. As well, each paragraph needs an overall topic, usually established in the first or second sentences. To check paragraph coherence, see whether your sentence topics (“givens”) connect consistently from sentence to sentence. Can you find a consistent topic throughout the paragraph, almost as if you were tracing a single colored thread? A set of sentences with clear topics creates a “topic thread.” This, along with appropriate use of transitions, helps to ensure a coherent paragraph.

  • If your topic thread is not apparent or seems to get lost, revise your sentences according to a “given/new” information pattern.
  • Use transitions where needed to indicate opposition, agreement or linkage, cause & effect, exemplification or illustration, degree, comparison, etc. For more on transitions, see “Making Connections: Choosing Transition Words”.

C. Reiterate without being repetitious

Readers appreciate some consistency and won’t usually find a reasonable amount of repetition boring or monotonous.  But avoid repeating the same subjects/topics using exactly the same words each time, and don’t repeat your thesis word-for-word in your conclusion. Instead…reiterate, using key concepts within slightly different sentence structures and arguments. Key concepts are often expressed in introductions, thesis statements, and near the beginnings of paragraphs; they act as a governing “topic thread” for your entire paper.

Avoid these 7 common errors in your conclusions

  1. Opening with an empty phrase, the equivalent of “throat-clearing.

For example:

Draft: “And, therefore, it is important to keep in mind that ...” “In conclusion…”

Revision: Omit these phrases. “In conclusion” or “To conclude” may be appropriate for an oral presentation, but in writing are considered redundant or overly mechanical.

Draft: “However, it is important in arriving at such a conclusion to recognize...”

Revision: Just say what we should recognize.

  1. Stuffing too much information into one paragraph or not developing the paragraph sufficiently.
  2. Not including a clear topic sentence: i.e. one that expresses the key concept governing this paragraph (i.e. “What is this paragraph about?”). It’s usually best to express your governing concept in the first or second sentence.
  3. Not checking for cohesion or flow (see “given and new” above). As a result, the sentences aren’t logically organized, or there is a sudden switch in topic, or sentences do not clearly connect to each other.
  4. Using transitions too frequently or too mechanically.
  5. Ending the paragraph with a different topic. HINT: Use a key word or phrase from the last sentence of the previous paragraph in the first sentence of the new paragraph. This technique helps the reader make connections.
  6. Finishing your piece with entirely new information or a quote that isn’t relevant.

Remember to answer the question "So what?”

Readers need to understand why your argument or research is significant. So consider the single more important idea (key concept) you want your readers to take away with them after reading your paper. It’s not enough merely to repeat your thesis or summarize your main findings in your conclusion; you need to answer the question: “So what”? Options include outlining further areas of inquiry and/or suggesting a sense of significance: e.g. why does what you’ve written matter? What should your reader take away?

For more about writing effective conclusions, visit the following:

“Strategies for Writing a Conclusion” from Literacy Education Online
“Conclusions” from the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina

Source for paragraph cohesion strategies: Williams, J. M., & Nadel, I. B. (2005). Style: 10 Lessons in Clarity and Grace (Cdn. ed.).  Toronto: Longman.

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