Skip to content

How to write the conclusion of a paper

My full process for writing a paperWhenever I read conclusions of papers, both in my students’ papers as well as in journal articles and book chapters, I find that writers are so tired of writing and doing the research that they end up exhausted. As I often say, they have “run out of gas”. Conclusions read hasty and rushed. I decided to write a blog post on best practices to craft the conclusion section of a scholarly paper, not using one of mine, but looking at papers that I thought had a really solid concluding section.

When I read papers (both my students and those I peer-review), I notice that most people write a one-paragraph conclusion. I find those rather boring, and worrisome. This happens to me too, as I often run out of gas while writing and all I want is to get the damn paper out. When I write conclusions, I am also very clear about the limitations of my study, potential improvements and “future research” issues. I kept this practice from my doctoral dissertation writing. As I did in my blog post on how to write an abstract, and on the one on how to write the introduction of a research paper, I also asked for advice from #AcademicTwitter on this topic. I’ve included their advice too.

My first piece of advice is (as I outlined in this post on how to write a first paper draft real quick in 8 simple steps), is to write bits and pieces of the conclusion as you write the main body of the paper.

My full process for writing a paperMoreover, I extract ONE insight from each section of the paper regardless of whether it is a book chapter or a journal article. I find that grabbing a topic sentence from the Discussions/Analysis sections and expanding on that particular insight in the conclusion helps me summarize the entire paper itself. I use that insight as a “topic sentence” to create a paragraph that explains the contributions of my findings to our overall understanding.

To me, conclusion sections are supposed to help the writer “finish off”, “bring everything together” they are supposed to re-center the paper’s discussions and explain how what we’ve found actually connects with the overall literature and the field. The first sentence of my conclusions’ sections usually reads as a global summary of the paper’s goals: “in this paper, I discussed polycentricity as a theoretical framework through which we can see multilevel water governance.”

As for concluding sections of entire book manuscripts, I’ll use my PhD thesis as an example. When I wrote the conclusion to my doctoral dissertation, I grabbed the conclusion of each chapter and I distilled ONE insight from that chapter to create the introduction to the concluding chapter. Then I created sections per dissertation chapter and summarized what I learned. I have seen this done with other books too.

The previous example is from a paper by Dr. Jordi Diez Mendez, a good friend of mine who is a professor at University of Guelph. The following one is from Nate Millington.

I usually maintain a Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump on “stuff I like and I’m interested in but I don’t have the time to actually study”. Millington’s paper belongs to that CSED.

Authors usually show different rhetorical moves in their conclusions, but most commonly they link what they say in the Introduction and Abstract to their Conclusion (which is why I recommend the Abstract-Introduction-Conclusion content extraction method for quick/speed/skim reading).

The paper below shows classic rhetorical moves connecting Abstract and Introduction to Conclusion sections.

Hopefully, armed with the examples I’ve outlined in this post, readers of my blog may be better positioned to write the conclusion section of their papers.

You can share this blog post on the following social networks by clicking on their icon.

Posted in academia, writing.

Tagged with , , , .

0 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.