Two-sentence distillation of this post:
Providing insight into your thesis by answering “Why is my thesis important?” can be the difference between a so-so essay and a "wow" essay. After years of hearing my students ask, “How do I do that?” I came up with four ways to finish strong, which I’m sharing below.
I believe a great essay answers two questions:
What did you learn? (That’s your thesis.)
Why is this lesson important? (That’s your conclusion.)
Students tend to focus on answering the first question, “What did you learn?” but many fail to go deeper after that. Many fail to answer, “So what?”
And here’s the thing:
An awesome "So what?” can take your essay from "eh" to "BAM."
So here are...
Four Techniques for Writing a Conclusion
Step One: Make sure your thesis is super duper clear.
And yes, even you’re writing a personal statement you can have a thesis.
In fact, if you’re working on an essay, clarify your thesis now. It'll help you understand the next part.
Need an example thesis?
Here’s one: The model of bringing Western ideas and technology to developing countries might not always be the most efficient means of providing assistance.
Here’s another: Children should be taught the value of other cultures and religions from a very young age.
Tip: the more specific your thesis is, the easier it’ll be to write your conclusion.
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Step Two: In your final 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 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.