End Your Essay with a Bang, Not a Whimper
Ah, the concluding sentence. It’s the very last thing your reader (aka, teacher) reads before setting down your essay and thoughtfully considering what she thought of your ideas (aka, what grade she’ll give you).
It’s time to wrap up your ideas, tie a pretty bow, and exit gracefully.
But that's hard to do, right? Just like an awkward voicemail, a conclusion can sometimes drag on and on, making everyone involved wish they were anywhere else.
(Never left an awkward voicemail? I envy you. Here's what happens to me: I've already said everything I needed to, but the last thing I said didn't sound final. So I keep talking without a plan. I say something weird. So I try again. The next thing I know, I'm giving the names of all my childhood pets, my astrological sign, and pointing out how weird it is that we call peanuts “peanuts” when they’re not nuts but actually legumes.)
When it comes to your last sentence, do you worry that…
- You'll drag on and on, like my painful voicemail?
- Your sentence won't pack enough punch to seem like an ending?
- Your thoughts will sound cliche and cheesy?
- You’ll have to devise a completely unique approach every time you end an essay?
The last sentence is hard because it’s got to sound final. It’s got to seem like the most natural place to end so that you reader isn’t looking for more.
But the secret to creating an impactful ending isn’t laboring over it for hours. Instead, it’s knowing the purpose of your concluding sentence so that you leave the reader with a "final bang." If you know the why of this sentence, you’re going to have a much easier time coming up with the what.
You’ll spend less time on the “what” of writing when you know the “why” of it. [Tweet that!]
The Secret is to Limit Your Options
You’re probably working too hard to come up with an original way to end your essay. At this point in your writing, you’ve already presented all the evidence, analyzed it, connected it back to your thesis, and summed up your arguments. There’s really only one job left: making the reader feel that you’ve done everything you were supposed to.
That’s right. You don’t have to argue, persuade, convince, support, or explain. You just have to give your reader a dose of happy.
You can release little contentment fairies in your reader’s brain in two simple ways:
- Give your reader the warm fuzzy feeling of hearing something familiar.
- Give your reader the satisfied feeling of deeper understanding.
Here are four strategies, two for each goal. And you only need one "final bang." So choose the option that's easiest for you and use the heck out of it!
Strategy #1: Return to the Hook
At the top of your essay you’ve got your hook, the way you lured your reader into caring about your essay’s topic. If you return to the idea or image in your hook, the reader will feel an immediate sense of closure. You’re returning to the beginning and reminding her where she came from. She’ll be able to see how far she’s come and feel the satisfaction of having made a journey.
Try returning to your hook in one of these ways:
- Show the deeper meaning of the hook.
- Reinterpret what the hook means in light of your argument.
- Provide an alternate outcome of the scenario you described in your hook.
- Qualify the hook (don’t contradict it; just define it more specifically).
Strategy # 2: Reuse the Title
Your title should be a concise phrase that previews the content and basic themes of your essay. What better way to wrap up your entire essay than by presenting this idea again?
Try tying in your title in one of these ways:
- Embed the actual title in your final sentence.
- Use a variation of your title in your final sentence.
Strategy #3: Put the Reader into the Topic
Describe a vivid scenario that makes your idea come to life. This might be a hypothetical situation or a well-crafted metaphor that makes your thesis more concrete. This will allow your reader to experience the themes of your essay directly through her imagination.
Try putting the reader into your topic in one of these ways:
- Create a simile or analogy.
- Create a strong metaphor. Make sure it really fits and isn’t just a cliche.
- State the action that could be taken (or should be taken if this is a persuasive essay).
Strategy #4: Put the Topic into the World
You know that deep, gravelly voice-over you hear in action movie previews? That guy is always telling us the conditions of the setting of the movie: “In a world where evil goes unchecked and good must fight to survive…” Take this kind of universal idea and tone it down so it’s not overly dramatic. Then, use it to make a broad statement about the world, based on your thesis. This will help your reader see the themes of your essay in contexts closer to home.
Try showing the reader a global perspective in one of these ways:
- State the consequences of a certain type of action seen in your essay, or its opposite.
- State the consequences of a certain type of belief seen in your essay, or its opposite.
- Suggest what might happen if a change isn’t made.
Harder to Write Doesn't Mean Better
There are many more ways you could end your essay. But the question is why would you? Why would you break your brain trying to come up with something completely unique when you could choose one of these strategies and be guaranteed to write a final bang that will tidily wrap up your ideas and leave your reader feeling satisfied?
I mean, if you’ve got that kind of time, I’ve got a sink full of dirty dishes you might be interested in… ;)
It’s not just about time, though. Sure, you’ll be done faster. But you’ll also be done smarter! You’ll know the why of your final bang. You’ll know your goal. And that means you’ll be better able to judge whether you’re achieving your goal.
When you write a purposeful last line, you'll be happy because you'll know your reader is content. She'll push back from reading, as if from a good meal, sated, smiling, and savoring your brilliance.
Want more suggestions for writing a great conclusion? Grab your FREE Conclusion Worksheet when you sign up for my email list!