Writing a research paper is both deemed an essential and dreaded part of academics. The writing process can actually be a fruitful experience, although many students see it as a daunting task. A research paper has lots of pivotal facets, each calling for knowledge-gathering, understanding the subject, and effort to put the pieces together. However, in this article, we will only pay attention to the conclusion and how to construct one that leaves a lasting impact on the readers.
According to Faryadi (2012), writing a conclusion is as difficult as writing the introduction; meanwhile, Holewa states that writing the conclusion is the hardest part of the writing process. As the last part of a research paper format, the conclusion is the point where the writer has already exhausted his or her intellectual resources. Conclusion, however, is what readers often remember the most and, therefore, must also be the best part of your written research (Holewa, 2004).
Unlike what others may have come to believe, the conclusion is not a mere summarization of an article, an essay, or a research paper. Simply put, the conclusion goes beyond restating the introduction and body of your research. In this article, we walk you through the process of formulating an effective research paper conclusion by understanding its purpose, the strategies you can use, and what you should avoid doing when writing the concluding section of your research paper.
The conclusion is the part of the research paper that brings everything together in a logical manner. As the last part of a research paper, a conclusion provides a clear interpretation of the results of your research in a way that stresses the significance of your study. A conclusion must be more extensive and encompassing compared to a particular finding and, in the same vein, various findings may be integrated into a single conclusion (Baron, 2008).
Unlike the introduction where you open a dialogue with your readers about the problem and/or present research questions, arguments, and what knowledge gaps you aim to bridge, the conclusion provides a clear and concise picture of how you are able to accomplish all of these. The conclusion is where you describe the consequences of your arguments by justifying to your readers why your arguments matter (Hamilton College, 2014).
Derntl (2014) also describes conclusion as the counterpart of the introduction. Using the Hourglass Model (Swales, 1993) as a visual reference, Derntl describes conclusion as the part of the research paper that leads the readers from narrow or specific results to broader and more general conclusion.
Just like the final chord in a song, a conclusion is necessary to make a research paper complete and well done (CRLS Research Guide, 2018). While your introduction sets the expectations and the body of your research paper presents your methodologies and detailed analyses, the conclusion is where you demonstrate the significance of your findings, insights, and observations. The conclusion creates a bigger picture of your research work that helps your readers view the subject of your study as a whole and in a new light.
As the author of your research paper, the conclusion plays an important role in giving you the opportunity to have the final word, create a good impression, and end your paper on a positive note. In order to achieve this, your conclusion must possess the key characteristics of an effective concluding section. And, an effective concluding section is also one of the most important characteristics of good research.
In terms of length, the conclusions of professional empirical research articles usually have five to six paragraphs, while student/novice papers typically have two- to three-paragraph conclusions (Powner, 2017).
Your research paper conclusion is the opposite of the introduction not just in placement but also in structure. The introduction generally follows the inverted triangle format with the general statement element on top, narrowing down to the main point of research. The conclusion, on the other hand, follows the inverted introduction structure by opening with the highlights of your research and ending with a general but relevant statement that encourages readers to think, as well as challenges them to take action based on the new pieces of knowledge they have gained from your research paper (Purdue Global Campus, n.d.).
Several studies that analyzed how conclusions are framed (see for instance Bunton, 2005 and Lewkowicz, 2012) found that most authors either restate and consolidate a research problem or synthesize the research work. When consolidating the problem, authors either present the solutions, products, or results of a research problem and/or assumptions (Soler-Monreal, C. 2019). Nonetheless, in general, writing an effective conclusion for your research paper can be achieved using any of the following strategies:
As mentioned previously, the conclusion is not a summary of your research paper. While a summary can be an element of this section, the conclusion goes beyond simply restating your ideas and analyses. Instead of repeating what you already said in the abstract, introduction, and body of your study, demonstrate to your reader how the essential elements in your research paper coherently fit together (The Writing Center UNC, n.d.).
This approach to writing the conclusion brings your reader to a full circle by using or referring to the same elements you used in your introduction or by drawing parallels. An example of this would be retelling a scenario you described in your introduction, but this time while creating a new understanding of the subject based on the results of your study that further reinforces your arguments and/or hypotheses.
Your conclusion plays the role of being your readers’ bridge back to the real world after welcoming them into your study through your introduction and immersing them in your methodologies, analyses, and results. Redirecting your readers is a way of challenging them to take the information they get from your research study and apply them in real life. This strategy can also be approached by proposing a course of action for further studies or solutions to an existing issue.
Also called the “so what” game, this strategy requires challenging your own ideas by asking yourself “So what?” while you are in the process of developing your conclusion. Once you are done putting your conclusion to paper, go through it with someone who will challenge what you wrote (The Writing Center UNC, n.d.). You can ask a friend to read your conclusion with you and have them ask “So what?” after every statement. This strategy can help you find loopholes in your conclusion and refine it in the process.
This strategy implores you, the researcher, to identify the weak points in your research paper, which include the aspects where your argument is lacking, or if there are instances where your conclusion might be incorrect. This strategy is useful in writing conclusions for scientific papers as well as experiments (Writing Tutorial Services, Indiana University, n.d.).
All relevant data must be interpreted in appropriate depth. Explain how the methodologies or mechanisms used as well as your observations that help arrive at your study’s results. There are times when your study may not yield the results you expected. In cases such as this, explain to your readers why this may have happened. If the results are in line with your expectations, proceed to describe your theory supported by your evidence (Caprette, 1995).
Research studies are motivated by questions. Posing research questions, either to your readers or in general, may help your readers gain a new perspective on the topic, which they may not have held before reading your conclusion. It may also bring your main points together to create or develop a new idea from your research study.
Coming up with an effective conclusion includes avoiding approaches that can hinder you from developing a compelling concluding section of your research paper. Here are some of the strategies to avoid when you are writing your research paper conclusion:
Do not start your conclusion with generic phrases, such as “In conclusion,” “In summary,” “In closing,” etc. While this may be an effective transition during an oral presentation, it does not work the same way on actual paper where your readers can tell exactly which part of your paper they are reading.
The conclusion part of your research paper should have room for any information relevant to your study but is not referenced anywhere else in your research paper. All significant information should be in the body. Conclusion is not the appropriate section to introduce new information as it is where you are supposed to communicate with your readers the value of your research study.
Your research paper’s conclusion must be concise and straightforward. Avoid dwelling on descriptions and interpretations that should have been in the body of your paper, including discussing methodologies and results of your studies in detail. While a brief summary of your study is included in your conclusion, the focus should be more about the insights, evaluations, implications, etc., drawn from your study (Sacred Heart University Library, n.d.).
As you reach the concluding part of your research paper, you may have doubts regarding your research paper. You may question yourself if you have done enough work and may feel compelled to apologize. Do not undermine your authority over your research by expressing doubts regarding your approach and apologizing for not being able to include other methodologies that you may deem to be better than yours. You are aware that you have immersed yourself in your research and have covered all the bases to produce a sound and well-backed research study.
Your conclusion, just like the rest of your research paper, is meant to be analytical, not emotional. Avoid making sentimental statements to appeal to your readers’ emotions as this has the tendency to fall out of character with what should be a logical and scientific research study (The Writing Center UNC, n.d.).