“So, what is purpose of a conclusion? ” The young faces of my seventh grade students stare back at me with a look of vague emptiness in their eyes, squinting slightly in reluctant concentration. Finally, a dim light emerges from the darkness, her voice hesitant, “Um…for summarizing what you said in the essay? “Yes. Good. That’s what many of you have been taught, and there is a reason for that. ” A sea of hands rise along with a hushed laughter. “But I don’t understand,” a student questions. “If we’re not supposed to summarize in a conclusion, then what are we supposed to do? This article answers this question by explaining the true purpose of an essay conclusion and how to write one. The approach the article presents is purposefully designed to apply to any essay topic and to be useful for anyone learning how to write a good essay, ranging from middle school and high school students through college students and adults. Welcome. Let’s get started!
In elementary school, most of us were taught to write a conclusion by summarizing what we said in the essay. This is effective at the beginning levels of writing because organizing our thinking in writing is new. Writing conclusions this way gives beginning writers a chance to check the logic of their thinking and provides an easy way for teachers to check for understanding. While effective as a teaching tool, it is not effective writing. In real writing, summarizing in a conclusion is, at best, redundant and boring. At worst it can be insulting for your reader. I think my writing was confusing the first time, so I’m going to go over it again. You (the reader) are not smart enough to remember what I just said, so I’m going to say it again. Suffice it to say, neither of these things is likely to work very well. To make this discussion clear, here is a sample conclusion written the “wrong way.” This is written at the level one might expect from a student in late middle school or early high school.
These points are just as relevant to college students and adults, however, because, while the points they make might be more nuanced and detailed, many still write conclusions that follow the same basic pattern. Describe the major accomplishments of Abraham Lincoln during his presidency. As you can see, Abraham Lincoln accomplished many great things during his time as president of the United States. He saw the United States through the Civil War, helping to keep the country from falling apart. Over the course of the war, he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all the African Americans in the United States from slavery. The conclusion above lists a great many accomplishments of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, so it appears to be a reasonably sound conclusion. Unfortunately, this would simply be a listing of points already made in more detail earlier in the essay, robbing it of any chance it might have had to add value to the essay. So if summarizing in a conclusion is the wrong approach, what is the right approach? The answer lies in clearly understanding the real purpose of a conclusion.
The main arguments and details of whatever subject you have written about have already been covered in the introduction and body of the essay. The conclusion is your opportunity to show the reader why it matters by answering the question, “So what? Approaching a conclusion in this way is sometimes difficult for students because, since they rarely choose the topic they are writing about, they may not especially care why it matters. For them, it is simply a required task to pass the class. The challenge before any good writer, however, is to take the subject they are given, regardless of their own personal interest in it, and dig for the deeper meaning it holds—to answer the question, “So what? Answering the question, “So what? To answer this question, connect what you’ve written about to something bigger than itself. At the collegiate level, this is often done by tying what has been written to the work of others who have done similar work in the field, explaining how it supports or challenges the ideas of other writers and thinkers. Middle school and high school students—along with college students and adults who are writing outside of their specific fields of knowledge—often don’t have enough background in the subjects they are writing about to do this; they need an alternative. The strongest, most universal way to approach this question is to tie what you have written about to bigger, more universal ideas. Relate what you have written to the universal human experience. When I bring up the idea of the universal human experience in my classes, the most common response is, “Huh? ” Put simply, the universal human experience is those experiences common to the entire human race throughout time. To make this more clear, here is a list of different aspects of the universal human experience.
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