How to write a conclusion

Summary

  • You can put together a robust conclusions section using some of the many formulae out there. They will guide you on how to write a conclusion. Use your discretion and decide what to include and what to leave out.
  • Conclusions for dissertations, theses and research articles can be very different in content from your standard essay. Get to know the differences before you start writing.
  • In a dissertation or thesis, it is common to write a conclusion at the end of each chapter as well as a much larger one towards the end. This helps to stop the reader from getting lost in the many pages of your work.
  • Remember to give your readers a recommendation for future work. This will give other researchers the chance to build on your work and would greatly benefit your field all thanks to you.
'The end' written in sand to symbolise how to write a conclusion.
The conclusions section is one of the most-read sections so take the opportunity to emphasise the contributions that your work has made to the field as well as summarising your important findings.

Now you’ve finally reached the end. You can wrap things up and drive home your final thoughts. Bear in mind that along with the abstract the conclusions is the most read section of your document. So, it has to be on point to grab the attention of your readers. I recommend checking out my other blog for tips and advice on writing a top-quality dissertation. I also have other blogs that go into more depth about writing other sections including the abstract, introduction, methods, results and discussion.

Making your conclusion compelling can be challenging. But you can focus on certain formulae on how to write a conclusion that will help you to bring out the interesting parts of your work.

One formula

I’ll cover one approach for writing your conclusion which is more like a guide that doesn’t need to be followed strictly. Use your own discretion and decide which elements to include and which to leave out. Have a look at some of these points that Trzeciak and Mackay1 recommend using in a conclusion:

  • Summary of the major points and findings of your work.
  • Deductions made from these points and findings.
  • Your own opinion on the matters that have been discussed.
  • Mention of any limitations of your work.
  • Recommendation for future work.
  • The impetus for future work.

Example

As an example, let’s have a look at a conclusions section that I wrote for one of my scientific articles. In this article, I reported the findings for my PhD research. It involved measuring the flow of hydrogen gas through various dense metal foil membranes using something called a membrane permeability rig (MPR). Below, you can see extracts of the conclusions section from this article. Try not to get too bogged down by the technical jargon, however, I will go through this conclusion to show where I have used aspects of the approach suggested by Trzeciak and Mackay. I will go on to give examples of a summary, deduction and recommendation for future work.

Summary

In the first paragraph, I give a general summary of my findings explaining to the reader what was done in my research. It’s a good way to bring the reader into your final section without throwing them into the deep end. Keep it general at first.

“For the first time, the hydrogen permeability of surface modified Pd60Cu40 wt% membranes have successfully been measured in this work. For a valid assessment, membranes which have completed the same number of cycles under the same test conditions in the MPR system are compared.”

Deduction

I then present a deduction in a later paragraph based on the findings presented in the article. I argue that hydrogen throughput (permeability) is higher in a membrane that has a palladium (Pd) coating on one side because this thin coating is great at absorbing hydrogen.

“The surface modified membranes achieved a relatively higher hydrogen permeability at 450 °C during the initial third cycle in comparison to Membrane A at the corresponding temperature and cycle… This increased hydrogen concentration gradient is likely the cause of the relatively higher hydrogen permeability displayed by Membranes B-F, C-F and D-F.”

Recommendation for future work

Finally, I cap off the conclusions section by giving the reader an idea for future work. I recommend that my membranes could have potential to work in a particular corrosive environment (H2S) because of the palladium coating which could create a protective barrier.

“Given reports of the Pd-rich Pd–Cu FCC phase exhibiting greater resistance to H2S contamination compared to the Pd–Cu BCC phase [10,11,59], the surface modified Pd–Cu membranes investigated in this work may have potential to separate hydrogen from a gas mixture containing H2S under typical membrane operating conditions with improved durability.”

How you write your conclusion depends on the type of assignment

There are some key differences when writing a conclusion for a basic essay and more in-depth work such as dissertations, theses and research articles. Here are some of them:

  • In addition to a general conclusions section, it can be common to write a conclusion at the end of each chapter of a dissertation or thesis. Bear in mind that these assignments can be hundreds of pages long containing 50,000 words or more. So, it may be necessary to have these mini conclusions included to give readers an overview of your chapter and prevent them from getting lost.
  • For the conclusion of a dissertation, thesis or research article you tend not to provide your personal opinion on any discussed matter. If anything, it’s more impersonal and strictly focuses on analysing results using scientific reasoning.
  • For chapter conclusions, you need to really cover what was presented in that chapter and remind the readers of all of your important findings. Then, you can introduce readers on what to expect in the next chapter.
  • In the general conclusions section of a dissertation, it’s always useful to mention any limitations of your research and possible improvements to overcome them. It’s always good to be transparent about these things and critical of your own work but do it positively. Remember to emphasise the contributions your hard work has made to your field too.
  • As noted earlier, dissertations and theses tend to include recommendations for future work so either you or someone else can pick the ball up and carry it to the next exciting destination.

Handy tips

  • It may be that your type of assignment may not need a conclusions section so double-check with your institution/company or supervisor.
  • Always draw conclusions based on the evidence that you have provided rather than on data found elsewhere. Otherwise, this will confuse and frustrate readers.
  • Always be consistent with your writing style. Use the third person singular passive voice in your conclusion as well as in other sections.
  • When in doubt, refer to similar works to get an idea of how to write your conclusion. They can serve as a guide to help you produce a conclusion that will round off your work nicely.

References

1J. Trzaciak, S.E. Mackay, Study Skills for Academic Writing, Prentice Hall, New York (1994).

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Naser Al-Mufachi
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