The conclusion is the final paragraph of an essay, research paper, bachelor’s thesis, or master’s thesis. Instead of the term conclusion, synonymous expressions like results, résumé, upshot, or bottom line may be used.
The main objective of a conclusion is to provide an answer/resolution to the research question posed in the introduction. Moreover, the conclusion makes clear how the paper makes a valuable contribution to a particular field of research. Additionally, weaknesses are mentioned and discussed, and conclusions are drawn which lead to suggestions for future research.
A conclusion is the last section or paragraph in any piece of academic writing work. It basically summarizes the main results, findings or central ideas of the writing. Depending on the type of thesis or report that you’re writing, the conclusion may be a call to action designed to motivate readers. However, the main purpose of most conclusions is to summarize what was learned throughout the report/thesis.
How long your conclusion is, depends on the length of your academic work. As a rule of thumb, the conclusion should generally make up 5%-10% of your word count.
Calculated based on the total length of the research paper:
• Short research papers: one page (approximately)
• Bachelor’s and master’s thesis: three to five text pages
The following aspects are included in a conclusion:
- Main ideas/summary
- Results: Answering the research question
- Criticism/weaknesses and limitations
- Generalisability of results/impact of results
- Outlook (variable)
Avoid bringing in new ideas that were not discussed in the main body of the thesis or dissertation. Remember that the deep analysis and discussion of variables and results has already occured in the body paragraphs. The conclusion needs to summarise these aspects whilst linking them to the research questions and including any criticism or weaknesses of the research with an outlook to the future.
The conclusion should provide an answer to the research question(s) and help the reader to quickly access the main results. The main results should be easy to read in their summarized form. Finally, it should highlight the coherent structure and line of argument in the research paper.
The introduction sets the scene and poses the research questions and thesis statement, whilst the conclusion addresses the latter. The two written parts are not interconnected but present different directions and views of the main body of the text. Essentially, the introduction will introduce your topic to the reader and the conclusion will summarize the topic and any research that was conducted.
a) Do not underestimate the conclusion—it must have a lasting effect.
b) NEVER introduce new ideas that are not mentioned in the main body of the text.
c) No results also count as results: Do not cover up non-results by claiming things that your analysis fails to show.
You can find examples of conclusions on our blog.
The following aspects are part of a sound conclusion:
Give an overview of the logical structure of your paper and highlight the findings of the individual chapters (cf. Oertner, St. John & Thelen 2014: 31).
Link your results to the research question(s): There must be a harmony/balance between your research question(s), which is/are derived from a broader topic, and the answers presented in your conclusion (cf. Bänsch & Alewell 2013: 6).
Make clear how your results fit into the field of research but be critical about the generalisability of your findings (cf. Winter 2004: 76). Discuss weaknesses and limitations (cf. Oertner, St. John & Thelen 2014: 31).
Address open questions (cf. Samac, Prenner & Schwetz 2014: 74) and give suggestions for future research (cf. Franck 2004: 199).
Project your results into the future, describe future developments, predict what impact your results can have on practice (cf. Stickel-Wolf & Wolf 2013: 208).
The summary of the main ideas and all other aspects listed under I. reflect on the paper as such (cf. Stickel-Wolf & Wolf 2013: 207). The outlook, however, is a part of the conclusion that does not focus on what has been done but goes a step further by tracing (possible) future developments (cf. Rossig & Prätsch 2005:76). Whether or not it makes sense to provide an outlook depends on the topic.
Length of a Conclusion
One of the most frequently asked questions concerns the approximate length of the conclusion. Although there is no universal standard as such, you can derive the length of the conclusion from the total length of the paper.
Thus, the total length serves as the basis for calculating the length of the conclusion (cf. Stickel-Wolf & Wolf 2013: 207; Brauner & Vollmer 2004: 117).
For a Bachelor’s thesis, it is recommended that the conclusion be two- to three-pages in length (cf. Samac, Prenner & Schwetz 2014: 74). In contrast, it is sufficient to conclude a seminar paper with a few sentences and a short closing remark (cf. Brauner & Vollmer 2004: 117).
Here are a few examples showing the language use in a conclusion—i.e. how to report, comment, or speculate on your findings (based on Hewings 1993 as quoted in Paltridge & Starfield 2007: 152–153).
Dos and Don’ts
Below is a short list of what to focus on and what to avoid in your conclusion.
- Take enough time to write your conclusion
- List your most important findings
- Summarize—avoid lengthy repetitions
- Stay as objective as possible
- Keep in mind that the conclusion will impact the overall judgement of your text
- Underestimate the impact of your conclusion
- Bring in new ideas you have not mentioned before
- Give a positive appraisal of your work
- Appeal to the reader to carry out more research
- Use exaggerated phrases
- Diminish the findings of your paper
(cf. Andermann, Drees & Grätz 2006: 87; Bänsch & Alewell 2013: 6, 86; Esselborn-Krumbiegel 2002: 143; Franck 2004: 200f.; Franck & Stary 2009: 142, 156, 201; Oertner, St. John & Thelen 2014: 31; Rossig & Prätsch 2005: 76; Winter 2004: 75)
Important Match with Your Introduction
The conclusion is a self-contained part of your research paper—i.e. it can be read and understood as a stand-alone, complete text (cf. Oertner, St. John & Thelen 2014: 31). It never just repeats what has been said in the main body of the research paper. Still, it functions as one part of the whole text.
The introduction sets the scene and introduces the research question(s); the conclusion takes them up again to provide an answer based on the findings discussed in the main part.
There is a connection between the introduction and the conclusion—a connection that you must establish. The two parts do not actually build on one another, but they point towards the main body from different angles (cf. Brauner & Vollmer 2004: 121).
Tip: It is easier to write the main body first. After the main body, you can focus on writing your conclusion. The very last thing you should write is the introduction.
By then, you will have gained a good overview of your work and also know where you ended up, which means you know what your results look like. Bridging the gap between conclusion and introduction is easier than the other way around: Now you know what you are setting the scene for.
An example to illustrate the connection between introduction and conclusion
Topic: The British Northern Ireland politics 1968–1974 (cf. Esselborn-Krumbiegel 2002: 143)
- Introduction: Analyzing the flaws of British Northern Ireland politics can help to analyze the crisis from a historical perspective.
- Conclusion: Even post-millennial politicians try to solve new crises by drawing on old strategies, although they have proved ineffective in the past.
Writing a research paper can be an arduous task. You feel relieved after finishing the main body of the text. All you need is some sort of conclusion now—a nice ending summarize all of your work up. At the same time, you might feel you already said everything in the main part.
However, it is important not to run out of steam in the end, for the following reasons:
1. the conclusion guides the reader, who may have lost the thread and may need a summary of the main objectives and ideas to get back on track (cf. Winter 2004: 75)
2. the conclusion provides an answer to the research question, obtained through your research and data analysis (cf. Samac, Prenner & Schwetz 2014: 74).
3. a well-written conclusion shows that you are a competent and skillful writer. Can you portray your results well? Do you show a good level of abstract thinking (cf. Brauner & Vollmer 2004: 121)?
4. in your conclusion, you have to make clear how your research paper fits into the given field of research and how your work is a novel contribution. What can your paper offer to the reader (cf. Andermann, Drees & Grätz 2006: 87)?
It is important to understand that a badly written conclusion leaves a negative impression that can overshadow even a very well-written main part. From your perspective, as the author, the results obtained are very clear and straightforward. However, it is important to consider the perspective of the reader, who has not studied this topic as thoroughly as you have. Thus, a sound conclusion not only offers readers a special service, it also convinces them that your paper makes a valuable contribution to the field and that reading it is worth their while.
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In a Nutshell
- The conclusion of a bachelor’s thesis or master’s thesis is often referred to as perspectives, outlook, resumé, or results, but all those terms denote the same concept—namely an evaluative summary of the main findings.
- The conclusion answers the research question(s) and maintains a clear link with the initially stated objectives of research; it serves to guide the reader and makes clear how the paper fits into the larger context of a particular field of research. A good grasp of the main ideas and coherences and abstract thinking ability are characteristics of competent authors.
- The length of the conclusion can be calculated based on the total length and complexity of the paper. For short-term papers, it should not exceed a page, but for longer research papers such as a bachelor’s thesis or master’s thesis, the conclusion should comprise three to five pages approximately.
- In your conclusion, you should at first give an overview of the structure of the research paper, then answer the research question; after highlighting limitations and weaknesses you can talk about the implications of your paper. What is more, you should make suggestions for future research (and give an outlook if possible).
- Introduction and conclusion are interconnected, which means that the introduction poses the questions and the conclusion answers them (based on the research discussed in the main body of the text).
- Do not underestimate the conclusion, as it is the last bit of text to be read and thus has the power to make a lasting (positive or negative) impression
- Avoid bringing in new ideas that you have not discussed in the main body of text.
- On a stylistic level, you should neither praise your own achievement nor belittle it. Be objective and to the point. In addition, you must avoid merely repeating longer paragraphs of the main body of the text, or appealing to reader by drawing on emotional/sensational formulations and phrases.
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