How do I end my paper?

1. Consider a conclusion that

  • leaves the reader with a memorable restatement or an explanation of why the argument matters
  • places the claim or purpose in a larger context

2.  Here are a few ways to conclude:

  • Summary (but more than restatement): take on the “so what?” question
  • Revisit claim (that is, do more than restate, as your reader is now more informed about the paper’s subject)
  • Relate to your reader (“Now it is up to you,” With this information, consider. . .”)
  • Use one of your sources, whether primary or secondary, or even turn to a new source, to capture the main point or nail down its significance
  • Say something new: point to broader implications, further lines of research or inquiry, unanswered questions, actions to take based on information provided in the essay

3. Some Examples

The purpose of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writing is not to convince a reader of anything. If there is one lesson to be learned from studying Emerson it is to never be definite about anything. Complacency in thought leads to limitations. Conformity attempts to suppress the individual. Emerson himself is never settled in his reasoning:

The deeper he went and the more he tried to grapple with fundamental conceptions, the vaguer and more elusive they became in his hands. Did he know what he meant by Spirit or “Over-Soul”? Could he say what he understood by the terms, so constantly on his lips, Nature, Law, God, Benefit, or Beauty? He could not, and the consciousness of the incapacity was so lively within him that he never attempted to give articulation to his own philosophy. His finer instinct kept him from doing that violence to his inspiration. (633)

With respect to social reform, Emerson knows that his greatest contribution is never to be settled in his own beliefs, and never to aspire to be settled. He will not tell his audience what to think. Telling people what they want to hear is never his purpose. The true action of Emerson’s life lies in his ability to provoke individual thought and action in others. One can only act off of one’s own convictions, and Emerson’s convictions are found in his beliefs that language grabs hold of interest, and inspires a person to think.

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Longfellow’s attention to the aspects of fatherhood, and the roles that the father plays in society and in the home, are important in the changing culture of the family in nineteenth-century America. Longfellow was not afraid to show the development of the paternal figure during his time—even including in his poems flawed fathers and fathers managing households. In the nineteenth century, writers gave little attention to fathers or fatherhood, and there was a relative decline in the significance of fatherhood as well (Griswold 13). Longfellow’s contribution was to break out of these barriers and offer his readers poems that speak to fathers and the paternal roles that were being disregarded by so many.

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From the beginning of his career to this most recent work, John McPhee defines nature as a place where people are. His portraits and place-based profiles of people consistently challenge the reader to think in regional terms; and his regional perspective offers readers an indispensable repository of human attitudes toward the natural world. In his more recent books about geology, he invites readers to think about the natural world in unfamiliar ways. For Bailey, McPhee’s later work is most importantly “about nature seen as completely as we can see it.” The consequences of McPhee’s project as a nature writer, from this point of view, are significant. For McPhee’s essential lesson as a nature writer is that our understanding of the natural world is something we must continue to shape as we broaden and deepen our inherently limited human perspectives.

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A.R. Ammons insisted that the earth is not damaged and does not need to be saved. “If we would get off, it would recover itself beautifully in 25,000 years,” he explained in his interview with Schneider. He concluded that there is therefore really no reason to be concerned about the planet, “It can recover, but what we’ve done to it may cause us to eliminate ourselves.” His point is not that we should abandon responsible conduct as members of an ecological community. Rather he underscores that we know very little about the climate and the possibilities of the earth as a total complex. “It would be foolish of us to say definitively. We might even be doing some good and not know it. We may be stalling off the next ice age by raising the temperature a half a degree. Who knows? We don’t know.” For Ammons it is impossible to think nostalgically about the natural world. “I don’t think you can go back at all. I think that the only way to go is forward.”

When Ammons died from complications of cancer on February 25, 2001, he left behind a body of work that speaks to the distinctive role of poetry in a culture of entertainment, and information. Ammons believed that poetic discourse was a source for clarifying the possibilities of human life. As he explained to William Walsh, the poem “is a verbal construct that we encounter, learn from, make value judgments with, and go to sort out possibilities in relation to our own lives in order to try to learn how to live.” Ammons’s poetics accepts our desire for a more intimate and responsive relationship with the world in a more encompassing, if less certain, definition of what it might mean to live in the world on which our own existence depends.

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