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Step 10: Research Paper Conclusion

A research paper should end with a well-constructed conclusion. Many inexperienced writers underestimate the importance of having a solid conclusion to their paper. However, a paper that lacks a good conclusion will often seem incomplete to the reader and seriously detract from the quality of the paper. Learning how to end a paper with an appropriate conclusion is an essential part of becoming a quality writer. A good conclusion will greatly enhance a paper’s coherence and appeal to the reader. 

The specific length of the conclusive section to a paper may vary. Normally, the appropriate length is dependent upon the general length of the paper. A research paper that is very long, such as a dissertation or a graduate thesis, may need a conclusion that extends for several pages. However, the conclusion to paper that is written for an ordinary research assignment may need only a few paragraphs in order to generate an effective conclusion. A shorter paper of a few pages may only need a single paragraph. It is the responsibility of the writer to use their best judgment concerning how long their conclusion needs to be. Being able to make judgment calls of this kind is an essential aspect of becoming a good writer.

Writers who are still developing their skills often make several common mistakes involving the conclusion to their paper. 

Common Mistakes in a Conclusion

Seven Common Conclusion Mistakes

1. Allowing the paper to “trail off” at the end.


2. A conclusion of this kind simply lets the paper fade as the ending is reached. Concluding the paper in this way will leave the reader disappointed and unsatisfied. A weak ending to the paper will also weaken the ability of the paper to convey its central thesis, and diminish the quality of the argument that the writer is attempting to make.


3. Ending the paper in an abrupt manner.


4. Some writers will make the mistake of avoiding a conclusion altogether. The arguments the writer wishes to make, or facts and information they wish to convey, will be stated throughout the body of the paper. However, the writer will fail to include a proper conclusion at the end. A paper that is written in this manner will seem to end very abruptly to the reader, and greatly detract of the paper’s overall quality.


5. Providing a conclusion that lacks the appropriate length.


6. At times writers will attempt to conclude a paper with only a few sentences, or even a single sentence. Often endings of this kind will merely attempt to restate the thesis of the paper in a crude or simplistic manner. An ending of this kind conveys a sense of laziness on the part of the writer. A good conclusion to a paper should be at least one solid paragraph long at the bare minimum. A paper of any substantial length will probably need a conclusion of several paragraphs in order to effectively achieve a conclusion’s purpose. 


7. Ending the paper with a conclusion that lacks focus, or is filled with extraneous or inappropriate material.


The conclusion to a paper should strive for precision. The conclusion should be concise and to the point, and avoid the inclusion of facts or opinions that are not directly related to the paper’s main points. Material of this type should be included in the body of the paper, and not in the conclusion. 

A helpful analogy might be for the writer to think of the conclusion to a paper as the equivalent of a coda to a piece of music. Composers and songwriters will include a coda following the climax of a musical piece. The climax normally occurs towards the end of the composition. However, the coda is included afterward in a way that allows the listener to revisit the main body of the composition or song, and provide the listener with a sense of perspective, balance, and summation. The conclusion to a written work serves a similar purpose. The writer should begin their paper with an appropriate introduction of their topic, followed a general statement of their thesis. The writer will then develop their thesis through the body of the paper by stating the facts and arguments the writer wishes to present. The latter sections or paragraphs of the body should constitute the “climax” of the paper where the writer’s core thesis is finalized. The conclusion then serves as the equivalent of the paper’s “coda” where the reader is able to revisit the paper’s central themes, and be presented with a summation of the writer’s principal message in a way that provides the reader with a sense of closure. 

Yet another difficulty some writers encounter when drafting a conclusion to their paper is to simply make writing the conclusion more complicated than it needs to be. It should go without saying that the conclusion should be one of the last, if not the very last, part of the paper that is written, with the possible exception of prefaces, forewords, and appendices. When the time comes for the writer to write the conclusion, the writer will already be very familiar with the paper’s contents, evidence presented, factual arguments, rebuttal to counterarguments, general themes, and core thesis. The conclusion merely summarizes the ideas, information, and arguments that have already been presented. The writer is not conducting research or formulating a thesis in the conclusion. Rather, the writer is simply restating the findings of research that has already been done. 

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Basic Features of a Conclusion

Basic Features of a Conclusion

1. Restate Principal Topic


2. Restate Principal Arguments


3. Summarize Counterpoints


4. Future Research


Restate Paper's Principal Topic 

At this point, the topic does not need to be explained in excessive detail. The reader is already familiar with the topic. Rather, the idea is to refresh the reader’s memory with a clear and concise statement of the core subject of the paper. 

Restate Principal Arguments

This aspect of the conclusion should essentially a repeat of the thesis statement that was included in the original introduction, most likely at the end of the opening paragraph. What is the primary idea the writer is attempting to convey to the reader? This idea should be clearly stated in the conclusion. 

Summarize Counterpoints

A vitally important aspect of writing a convincing research paper is to effectively address points of view that offer different interpretations of the issue or research involved other than the writer’s own. The conclusion to a research paper should revisit the core arguments offered by opposing points of view with a brief explanation of why the writer considers these arguments to be mistaken. Once again, it is important to focused and concise. The writer is not rewriting their paper in the conclusion, but only summarizing its main parts. 

Future Research

A good rule of thumb for scholars is to remember that there is rarely any such thing as a settled argument when it comes to intellectual debates. The final aspect of the conclusion should offer suggestions of how the issues raised by the paper’s core ideas might be explored in the future. The writer might include a reference to additional questions they encountered while writing the paper or conducting the research. There might also be mention of aspects of the research and related questions that the writer feels the paper did not address effectively. 

Sample Research Conclusion

Let’s pretend a writer is doing a research paper exploring the question of to what degree the anti-Vietnam War protest movement of the 1960s was effective in bringing about the withdrawal of the United States from the conflict in Vietnam. This is one of many, many issues that are controversial among historians and political scientists.

Poorly Constructed Conclusion Example

The United States finally withdrew all of its troops from Vietnam in 1973. This was an important event for the antiwar movement and for the American people. The withdrawal occurred amidst the growing Watergate scandal, and served as one more indication of the failure of the Nixon presidency. The end of American involvement in Vietnam represented the culmination of the dedication given to their cause by the great many antiwar activists who participated in the movement. It further represented a definitive moment in the generational conflict between young American and their elders that emerged during the 1960s as American participation in the war escalated. This victory and the conflict from which it emerged would continue to shape American society and politics in the ensuing decades as conservative forces regrouped, and went on the offensive, resulting in the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s. 

Notice that the above paragraph simply states an opinion. It is not clear from this paragraph what the topic of the paper or its central thesis actually is. Nor is it clear how a thesis is supported by research and argument in the body of the paper. No indication is given as to what opposing viewpoints to the author’s own might be. The paragraph conveys the impression that the debate concerning the issues involved is settled, and that there are no further ideas or questions that need to be addressed. Lastly, the paragraph ends very abruptly and leaves the reader with the feeling that the paper is incomplete. An

Properly Constructed Conclusion Example

Basic Features of a Conclusion

For four decades, historians and political scientists have debated the degree to which the anti-Vietnam War movement was the catalyst that ultimately brought about the withdrawal of the United States from Vietnam in 1973.


The evidence drawn from a voluminous body of sources indicates that the antiwar movement grew in direct proportion to the war’s escalating unpopularity among the American people. The highly visible and vocal antiwar movement of the period reflected this growing popular antiwar sentiment.


It has been argued that the militancy of many within the antiwar movement had an alienating effect on the wider body of the American public that actually diminished antiwar sentiment, and postponed the end of American involvement. However, research indicates the intensification of antiwar feelings among Americans actually expanded during precisely the time that the antiwar movement was taking a more militant turn. Yet a legacy of this era was an escalation of cultural conflict that generated a conservative backlash during later decades.


Further research is needed concerning the question of to what degree the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s was an effective regrouping of conservative forces that suffered defeat during the Nixon presidency, and to what degree the growing conservative militancy of later years paralleled the militancy of the antiwar movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s 

Observe that the concluding paragraph provided above clearly restates the topic of the paper (the role of the antiwar movement in ending American involvement in Vietnam). The thesis of the paper is also restated (the growth of the antiwar movement reflected public opinion of the era). Counterarguments are acknowledged (the antiwar movement had an alienating effect on the general public that weakened antiwar sentiment). The rebuttal to this argument is summarized in the paragraph, but questions raised by the debate are recognized and suggested as topics for further research. 


The conclusion should provide the reader with a sense of finality. The reader should feel that writer has made the point they wish to make, and supported their thesis by effectively arguing their case. However, the conclusion should pique the reader’s curiosity, and instill in the reader a desire to learn more about ideas, issues, and questions that are raised by the paper.

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