Should I conclude with a summary of my main points?

Many new college students have been trained to conclude their essays by repeating the thesis and/or summarizing the main points. Unfortunately, most college instructors label such conclusions as "weak."

In general, try to avoid the summary conclusion unless your paper is long enough or complex enough that you feel the reader needs you to summarize the main points for them at the end in order to prevent confusion.

If you are having a difficult time figuring out what to say in the conclusion, try one of the following suggestions.

Four Conclusion Ideas

Full Circle (reference back to the introduction)

Often an effective conclusion refers back to something in the introduction and expands upon it. For example, if you started with a surprising fact in the introduction, you may want to refer back to the fact and discuss it further in the conclusion. Likewise, if you started a story in the introduction, you may be able to finish telling it in the conclusion.

This type of conclusion is satisfying to the reader because it suggests a sense of completeness. It also gives the impression that the writer is very much in control and is doing things for a reason.

If you can't figure out what to say in the conclusion, examine your introduction; it may provide you with an idea.

Example (from an essay in which the introduction explains how the writer and her husband had difficulty pronouncing their own names because they had cerebral palsy, which caused them to give fake names when making dinner reservations and which led them to name their son "David," in part, because it was easy to pronounce):

Whenever we make dinner reservations now, we give David's name, even when he doesn't come along. I'm no longer worried about running into someone we know. I have a simple explanation: "David's our son," I'd say. "We keep him in mind wherever we go."
(Denise Sherer Jacobson, "David")

Inspire the Reader to Action

Sometimes it makes sense to conclude by telling the reader what you want him or her to do. For example, if your essay discusses the problems caused by acid rain, your conclusion might offer specific suggestions that the reader could follow to help eliminate pollution.

Obviously, this will not work with all topics, but if you choose to do it, try to be specific with your suggestions.

Example: How do we not accept the myth of the ideal body? To do that we need to seriously think about how we feel about our bodies, what we believe about our bodies, and why we feel or believe that way. It is important to attend to one's thoughts and feelings and note any association with eating habits. Do not use food to mask problems that you are avoiding or problems that are too painful for you to face. Eat a well balanced diet regularly without feeling guilty, and have food become a normal part of life, rather than the focus of your life.
(Karlene Robinson, "In Pursuit of the Impossible Body Image")

Answer the Question "So what?"

If you haven't done it elsewhere in the essay, your conclusion should explain to the reader why your topic is important and why the reader should care. Often this can be done by explaining how your topic fits into the "big picture" of the larger world.

Example: That night, for the last time in my life but one-for I was a big boy twelve years old-I cried. I cried, in bed alone, and couldn't stop. I buried my head under the quilts, but my aunt heard me. She woke up and told my uncle I was crying because the Holy Ghost had come into my life, and because I had seen Jesus. But I was really crying because I couldn't bear to tell her that I had lied, that I had deceived everybody in the church, that I hadn't seen Jesus, and that now I didn't believe there was a Jesus anymore, since he didn't come to help me.
(Langston Hughes, "Salvation")

Final Example/Image

Sometimes it is useful to conclude with a powerful final example/image that will stick in the reader's mind and really help him/her remember your topic and your point.

Example (from an essay about that fact that job recruiters decide whether or not to hire you based on your appearance and first impressions. The writer describes an experiment that he conducted by asking the recruiters to snap their fingers as soon as they had decided not to hire the candidate and timing them on a stopwatch):

It went like this.
First candidate: 38 seconds after the candidate sat down: Snap!
Second candidate: 1 minute, 42 seconds: Snap!
Third candidate: 45 seconds: Snap!
One recruiter was particularly adamant, insisting that he didn't rush to judgment on candidates. I asked him to participate in the snapping experiment. He went out into the lobby, picked up his first candidate of the day, and headed for the interview room.
As he passed me in the hall, he glared at me. And his fingers went "Snap!"
(Kirby Stanat, "How to Take a Job Interview")

Note: Sometimes you can combine two or more of these suggestions. For example, Hughes' conclusion above (see #3) both explains "so what?" and presents the powerful final image of him alone crying in his room.