Conclusions are often one of the most confusing parts of a humanities paper, mainly because they can go a few different ways. Additionally, the conclusion is your last chance to convince your reader of your ideas, meaning that there can be a lot of pressure on one simple paragraph.
However, because there are a few different ways to wrap up humanities papers, you have options. Decide which path will work best for your particular paper. You will probably end up with a combination of the following ideas.
A summary is employed in most papers within the humanities.
A restatement of your argument/main points, etc., is important, but it shouldn’t be all you have in your conclusion. Make sure you include some of the other conclusion ideas as well.
When writing a summary, use your introduction/working thesis/thesis as a guide; don’t include anything that you didn’t already write about!
Important: Summaries are more useful in longer papers (steer away from having an in-depth review of a 2 page paper).
Predictions work well in research/descriptive papers.
To create a prediction conclusion, you will typically include some summary and then look at possible developments. Think of questions for yourself to answer about your topic and what could happen with it in the future. For example, in what direction could new research go? What will happen if a situation doesn’t change?
One way to restate AND to look forward is to look at your ideas/subject in a larger context. For example, if you are writing about the benefits of traditional Chinese medicine, you could look at how it fits into the scene of modern medicine and how the two could work together. You discuss your core ideas but in a “looking-forward” way.
Important: Even though this is more of an open-ended ending to a paper, make sure you still have closure. Start discussing predictions after you have wrapped up the topics you have included in your paper.
Answering this question works well in literary analysis papers, research papers, personal narratives, and more.
You will probably include some summary before you answer the “so what?” question. If the paper is shorter, you might have only one sentence of summary and then go straight into the significance. Answering questions can be helpful; for example, you could explain why people should care about your topic. Why do you care about it? What are its implications? What does it all mean? Etc.
Similar to the “prediction” conclusion, discussing your ideas in a larger context will help you to unpack the significance. If you are writing about the treatment of women throughout history, you can look at your sources in the context of modern organizations that benefit women and explain how historical documents allow people to learn from historical mistakes instead of repeating them.
Call to action/recommendation
A call to action is often found in argumentative papers.
The call to action will be parallel with the rest of your paper; it should be the culmination of everything you have said in the body of the paper. Make sure you have a solid idea — do not include a throw-away idea. For example, if you are writing about air pollution, do not say something like “everyone should ride a bike to work,” and then end your paper. Think through the solution and make it realistic.
A quotation could be included in literary analysis papers, research papers, and more.
Including a quotation in your conclusion is an option. However, make sure you are not introducing brand-new information; the quote should shed more light on your subject or restate your point/main idea. One of the main goals of the conclusion is to leave your reader with a clear idea of your paper. Make sure you choose a quote that will stick with your reader and drive home the point of your paper.
The Harvard Writing Center has an example of how to use a quote in your conclusion: if you’ve written your whole paper about a short story, find a quote from the author about the short story or about the subject matter.
Important: Never end your paper with a quotation! Make sure you include some analysis (your own words) after the quote.
Don’t include these phrases: in summary … in conclusion … finally … so next time you … the end. They work in spoken English (a presentation), but are often obnoxious in written work.
Try writing your conclusion first, then your body paragraphs, and then your introduction. Breaking up the usual order of essay-writing will give you a new perspective on the conclusion and can result in a fresher, more interesting conclusion. Of course, you will revise this conclusion once you have written the rest of your paper, but it is often very useful in determining the structure of your essay (because you know where you want to end up!)
Think about the “triangle” introduction — it starts wider and goes down to a point (your thesis). Your conclusion will probably “look” like the opposite of this: it will start at a point (a restatement of your thesis) and broaden out to your “so what?” question.
Don’t include random information that didn’t fit in the body of your essay.
Make sure your conclusion fits with the rest of the paper; it should have the same tone and writing style. If your paper is analytical, don’t fill your conclusion with personal opinion.
Look at the assignment sheet! You can often find helpful hints. Perhaps there is one question in the prompt that you can answer as part of your “so what?” question.