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Supervisor's view

"Conclusions are often missed opportunities. Why just restate what's gone before? Argue for its significance or implications. Or perhaps save a twist for the end, a new example or angle or even a qualification, to bring things to a sharper point. You can combine a bit of new thinking with a satisfying end to your argument."

Conclusions are often difficult to write without feeling that they are repetitive and somewhat redundant. You could think of the purpose of a conclusion as being to return the reader's perspective from close focus on the individual detailed points in the main body of your essay, to the broader overall argument that you are making and its wider implications. You could touch on the points you have made in the main body, but a conclusion can be much more than a simple recapitulation or summary of what you've already said. A conclusion could:

  • Show that you have achieved what you set out to do. 
    • Revisit the question or problem as you interpreted it in your introduction. You could think of your conclusion therefore as presenting the overall answer to the question or solution to the problem.
    • Don't feel you have to offer a neat, definitive answer which resolves all the issues with no loose ends. If there are any ambiguities, complexities or unresolvable aspects left outstanding, acknowledge them in your conclusion to show that you are aware of the subtleties of the issue, but do not 'sit on the fence' by refusing to offer a view on issues which can be resolved.
  • Show that you are aware of the wider implications of the issue, and your own argument.
    • Students are often advised not to include new information in the conclusion. This advice need not be understood too literally - your conclusion should be an ending to your essay but you can certainly note new directions or angles on the issue that could not be covered in the confines of a supervision essay, or which arise out of your argument. You could indicate how your argument impacts on other issues, or outline work that could develop your ideas further, or indicate how your work contributes to a wider discussion.

Read the following conclusion to the essay on Shakespeare's Problem Plays as a Medium for Argument, and assess the effectiveness of the conclusion, as it relates to the introduction in the previous section:

Although Shakespeare's problem plays obviously raise moral questions and often stage actual moral arguments, this is not the means by which Shakespeare argues through them. An analysis of the plays' timing and structure, and of their use of suggestion to affect audience sympathy, demonstrates intentionality on Shakespeare's part; there is a meaningful sense in which he is arguing. He does so in a way which is overwhelmingly negational, in the sense that the audience is encouraged to feel differently about a situation fro the way in which the superficial trappings of that situation would seem to necessitate, making the problem plays quite distinctively argumentative. In either a tragedy or a comedy the intention is for the situation and the emotion to converge, whereas in the problem plays, Shakespeare actively encourages an oppositional relationship.

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