Contributing Blogger: Regina Mills
I don’t know about you, but conclusions have been one of the most difficult parts of the writing process for me. Sometimes my conclusion doesn’t seem to match my claims in the body or even the thesis I offered in the introduction. I want to end on something amazing so badly that I write the introduction to a new paper that I have not really discussed. While bold, it’s not a very strong way to end a paper. In order to avoid this issue, I have really focused on the last couple sentences of my paper.
If it is essential to hook your audience in at the beginning of your introduction, then it is equally crucial to a close with both
1) a sense of further need for exploration and
2) a feeling that things have ‘come full-circle.’
There are several good websites that offer advice about the conclusion as a whole (such as here and a video here), but for the purpose of this post, I will only talk about the very last sentences of this elusive paragraph. I like to think of these as ‘exit-hooks’ since they keep the reader’s attention on the topic, even as you signal the end of your own discussion about it.
Here are a few exit-hook suggestions you might try in your next paper:
Coming full circle: This strategy requires you to connect back to the hook you used in your introduction. So if you started with an anecdote about why your professor bans technology in her classroom (as a student of mine did very successfully), you could come full circle by returning to that anecdote and connecting to what you discussed and why it matters.
Possible pitfalls: Your hook may not have the possibility of returning full circle, so attempting to may make it sound forced; or perhaps the connection you try to make doesn’t make sense and thus leaves the reader on a negative note of confusion.
Provocative Question/Statement: End with a question or statement that takes what you have argued and asks the reader to think beyond it. This is especially helpful in answering the “so what?” question, and it gives us a reason to find out more about the topic or to explore different aspects that you did not have space to explore sufficiently.
Possible pitfalls: it’s very easy to have this sound like a 3rd-grader asked it (ex. “What do you think Shakespeare meant to say?”); try not to direct your question directly to the reader. The question may also be leading and thus not provoke multiple answers to be explored
Statistic/Quotation: One way that you can provoke additional thought about your paper is to offer another quotation or statistic (maybe one you already discussed but maybe one you haven’t) that presents an answer to the “so what?” question. This quotation might be a question that a scholar or author has asked, thus giving it more perceived authority
Possible pitfalls: may seem like you are offering new information (a big no-no in a conclusion); you may forget or lack an explanation of the statistic or quotation.
These are just a few ways that you can clinch your argument and leave your audience wanting to learn more about your topic. Exit-hooks can be difficult because they must connect back to the rest of your paper very well. Since they are the last words in the paper (and can’t be explained by another paragraph), it may be a good idea to try out a couple of kinds, as papers in different disciplines may need to end radically differently in order to succeed. But once you find that successful line(s), your audience will be blown away.
Regina Mills is a PhD student in English (Ethnic and Third World Literature) at UT-Austin who works at the Undergraduate Writing Center and is an Assistant Instructor in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing. She has a Master’s of Education in Secondary English Education from Arizona State University. Her current research interests are in Latin@ literature, Central American memoirs, immigrant literature, feminist theory, and auto/biography studies.
by Sophie Herron of Story to College
Last Friday we worked on how to identify your Pivot, the key moment or climax of your college essay, as the first step to make sure your essay meets the three requirements of the form: that your college essay needs to be short and energetic, and reveal your character.
Today, we’re going to jump right into the next step of revising your essay: The End. We’ll look at the most important dos and don’ts, and 5 techniques you can use in your own essay.
We’re working on the end today because:
1. It’s harder to get right than the beginning. Sorry. It just is.
2. Having a good, clear ending helps you write & revise the rest of your story.
3. It’s the last thing an admissions officer will read, so it’s especially important.
All right, enough chatter. On to the good stuff.
The Most Important Do and Don’t of College Essay Endings
DO: End in the action.
End right after your pivot, or key moment. I constantly tell students to end earlier–end right next to your success! (Whatever “success” means, in your particular essay.) Think of the “fade-to-black” in a movie–you want us to end on the high, glowy feeling. End with the robot’s arm lifting, or your call home to celebrate, or your grandma thanking you. Then stop. Leave your reader wanting more! Keep the admissions officer thinking about you.
In fact, that’s why we call successful endings Glows here at Story To College, because that’s exactly how you want your admissions officer to feel. Glowy. Impressed. Moved. Inspired. Don’t ruin the moment.End earlier.
Here’s your challenge: don’t ever say the point of your essay. Cut every single “that’s when I realized” and “I learned” and “the most important thing was…” Every single one. They’re boring, unconvincing, and doing you no favors.
When you tell the reader what to feel, or think, you stop telling a story. And then the reader stops connecting with you. And then they stop caring. Don’t let this happen. Don’t summarize.
But if you don’t–how do you end?
5 Ways to Powerfully End Your College Essay
Did someone tell you good job, or thank you, or congratulate you? Did you finally speak up, or get something done? Put it in dialogue. It’s a powerful way to end. In fact, it’s an easy revision of those “I learned…” sentences earlier. So you learned to never give up?
“Hey mom,” I said into my phone. “Yeah, I’m not coming home right away–I’ve got practice.”
BOOM. Look at that.
Here’s a simple example:
I pushed open the door, and stepped inside.
Even without context, you can tell this student took a risk and committed to something. It’s all in the actions.
Maybe you want to end in a mood, or by creating a wider view of things, or by focusing in on a certain important object.
The whole robot shuddered as it creaked to life and rolled across the concrete floor. It’s silver arm gently grasped the upturned box, and then, lifted it.
There’s some combination here with action, but that’s perfectly fine.
4. Go full circle.
Did you talk to someone at the beginning? You might end by talking to them again. Or if you described a certain object, you might mention it again. There are lots of ways to end where you began, and it’s often a really satisfying technique.
5. Directly address the college.
Tell them what you’re going to do there, or what you’re excited about. I did this, actually in mine–something like:
And that’s why I’m so excited about the Core Curriculum: I’m going to study everything.
This technique breaks the “don’t tell them what your essay is about” rule–but only a little. Be sure to still sound like yourself, and to be very confident in your plans.
That’s all! Be sure to check out “Success Stories” (again, here) if you haven’t yet for more examples of each of these techniques.
Next, we’ll look at beginnings!
In the meantime, check out these great resources:
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Sophie Herron taught high school English in Houston, Texas, at KIPP Houston High School through Teach For America. Since then, she received her MFA in Poetry from New York University, where she was a Goldwater Fellow, instructor of Creative Writing, and Managing Editor of Washington Square Review, the graduate literary journal. She continues to teach as an instructor at Story To College and as a teaching artist with the Community-Word Project. She is a poet and podcaster.