Approaching the Finish Line: The Conclusion

Conclusions are often rushed. Regarded as an afterthought, as an “almost there” to the extent to which they lack one’s best effort. Most students I have had err on the side of the too-short Conclusion, screaming “I want to be DONE!!!!”

Here’s the deal: the Conclusion matters. Just like you need a solid introduction, you also need to finish strong.

What’s the difference between the Discussion and the Conclusion sections? It’s the difference between focusing on individual trees and looking at the forest as a whole.  In other words, your Discussion goes point by point through your findings, elaborating and contextualizing your results.  The Conclusion is where you examine the big picture, the implications, the so what of your study.

Your approach depends on your topic and statement of purpose.  Here are some of the common approaches:

Connecting to the Larger Problem
This approach circles back to your introduction, in which you laid out a specific problem that needs to be resolved. It might be social, economic, environmental, institutional or all of the above. Here, you would situate your findings and discussion, telling readers how your study (a small slice of the pie) relates to the larger pie as a whole.  With studies on representations of breastfeeding, this approach would tie together the findings (that breastfeeding has been normalized in a limited way) to the greater problem (that breastfeeding rates vary greatly based on race, geographic region, and other factors).  Of course, this approach does not work for all studies.

The Prescriptive Approach

Similar to the “Larger Problem” approach, this one takes an additional step and ends with a “Call to Action,” demanding change and specifying ways in which that change could occur.  With breastfeeding, a prescriptive approach would be incorporate detailed actions that media could take to normalize breastfeeding (i.e. diversifying representations to include more breastfeeding mothers of color). Such prescriptive actions could address multiple levels of needed change, across individual, community, and institutions.

The Reflective Approach
For this approach, the writer ponders the findings, as situated in the existing literature and historical context, and seeks to make sense of them.  Why these findings at this moment for this text or this group of people? As opposed to the Discussion section, though, a reflective Conclusion would aim to explain the Findings as an overall, macro, or bird’s eye view—telling us the place in history or in a cultural moment.

Of course, there are certainly other ways to approach your Conclusion. The main point here is that you should address the big picture, not introduce new findings, and stay on topic.  Your adviser will help guide you through writing this section.

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