This post is the second of four which address the question of how you achieve flow across a thesis text. The previous post (here) offered a three-part approach to beginning to write a chapter. The three moves, link, focus and overview, are particularly useful if you are going back to writing a chapter after a period of time, writing chapters out of order or if you are really worried about the process of starting off. If you stare at the blank screen not knowing where to start, using the three part move as a kind of less-stress ‘holding’ text can be helpful. These three moves – just like the one in this post – are one approach – and only one – to achieving a coherent first draft.
This post focuses on the conclusion.
A conclusion should be a short summary of the most pithy points in the chapter. It’s the thing that you’re going to leave the reader with. Given that they’ve just spent time reading the whole chapter, they don’t want to read it all again. What do you most want the reader to remember about this chapter? What is the key to the argument you’ve made, the most significant thing(s) that they have to keep in their mind as they go forward? In a thesis, a conclusion is usually fairly brief and to the point. Barbara and I call this ‘crunching’. Crunching the conclusion requires some thought – it’s not an afterthought. It is always about your take-home message, if you like. So don’t go on at length in the conclusion – Crunch.
But conclusions can also be VERY helpful in achieving flow. When you get to the conclusion of the chapter, it’s vital to return to the ‘focus’ that you wrote at the start. What did you aim to do in this chapter?
Now is the time to see if you have actually done what you said you would do. It may be that, as you were writing, a new angle came to you, something that you hadn’t thought of at the start. If that happens that’s probably really good. You just need to go back to the focus/aim that you had and readjust it. However, it may be that you wandered off track during the chapter, and going back to check the aim at the start helps you to work out how and where. In both of these circumstances the conclusion is working for you as a writer, as well as for the reader. It’s making sure that the start and the end of the chapter work together, they open up and then sum up the argument you are making.
Of course, using this strategy means that the first draft of the next chapter will also start with a link back, a trailer which says what you’ve done in the chapter before… so there is a decision to be made when you get to the second draft about whether a summary at the end of one chapter, and another summary at the start of the next is good for the reader… But before we get to that, the next and third post looks at headings and the way to use headings to signal flow, and to check on argument flow.