At last the end… but it’s not over yet. Finishing off a paper is always hard. Just when you’ve had about enough, you have to raise the energy and enthusiasm for more. The intellectual work you’ve been doing isn’t quite over yet.
While the conclusion of a journal article is relatively short, it needs to pack a big intellectual punch. The conclusion:
(1) returns to the problem/question/niche/puzzle you identified in the Introduction. There is a pleasing symmetry about the journal article. If you set out the mandate for writing the paper well, way back at the beginning, then it is moderately simple to go back to it again now at the end.
(2) shows how you have provided an answer to the question/problem/puzzle you raised – that is, the Conclusion makes clear your contribution to the scholarly conversation.
(3) spells out the So What and Now What of your paper – talks about. Talks over, talks through the implications for practice, policy and/or further research of the additional understandings you’ve generated. You’ve established this new stuff, now you have to say why it matters, to whom, and what should happen as a result. Conclusions achieve this work but raising questions, making suggestions, challenging assumptions, proposing alternatives…
Now there is more to writing a Conclusion than simply making sure that the claims and suggestions you make are consistent with the research that you’ve done. You know about the problems of claiming too much on the back of a small study. But there are a few other dangers to avoid too. It’s really not OK in a Conclusion to
• Introduce new data and substantially different analysis. If it’s that important it ought to be in the Report/Discussions
• Repeat what has already been said. Déjà vu. Haven’t I heard this just a moment ago?
• Be too short and so say nothing much at all – the reader is left to work out for themselves what is intended
• Fail to deal with the So What, and Now What. The reader is left wondering what the point of the paper actually was
• Offer something terribly trite/hackneyed/cliched and/or state the obvious. Enough said. It is hard to finish off without either going for the grand statement, or tailing off badly, but it has to be done. That’s’ why it’s a challenge. Breaking up with your paper is often hard to do.
And so, the three essential moves in a conclusion are:
Summarise. Reprise the reason for paper. Provide a succinct summary of what you’ve argued…
So What – why your contribution is important to know now and…
Now what – who needs to do what as a result of now knowing this – practice, policy, research? Why? Anything that needs to happen immediately?
So back to the writing course… The writing group worked on their conclusions today and, in a couple of cases, doing so made people go back to their introductions. This can happen. It’s all part and parcel of the first draft, reworking and rethinking are good.
But most people are still working on various pieces of their paper. Not just the Conclusion. Some people have too many words, others not enough and some have big gaps they are trying to fill in. I’m really hoping that by tomorrow a lot of them will be at the stage where they have enough to share….