So much is at stake in writing a conclusion. This is, after all, your last chance to persuade your readers to your point of view, to impress yourself upon them as a writer and thinker. And the impression you create in your conclusion will shape the impression that stays with your readers after they've finished the essay.
The end of an essay should therefore convey a sense of completeness and closure as well as a sense of the lingering possibilities of the topic, its larger meaning, its implications: the final paragraph should close the discussion without closing it off.
To establish a sense of closure, you might do one or more of the following:
- Conclude by linking the last paragraph to the first, perhaps by reiterating a word or phrase you used at the beginning.
- Conclude with a sentence composed mainly of one-syllable words. Simple language can help create an effect of understated drama.
- Conclude with a sentence that's compound or parallel in structure; such sentences can establish a sense of balance or order that may feel just right at the end of a complex discussion.
To close the discussion without closing it off, you might do one or more of the following:
- Conclude with a quotation from or reference to a primary or secondary source, one that amplifies your main point or puts it in a different perspective. A quotation from, say, the novel or poem you're writing about can add texture and specificity to your discussion; a critic or scholar can help confirm or complicate your final point. For example, you might conclude an essay on the idea of home in James Joyce's short story collection, Dubliners, with information about Joyce's own complex feelings towards Dublin, his home. Or you might end with a biographer's statement about Joyce's attitude toward Dublin, which could illuminate his characters' responses to the city. Just be cautious, especially about using secondary material: make sure that you get the last word.
- Conclude by setting your discussion into a different, perhaps larger, context. For example, you might end an essay on nineteenth-century muckraking journalism by linking it to a current news magazine program like 60 Minutes.
- Conclude by redefining one of the key terms of your argument. For example, an essay on Marx's treatment of the conflict between wage labor and capital might begin with Marx's claim that the "capitalist economy is . . . a gigantic enterprise ofdehumanization"; the essay might end by suggesting that Marxist analysis is itself dehumanizing because it construes everything in economic -- rather than moral or ethical-- terms.
- Conclude by considering the implications of your argument (or analysis or discussion). What does your argument imply, or involve, or suggest? For example, an essay on the novel Ambiguous Adventure, by the Senegalese writer Cheikh Hamidou Kane, might open with the idea that the protagonist's development suggests Kane's belief in the need to integrate Western materialism and Sufi spirituality in modern Senegal. The conclusion might make the new but related point that the novel on the whole suggests that such an integration is (or isn't) possible.
Finally, some advice on how not to end an essay:
- Don't simply summarize your essay. A brief summary of your argument may be useful, especially if your essay is long--more than ten pages or so. But shorter essays tend not to require a restatement of your main ideas.
- Avoid phrases like "in conclusion," "to conclude," "in summary," and "to sum up." These phrases can be useful--even welcome--in oral presentations. But readers can see, by the tell-tale compression of the pages, when an essay is about to end. You'll irritate your audience if you belabor the obvious.
- Resist the urge to apologize. If you've immersed yourself in your subject, you now know a good deal more about it than you can possibly include in a five- or ten- or 20-page essay. As a result, by the time you've finished writing, you may be having some doubts about what you've produced. (And if you haven't immersed yourself in your subject, you may be feeling even more doubtful about your essay as you approach the conclusion.) Repress those doubts. Don't undercut your authority by saying things like, "this is just one approach to the subject; there may be other, better approaches. . ."
Copyright 1998, Pat Bellanca, for the Writing Center at Harvard University
Do you remember when Brangelina first happened? Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were both pretty good on their own, but when they got together, they became an instant Hollywood power couple.
In the world of literature and essay-writing, the Brangelina of essays is the summary analysis.
By now, you’ve probably written more analysis essays than you can count, and summaries too. So what’s so different about a summary analysis?
Well, it’s not just about mashing the two types of essays together and hoping everything works out. It’s about writing a cohesive paper that intertwines both elements to create the ultimate essay power couple.
You’re not on your own for this. I’ll give you more details about what a summary analysis is, as well as how to prepare for and write one yourself.
What Is a Summary Analysis?
At the surface, a summary analysis is exactly what it sounds like—part summary, part analysis. But many students find it difficult to combine the two. They write their summary and then their analysis, but that’s not the most effective way of doing it.
The better way? Do both at once.
In other words, don’t write your entire summary all at once. Instead, write a little bit of summary and a little bit of analysis, alternating between them. Doing it this way allows you to refer directly to the part of the summary you’re analyzing at the moment.
This might sound a little confusing right now, but with a little bit of advice and practice, your essay will flow much better.
One form of a summary analysis that most people would recognize is the movie review. It gives readers some plot points (hopefully without giving away spoilers) and interprets those in a broader context for a potential audience of moviegoers.
You, however, can and should give away the spoilers of your novel or article—the instructor has most likely read it already anyway. And you’ll want to show you actually read the whole thing.
But for the purposes of my advice below, I’ll do a movie review on the movie that got Brangelina started—Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
What to Do as You’re Reading
Before you start writing your summary analysis, you need to read with intention. That doesn’t mean just reading once for the fun of it. It means taking notes and doing what you can to note important parts of the poem, article, play, or novel.
The are tons of critical reading strategies, including the ones listed below. But you don’t have to use all of them—feel free to choose the ones you like and ditch the ones you don’t.
It may sound basic, but highlighting important plot points, ideas, and characters allows you to go back through when you’re writing your outline and easily see what’s important.
It’s faster than writing notes, but you only mark what’s written in the book. So it’s best to supplement this method with another one that gets more into analysis.
Some people find taking notes as they read to be an easy way to get ahead in their analyses. It takes a bit longer, especially if your notes are hand-written. However, it gives you enough room to record your reactions to certain parts of the text.
One tip to help you keep track of how your notes correlate to the text is to include the page and paragraph numbers.
“claude levi strauss – annotated” by P K, Flickr.com (CC BY 2.0)
Many people annotate directly in the margins of a book. This allows you to show your response exactly where an important part of the story is.
You can use it to combine analysis and summary by underlining the text in the book and writing a short analysis in the margins.
Behold! The Power of Outlining
Now that you’ve read through and annotated or highlighted the important parts of the text, you can start the writing process. And what’s the first part of the writing process? Organizing your thoughts into an outline.
An outline is especially important when writing a summary analysis because there are many parts to keep track of.
Since you’re not writing a block of summary followed by a block of analysis, your essay has to be more fluid. And the more organized you are from the beginning, the easier it is to write fluidly.
My outline for a summary analysis on Mr. and Mrs. Smith would look like this:
- Thesis statement
- Marriage counseling/dull marriage
- Living exciting lives individually doesn’t mean people are exciting together.
- Opposites attract at first but may fizzle out after a while.
- Take each other out
- Sense of anger for each one not telling the other what they did for a living.
- Putting work (as assassins) ahead of love life is literally leading to them destroying each other.
- Rekindled romance
- Being open and honest leads to deeper levels of love.
- In the face of danger, adversity, and challenges, love triumphs.
Getting to It: Writing Your Summary Analysis
Now that all your thoughts are organized, you can start really diving into writing.
The introduction should include a hook and a thesis statement. The hook is meant to get readers’ attention and entice them to read more. Making a bold statement, asking a rhetorical question, or giving a quote or statistic are all popular ways to create a hook.
Your thesis statement should give some more information and tell the reader what your essay is going to be about.
Here’s what my introduction would look like:
Mr. and Mrs. Smith takes metaphor to the next level by combining love, death, sex, and violence. In this 2005 movie directed by Doug Liman, the Smiths’ journey as a couple directly aligns with their secret lives as assassins and stands as a powerful metaphor for the role of communication and trust in marriage. The movie goes from secrecy to vengeance and finally to a rekindled romance, all while the title characters begin to open up to each other.
Next, we move on to the body paragraphs. You don’t have to stick to a strictly 5-paragraph structure for your summary analysis, unless your instructor tells you to. The important part is to make everything flow together.
Take it sentence by sentence, telling the reader an important summary point and then giving your interpretation of that point and why you think it’s important.
I’m not going to write the entire essay, but here’s what some of the body section would look like. Notice which parts are summary and which are analysis.
After all the anger and betrayal John and Jane Smith went through, they ended up face to face and gun to gun.It’s in this moment that their true vulnerability shows, and they look at each other with new eyes. Their walls had been torn down, and they could now communicate as assassins and as partners. Neither John nor Jane could pull the trigger, and after a passionate make-up, they decided to work together as a team to take out the other assassins who were after them. The Smiths used their strengths as assassins and their newly rekindled romance to prove that love conquers all—even in the face of almost certain destruction.
Finally, after you’ve finished your body paragraphs, you need to wrap it up. Your conclusion should briefly restate your thesis in new words and using new information that came to light in your body paragraphs. This will give your essay a good sense of closure.
Here’s my conclusion:
While Mr. and Mrs. Smith was certainly not an instant Hollywood classic, it clearly shows how a couple can overcome their issues and learn to work as a team. By using such a dramatic example of the reasons spouses keep secrets, the film was able to relate openness and how communication can make or break a relationship to a literal life and death situation.
For more inspiration, read through some examples of summary analysis essays:
Need to write a summary analysis of a poem? Gain some insight from How to Analyze a Poem and Sound Smart Doing It.
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