Studies have shown that the human brain is more likely to remember items at the beginnings and ends of lists, presentations, and other texts. When people recall the last thing they read or hear, that’s called the “recency effect” because they’re remembering the most recent information they’ve encountered. This is why the last thing you write is so important. It’s your final chance to make an impression on your readers.
A good conclusion = a call to action and/or a connection between the topic and the reader. In other words, because you’re trying to end your piece, you don’t want to start making new claims or sharing new research. Instead, you’ll want to help readers see how they relate to your subject matter. Sometimes this means suggesting that the reader do something specific. That’s a call to action. You can also end by raising questions related to your topic or by making suggestions for how this topic may develop in the future. Leaving readers with interesting ideas to think about is key to a successful conclusion.
Conclusions have two jobs:
- Leave readers with something to think about ("So What?)
- Clarify why your topic matters to them and the larger community, whether that be the class, their neighborhood or the whole wide world (Who should care?)
What Techniques Keep Readers Thinking about the Topic at the End of a Piece of Writing?
Method: Make a call to action. The goal of a call to action is to prompt readers to do something.
Citizens who agree that music education should be a part of all public schools in the United States can make a difference by writing their representatives, going to a school board meeting, and when a ballot initiative comes around, voting to fund music education.
Method: Ask a rhetorical question. A rhetorical question is meant to make people think, but not necessarily come to an answer. Often, the answer to rhetorical questions is clear right away, but the deeper significance needs to be pondered.
Should schools in the U.S. be concerned with the kind of emotional and cognitive development that music education prompts? If we’re interested in educating the whole child, not just the most academic parts of the brain, then the answer is yes, and we have to reconsider our priorities when it comes to school funding.
Method: Share an anecdote or story that will keep the issue in the forefront of the readers’ minds. An interesting snapshot of someone’s life or story about an intriguing character will help humanize the topic and help the readers remember your message. If you used an anecdote or story in the introduction, this is an opportunity to reconnect with that at the end of your piece.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the hit Broadway musical Hamilton, says that arts education saved his life. He went to an elementary school where the sixth grade put on a famous play every year—everything from Fiddler on the Roof to The Wizard of Oz—but by the time Miranda’s class was in sixth grade, the teachers had run out of plays appropriate for children, so they had the sixth graders write their own musicals in addition to performing all the musicals from the previous years. That four-hour-long musical extravaganza was Miranda’s first experience of writing and acting in his own production (Raskauskas). The opportunity that his teachers provided him turned into a lifelong passion. All students should have that same opportunity to connect with the arts in meaningful ways.
(For more of Miranda’s story, see the WFMT article, “Arts Education Saved My Life.”)
Method: Share a quote by an expert or historical figure. Choose a quote from someone who is well known in a relevant field and who has expertise on your topic. This will lend your conclusion credibility and leave readers with something powerful to consider.
As Oliver Sacks notes in his book Musicophilia, “Rhythm and its entrainment of movement (and often emotion), its power to ‘move’ people, in both senses of the word, may well have had a crucial cultural and economic function in human evolution, bringing people together, producing a sense of collectivity and community” (268). Our schools aim to foster that same sense of community, which is why music must be part of a well rounded education.
Exercise: Good or Bad Conclusion?
One way to improve your conclusion-writing skills is to look at different choices that other writers make when concluding a topic and to consider what feels satisfying or thought-provoking to you as a reader and what doesn’t. Read the conclusions below about teenagers and decision making. Which ones pull you in? Which ones are less interesting? What’s the difference? Work with peers to decide.
- Should teens be given complete freedom? Probably not, but a measured level of responsibility helps kids of all ages learn to trust themselves to make good decisions. This is especially important for teens since they will be adults very soon.
- Parents who want to teach their teenagers to be responsible decision makers can start by talking to their teens regularly about the kinds of decisions their teens are being faced with and allowing teens to make decisions about anything that won’t put them in immediate danger. This may be difficult at first, but the reward will come when parents see their teens feeling more confident in the face of difficult decisions and more ready to face the adult world.
- Now that Rachael has been given the freedom to make some big decisions in her life, she’s more willing to talk to her parents when she needs advice or isn’t sure about something. Even though she sometimes makes mistakes, her parents trust that she will learn important lessons from those mistakes, and they help her feel supported when she experiences a failure. Raising a teenager isn’t easy, but this family has found a method that’s working for this particular teen.