Challenge 3: How to conclude?

What does it mean to end a piece of writing? How do you find a balance between crafting too neat of an ending and one filled with too many loose ends?

I’ve seen a handful of posts commenting on these very questions. Considering the ways in which my writing style and approach to crafting a narrative has shifted throughout the last four years, my perspective on “writing an ending” has been one of the more noticeable shifts. Specifically, my conclusions have shifted from being succinct statements no longer than a paragraph and tied up with a bow, to more open-ended considerations, putting the preceding content into perspective while still encouraging the reader to consider it further.

I don’t necessarily think one approach is better than the other. In my class, ‘Persuasion & Campaigns,’ for example, I learned that explicit conclusions are generally more persuasive than implicit conclusions. I also know that, if my social science research papers went without a clear conclusion, the world may explode. I do, however, think I have become more open to more interpretive endings with each and every writing assignment. More than just a shift in writing choices, however, this change also indicates a greater, more meaningful shift in my attitude toward writing in general.

For example, here is a look at one of the first papers I wrote for college, written in, no surprise, English 125. In this essay, I argued how my tendency to embrace the imaginative as a child sometimes made me feel out-of-place at school, yet instilled in me the values that I still hold today. Here is how I concluded my paper:

I admit I may have had a harder time grasping the concept of reality than other children at one point in my life. Yet the make-believe I once clung to has instilled in me a hope to make a positive change in the world around me. I realize it is important to be aware of the world in which one lives, but my childhood has taught me that sometimes it is more beneficial to have your head floating up in the clouds.

Comforting? Absolutely. Cliche? You know it.

Thought provoking? Not particularly.

And that brings me to my last paper crafted for English 325, written last semester. I wrote about my own perfectionist tendencies, the transient nature of college life, and the complications it has fostered. The essay was in response to a prompt grappling with the application of theoretical concepts in our daily life. These are my last few sentences:

I doubt that my perfectionist tendencies will disappear with a single revelation and the acknowledgment of transience itself. My college experience, after all, hasn’t seen its final bookend. And just as college is inherently transient, I imagine life won’t be much different. Anxieties, worries, and feelings of despair may never quite disappear completely as long as transience is present. Although these feelings may never cease, to know productivity is happening, even in the absence of perfection, is to realize the meaninglessness of defeat.

And, if fears of defeat no longer resonate, creating an absence of uncertainty and distress at the possibility of failure, then maybe perfection becomes irrelevant altogether.

With this conclusion, I hoped the reader would continue to think about the topic, even after the conclusion. I found that, while any paper can prove resonant for the reader, actively providing such an opportunity may yield a greater likelihood to leave a lasting impression.

As I near the end of my capstone project, I consider what kind of thoughts I want the reader to take with them. I want to clearly and concisely define my argument, while still encouraging the reader to consider how information overload plays a role in their own life, what they may be doing to facilitate the consequences of such overload, and how they can approach information consumption going forward. While this requires a bit of understanding of the issue itself, it also needs a certain determination to re-consider their own media and news consumption habits. Such determination only comes with a carefully-crafted conclusion, leaving the last words resonating in the reader’s mind.

4 thoughts to “Challenge 3: How to conclude?”

  1. Hi Lindsay!
    I really enjoyed your post about endings, and seeing how much your writing has changed from 125 to 325. Alas, I’m struggling with the same issue! (My gosh, I can’t believe I just wrote “alas”!) I am creating an interactive website where I will post some personal stories, and am looking for people to post responses to them. I share your frustration in trying to figure out how to leave the ends of the essays in a thought-provoking way that moves people to respond.

    I had a weird experience in English 124 where the teacher stated that he hated conclusions in student’s papers and just wanted them to “end abruptly”. You can imagine the anxiety and confusion that this imparted into a class of scared freshmen. 🙂 I went ahead, heeding his advice, and tried just ending in the middle of a new thought, and it felt odd, but I didn’t hate it.

    I proceeded to take English 225 and 325 where I started to discover the happy medium of endings. I’ve got to admit that it’s still a struggle to find it, but the more I work with fellow writers, I find out that this is super common, even among the most experienced. We are in good company 🙂

    P.S. For a really bizarre ending, check out this E.B. White essay, “Once More To The Lake”. I love this essay more than I can describe in this post, but I still can’t make sense of the ending…


  2. Lindsay,

    I really appreciated your post. As the semester wraps up I’m thinking more and more about my conclusion and I think that your post nailed it on the head. I’m struggling to leave my reader with a “tidy” ending – feeling as if the project is complete. But not their thoughts on the project itself. I think what you laid out is really helpful!

  3. Lindsay,
    I loved reading your post. I have very similar thoughts on the types of conclusions that the capstone project requires us to write. In my project, I am taking the reader on a journey through stories, research and descriptions to hopefully illuminate new thoughts they have about my topic. Similar to your project, it is not enough to simply seal my project with a bow. I think it is interesting to think about this new way of concluding as a sign of our growth in writing. It shows that we are capable of writing about things that can’t be summarized in a simple paragraph– we are making a piece of a bigger picture that includes more perspectives and experiences than we are able to provide. In the beginning of my project, I thought that I would be able to provide the reader with a clean-cut solution to the problem I am discussing. But, like you, I found out that was not the case and that it was more impactful to leave the reader thinking and questioning.

  4. Hi Lindsay,

    Like you and the other students who’ve commented thus far, I spent a while trying to figure out how I wanted to leave my reader. Unlike the more academic style writing I’ve done in the past, my capstone doesn’t necessarily point to definitive answers and conclusions. Though I know I am going to leave my reader with a more open ended finale, I don’t want it to feel unfinished or incomplete. I found my way to an ending in a pretty informal way. Rather than trying to construct a specific conclusion, I just kept writing until I felt my points were clearly articulated. I wanted to make sure that I addressed the remaining questions I expected the reader to have (and that I still have after writing my piece) without trying to make some half hearted conclusion about them. By acknowledging what was left unsaid, I was able to create a sense of completion.

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