Quick Tip Tuesday: How to write a good ending

December 9th, 2008

Note: This is the first installment of Quick Tip Tuesday. Each week we’ll offer a teaching technique or strategy from our authors. We’re starting the series with some suggestions about endings.

Students have a hard time knowing how to wrap things up once they get going. In their 2002 book, Knowing How: Researching and Writing Nonfiction 3-8, Mary McMackin and Barbara Siegel offer a range of strategies for writing nonfiction conclusions. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 6: Is It Done Yet?:

We’ve probably all been in a situation where we’ve worked hard on a paper. All that remains is the conclusion. We read over what we’ve written and then struggle to think of anything else to add. We’ve already said everything. After staring at the paper, we decided to revert back to our tried-and-true concluding statement: “Now you know everything about. . . [topic].”
It’s common for students to get tired of the topic and the paper by the time they’ve reached the conclusion. It’s not easy to sustain one’s attention and motivation over an extended period of time. Not infrequently, the lack of intensity of the conclusion reflects this. Students run out of steam. How can we reenergize students at this point so they don’t revert back to their old standbys? How can we motivate them to go beyond, “I liked writing this report,” and continue to think about the needs of the reader? To go back to what Karen Tracey wrote, “We do research to answer our own questions, and we write up research to answer the questions of others.” (Tracey, 1997, p. 10)
How do we encourage writers to think about the questions that still remain in the reader’s mind of perhaps to push those questions to a new level?
We believe all students are capable of writing effective conclusions. We also believe that students would be reenergized, even after spending weeks on a project, if they had at their disposal a range of strategies and concrete examples of how others have used them. Then, they could move beyond standard conclusions and experiment with different types of endings. Our experiences suggest that most students revert back to the “usual” endings because they don’t know how to bring closure in any other way.

Conclusions, like leads, take time to create. They don’t just pop into a writer’s head (as a general rule). It’s important to work endings, nevertheless, because they play an important role in the paper. The conclusion helps form the reader’s final impression of the report.

Although there are several ways to end a report, some ending will work better than others, depending on the tone of the report, the writer’s style, the nature of the research question, the topic selected and so forth. Before they can decide on a strategy to use, writers need to think about what they want to accomplish through their conclusions. The final words or sentences in a paper may

  • connect the beginning and end of the paper, forming an organized whole
  • link together multiple, diverse ideas
  • recap key point(s)
  • provide next steps
  • lead readers to future considerations
  • draw a final conclusion
  • let the reader know what impact the topic has had on the writer
  • challenge the reader ton continue to think about the topic in a more sophisticated way.

McMackin and Siegel go on to provide models of several different kinds of conclusions along with teaching tips and sample student work. Find out more about Knowing How.

Entry Filed under: Quick Tip Tuesday,Writing

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Gresham  |  December 9th, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    I love the idea of Quick Tip Tuesdays – thanks for creating this! I agree with the authors – my students tend to run out of steam at the end of their non-fiction pieces (but honestly…I’m usually running out of steam at that point too). I know I need to spend more time and put more energy into teaching endings. This post helps!

  • 2. Stacey from Two Writing Teachers  |  December 11th, 2008 at 10:08 pm

    I like the idea of Quick Tip Tuesday!

    This tip was extremely helpful!. THANKS.

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