How to Write the Perfect Conclusion: The Big “So What?”

UnemployedProfessor(light brown)Do you remember being taught the five-paragraph essay in grade school? It seemed easy enough; all you had to do was write an introduction, follow it with three body paragraphs that highlighted your main points, and then end it with a conclusion. In the traditional five-paragraph essay a student would have to state what their three main points would be in the introduction, and then be sure to reiterate that those three main points were addressed in the conclusion—this seems a bit redundant and robotic once you reach the college level.

While it’s important in an introductory paragraph to tell your audience where you plan to go with your paper, once you reach the conclusion simply stating the same points over again can come across as repetitive and turn your paper into a dead end. Once you reach the collegiate level your papers are expected to do more than just answer a question or establish an opinion; they are meant to engage with your audience and foster new discussions that will keep the conversation moving.

The best way to ensure that your conclusion doesn’t bring your paper to a halt is by asking yourself one big question as you write it: “So what?” In other words, you’ve said everything that you want to say about your subject, but why does it matter? Why should your audience care? What does your argument or opinion offer to the ongoing discussion of your topic held by your professors, peers, or even scholars with decades of experience? College-level writing is all about establishing credibility, and one way that you can do this is by demonstrating that you’re aware of the current debate and that you have something to add to it.

To give an example of the big “So what?” in action, say you want to write a paper about how Bella’s relationship with Edward in Twilight is unhealthy and abusive; rather than simply listing all the ways you feel the relationship is unhealthy and concluding it with a paragraph reiterating your points, ask yourself “So what?” You may realize that you have more to say on the matter, like books with these types of female role models can have a detrimental effect on young girls. This type of conclusion would open the conversation right up, leading others to wonder what those detrimental effects may be, or to consider what other characters in modern fiction are questionable role models for children.

By answering the big “So what?” you will be adding relevance to everything you wrote preceding it and in turn add longevity to your paper.

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