A conclusion offers the final word on a paper: the insight you hope to have imparted to your reader, your paper's moral or lesson.
As such, it is important that your conclusion do more than merely summarize the contents of your paper. Too often, a student begins the last paragraph of a paper with the words, "In conclusion...," then re-caps the contents of the entire essay, point for point, and simply leaves it at that.
A real conclusion, however, does more. Revisiting the main points of your paper in your final paragraph is a good idea, yes. But then, take things to the next level. Remember the question or claim you articulated in your thesis, whose resolution has been the main objective of your paper? That question now needs to be re-invoked and, this time, definitively answered. More still, you need to leave your reader with a higher level of insight into your topic, and an understanding of how your specific topic illuminates larger issues in history. If you can articulate what it is that has made you topic worthy of historical inquiry in the first place, and what its larger lessons are - then you have a strong conclusion indeed.
For an example, click here.
How can a conclusion do more than just summarize the contents of a paper's main body, or re-iterate its thesis? How can a conclusion illuminate, in closing, that its paper's topic is relevant to larger issues in history? An example:
Recall the central issue of our sample topic on "The Austrian Catholic Church and the Anschluss," as we articulated it in our thesis:
The story of Austrian Catholics under Nazi rule from 1938 - 1945, though marked by considerable heroism among the lower-ranking clergy and laypeople, is ultimately one of failed leadership. By reviewing the Anschluss and the years that followed, and by contrasting local acts of Catholic resistance with repeated acts of official collaboration at the highest level, this paper will show how Austria's Catholic Church, as an institution, lost not only its dominant social position during the years 1938 - 1945, but also much of its claim to moral authority.
Now consider our conclusion:
While rural Catholic priests suffered punishment, incarceration, and even death for local acts of resistance, the collaborating leadership remained largely silent. Yet it is evident that [Austrian Cardinal] Innitzer too was capable of an individual act of courage; it is as the guardian of an institution, whose preservation was more important to him than its moral integrity, that he ultimately failed. The Austrian experience during the years of the Anschluss reminds us once again that ordinary men and women can display enormous courage even when confronted by heinous authoritarian regimes, but that without dedicated leadership, such local acts of resistance remain doomed.
What do you think? Has the final sentence given the conclusion a dimension that helps it transcend the immediate scope of the paper's topic, makes it a useful question to apply to other events and issues in history, whether they be national liberation movements, civil rights movements, gender equality movements, or the like?