The conclusion of a research paper is an unassuming and often underappreciated part of the writing process. In reality, however, it’s the culmination of all your work rolled into a brief overview to tell your reader whether you did what you set out to do. A strong conclusion can be the difference between an excellent research paper and one that’s just okay, and the best ones leave the reader feeling informed and engaged.
The standard structure for a research paper conclusion is the same no matter the topic or research question. It’s important to address the research question, findings, theoretical implications, and applications for the future. By following this format, you can write a strong conclusion for any research paper.
In this article, you’ll learn what a conclusion is and what purpose it serves for your research paper. Then, we’ll discuss the basic structure and format you should follow for your research paper’s conclusion to help ensure your work has a strong finish.
To see a video from Dave about how to write a conclusion for a research paper, watch this video:
What is a Conclusion and Why Does it Matter?
Just like every research paper starts with an introduction that follows the same basic formula, they also end the same way – with a conclusion.
The paper’s conclusion is where you will summarize your work and go on to discuss why it matters. This is where you will put your research into the context of the “big picture,” and express to your reader why your work is important.
By the time your reader finishes your paper (and conclusion) they should understand the “why” behind your research. In other words, the conclusion is where you preemptively answer the question: “okay, so what?”
In addition, your conclusion is where you get the chance to have the last word about your research. This is where you’ll attempt to resonate with your reader, giving them a summary of your findings and why they should care. Ideally, a well-written conclusion will leave your reader thinking about your paper even after they’ve finished reading it.
Once you’ve covered all your work, you’ll also include some possible ideas for where the research could go from here. It’s where you’ll provide implications and applications for your reader, potentially sparking another related research question or a new direction they could take your work and add to the existing literature.
Finally, your conclusion is your last chance to restate and strengthen your primary argument. This is where you’ll make your last stand and reiterate the importance and impact of your work. When it’s done well, your conclusion will leave your reader feeling informed and engaged with your research.
However, a poorly written conclusion can leave a bad taste in your reader’s mouth and have them wondering why they wasted their time reading your paper in the first place.
How Long Should Your Research Paper Conclusion Be?
The key to a strong, well-written conclusion is to be concise while also hitting all the necessary points. This can certainly be a challenge, especially if you’re writing on a complex topic.
Conclusions that drag on for too long typically go into too much detail. By this point, your reader has learned a lot about your topic and research and read about everything you did from start to finish – in great detail.
(If you’re looking for help on adding length to the other parts of your research paper, check out this article which discusses that topic in detail).
During the conclusion, you should work to widen your scope and situate your findings within the bigger picture.
Your conclusion should contain a brief summary, but your focus should be on the implications of your findings, how your research fits into the theory, applications for your research, and where you could take it in the future.
Still, it’s important to include a clear summary of what you learned and how it fits into the existing literature. Doing so within just a few brief sentences can be difficult, but it will be the difference between a well-organized conclusion and one that feels clunky and verbose.
The total length of your conclusion will really depend on the rest of your paper and how much you need to discuss. However, in most cases your conclusion should just be a few paragraphs. In many cases, the conclusion may only be one paragraph, which is completely acceptable if it covers all the relevant information.
Remember, some academics typically read the introduction and conclusion of a research paper to determine if they want to read the whole thing. So, you’ll need to include enough detail in these sections to satisfy the reader without making it so long that they can’t quickly get a good feel for your research.
For tips on writing an introduction for your research paper, check out this article.
How to Format Your Research Paper’s Conclusion
All research paper conclusions essentially follow the same format. If you include these elements in your conclusion, you will be well on your way to writing a strong ending for your research paper. By using these guidelines, you’ll be able to keep yourself organized and write an effective conclusion that will leave your reader wanting more.
If you’re not doing a true research paper but want some tips to strengthen your writing, check out this video where Dave talks about writing a college essay.
As a side note, you should avoid starting your conclusion with the phrase “in conclusion.” This portion of your research paper will be labeled as such, and you don’t need to continue to overstate that it is, in fact, your conclusion. This information is obvious to the reader, and it can potentially make your work sound unsophisticated.
Step One: Restate Your Research Question
Your conclusion should start by reminding your reader of what your research question was. Whether you write out the actual question explicitly or not is up to you, but you really just want to remind the reader of the question and state whether or not you were able to answer the research question.
For example, you may want to format the research question as something like:
“in this paper, we did this, and we found that.“
If your research is complicated and your argument is complex or technical in nature, you may want to provide more of a summary than you would for a simple argument.
However, you should keep in mind that by this point your reader has been presented with a lot of information related to your research question and topic. So, they may need a general reminder of the narrowed scope of your research and the problem you were trying to solve.
For help writing your research question, you can take this online quiz to find out if yours is a good one.
Step Two: State the Theory
It’s also a good idea to state the theory or idea that prompted you to look into this research question. In other words, what is the theoretical framework you used to approach your research? You’ll want to remind your reader about this information as you wrap up your paper.
You’ll also use this space to summarize the main arguments you made throughout your research paper. If your research included a thesis statement, you’ll want to include that information here as well. You’ll remind the reader of your thesis statement and summarize how your findings and arguments supported your thesis within the theoretical framework.
For an empirical research paper, you’ll summarize your main findings rather than providing the evidence that supported your argument.
Step Three: Describe Your Findings
Next, you’ll describe your major findings. Resist the temptation to list or summarize every finding that you encountered during your research and just stick to the one or two major findings that are the most important or relevant.
Remember, your major findings are the things that you found to be the most interesting or the things that you believe others will find most interesting.
When you present your findings, it should be very brief and concise (just one or two sentences). From there, you will expand into the major takeaways and how your findings fit into the “big picture.”
Step Four: Describe the Big Picture and Applications
Once you’ve briefly discussed your findings, the next step is to put them into the big picture of the existing literature and research. The goal here is to show your reader why your research matters – why it’s interesting and how the research may be helpful to others.
During this portion of the conclusion, you’ll work to sell your reader on why and how your research is interesting and how it could be applied within the larger scope of existing research.
Step Five: Present the BIG IDEA
The best way to end your conclusion and research paper is by presenting the reader with a big idea. This doesn’t have to be a big, Earth-shattering finding, but instead may be the loose ends that your research created.
Often, research presents more questions than answers, and that’s completely fine. You’ll create a strong conclusion with this information by presenting those questions to the reader and potentially generating interest for continued research that builds upon your findings.
Putting it All Together
Research papers are typically filled with redundancies. As the author, you’ll find that you state, re-state, and summarize your points again and again. Don’t shy away from this pattern, because it can be very impactful to your reader to see how your research continues to point back to your research question, thesis, or findings.
Every research paper follows the same kind of structure from beginning to end, but what makes it different is how well you can connect with your reader and draw them into your research.
If you can demonstrate not just what your research is and what you found, but also why it’s important and why it matters, you’ll present your reader with a much stronger paper that will keep them engaged from start to finish.
For more tips on researching and academic writing, and to learn how to take yours to the next level, check out this video discussing the “then what” trick.
You can also read the Ultimate Guide to Academic Papers for more comprehensive information on the writing process.