Ending Your Essay

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Avoid summary endings.

Because it comes last, the final sentences of your essay should be written with care. Don’t resort to that old stand-by, a summary ending. When an essay is short to begin with, it’s insulting to review for readers what is evident on the page in front of them. Readers are intelligent people. Trust them to remember what your essay says.

An effective conclusion should fit the style and mood of the essay and spring naturally from its contents. A good essay can easily be spoiled by a grating conclusion. A serious essay, for example, shouldn’t end with a joke. Also stay away from endings that are too common or cutesy, such as:that’s it; so long for now; happy reading; well, I can’t think of anything else; sorry, I’ve run out of time; good-bye and God bless you. Such trite endings say in effect that you and your imagination have run out of gas.

A short ending is preferable to none at all. A carefully written ending leaves readers satisfied that they have arrived somewhere and may sway them to judge your essay more favorably than otherwise. There are no guarantees, of course, but readers are bound to be touched by a memento of your thinking, your sense of humor, or your vision. Even an ordinary thought, uniquely expressed, will leave an agreeable afterglow.

Here are some common techniques for writing conclusions:

1. Have a little fun; try to put a smile on your reader’s face.

Topic: King of the World, a biography of Muhammad Ali

Purpose of the essay: To criticize David Remnick’s biography of Ali. The writer ends with an apt metaphor that reiterates the essay’s main idea.

Conclusion: With this book, Remnick has dealt Ali’s admirers a cruel blow below the belt.

Topic: Growing old

Purpose of the essay: To show that old people can still act young. The essay concludes with an anecdote about an elderly gray-haired man of about seventy on a crowded city bus.

Conclusion: He carried bundles of packages and almost fell down as the bus lurched to a stop. At one point a young, gum-chewing woman stood up and pointed to the unoccupied seat. “Here, Pops, take this.”
    He looked at her in amazement. “Cool it, girlie,” he said, “I still run marathons,” and he stood all the way to his stop.

2. End with an apt quotation drawn from the essay itself, from the SAT prompt, or from another source.

Topic: Surviving high school

Purpose of the essay: To describe an incident in which the writer found herself in need of a safe haven.

Conclusion: At that point I knew by instinct, “This is the place.”

Topic: Electronic gizmos

Purpose of the essay: To show that, because many consumers are uninformed, they waste lots of money when purchasing the latest digital devices.

Conclusion: To paraphrase an old saying, “What you don’t know can hurt you.”

3. Finish by clearly restating your essay’s main point but using new words. If appropriate, add a short tag line, a brief sentence that creates a dramatic effect.

Topic: Discrimination

Purpose of the essay: To criticize the male chauvinism that exists in the school administration.

Conclusion: As long as positions of authority are given to sexists, women must be prepared to fight against gender abuse in this institution.

Topic: Modern communication

Purpose of the essay: To explain the value and importance of text messaging to teenagers. The writer concludes with a popular texting symbol.

Conclusion: A day without texting is a day I should have stayed in bed :(

4. Bring your readers up to date or project them into the future. Say something about the months or years ahead.

Topic: Vandalism in school

Purpose of the essay: To condemn the daily carnage of smashed windows, graffiti, and broken ceiling tiles. The essay ends with a few questions about the future.

Conclusion: How long can this go on? How can we turn away meekly? How much longer can we let the vandals make us their victims?

Topic: Helping others

Purpose of the essay: To explain why it is imperative to save the world from global warming.

Conclusion: When the history of the twenty-first century is written, let us hope that global warming will have gone the way of the dinosaurs.

So, what happens if you can’t think of a satisfactory ending or time is called before you finish? For one thing, don’t despair. Although an effective conclusion adds luster to an essay, don’t feel obliged to provide one at all costs. SAT readers will know how well you write long before reaching your essay’s last sentence. Be confident that a good but incomplete piece of writing will be graded according to what you’ve done well, not what you haven’t done at all.

Practice in Writing Conclusions

Directions: Try your hand at writing an appealing ending for each of the essays described here.

1. Topic: Language taboos

Our society prohibits or frowns on the use of certain categories of words. In recent years, however, changes have made many language taboos obsolete. After citing several examples, the writer wonders about language usage in the future.


2. Topic: The value of school sports

The writer, in comparing athletics in school to life, makes the point that in both endeavors you need to develop a winning strategy.


3. Topic: High school vs. junior high

The point of the essay is that while high school is not perfect, it is far better than junior high, where students are treated like inmates, not like human beings.


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The following pages are meant to be a guide to editing your SAT essay. But keep in mind that the material will also help you answer the multiple-choice questions later in the exam, especially the Identifying Sentence Errors questions.