A conclusion can be written in two paragraphs. One of them will offer a strong statement of your empirical result; the other will present a fresh vision of theory or practice in the light of that result. Since the “standard” paper will have 40 paragraphs, I find myself referring to these as paragraphs “39” and “40”, i.e., the two last paragraphs of the paper, though actual papers will of course have whatever amount paragraphs they need.

The key sentence of paragraph 39 can be found in paragraph 3. Here you said, “This paper shows that…” followed by a complete sentence that states your empirical result in theoretical terms. It is a sentence that derives its meaning from your theory but its truth from your analysis; it is framed by your theory but based on your data. Write a paragraph that supports this sentence by drawing on the strongest parts of your analysis. Do not say, “This paper has shown…”; just say what you have shown and summarize your analysis to demonstrate it. Imagine the most knowledgeable, informed and amiable reader you can. Write your result as plainly and directly as you would say it to yourself or co-author. If the reader doesn’t know what you’re talking about at this point, you haven’t written the paper well enough.

In paragraph 40 you cash out the consequences of your discussion. If your results had primarily theoretical consequences, tell us how the discipline must re-imagine its subject matter going forward. This is a good time to envision directions for future research and emergent questions and issues. If your results had primarily practical consequences, describe the brave new world that this implies. What actions are now necessary? What dangers await us? What may we now hope for that we could not imagine before we knew what your study showed us?

[Back to outline.]