If you’re ready to write the conclusion, then, congratulations – the end is in sight! At last, you can begin to focus on the final stages of your dissertation.
Aside from the abstract, the conclusion is the last section of the dissertation that you’ll write. Luckily, it’s also one of the most enjoyable. This is because writing the conclusion gives you a sense of just how far you’ve come.
Now’s the time to tell your reader what you’ve found, but more importantly, why it matters. Indeed, according to Golding (2017), a good dissertation conclusion should:
“Convince your examiners that your conclusions make a significant, publishable contribution to your field.”
So, when writing your conclusion, keep the words significant, publishable and contribution in mind. These words might seem a little vague, so let’s see how to apply them in practice.
1. How to show significance
In the context of a dissertation, ‘significance’ means – ‘relevance’, ‘importance’, or ‘noteworthiness’. So, ask yourself:
- How (and why) are my findings important?
- What is the relevance of my findings?
- Which of my findings are particularly noteworthy for other researchers in my field?
Often, it’s helpful to begin the conclusion by briefly re-stating your rationale (your reasons for conducting the research in the first place). Then, once you’re reader has been reminded of your rationale, you can then highlight the key findings. This will help to contextualise the significance of your findings.
2. How to produce publishable work
Although you might not necessarily hope to publish your work, aim to produce work ‘of a publishable standard’ whenever possible. This will help you to achieve higher grades. Even if you don’t quite ‘pull it off’, your lecturer will be able to see the extra effort you’ve put in and hopefully reward you accordingly.
To write a dissertation conclusion that is ‘of a publishable standard’ you should:
- Find out what needs to be included – Conclusion requirements differ depending on the discipline you are studying. This article can advise you how to write a conclusion, but bear in mind that your university’s requirements may differ slightly. Your dissertation handbook should tell you what to include in the conclusion. Failing that, you can ask your tutor for guidance.
- Check the formatting – You should closely follow any formatting instructions dictated by your faculty or by the referencing style you are using. For example, according to APA style, a conclusion should typically (1) begin on a new page, (2) the title should be centred as a Level 1 heading and (3) the first line of the paragraph should be indented. Getting these small details right shows that you really care about the quality of your work.
- Proofread for errors – For work to be of a publishable standard, it needs to be largely free from errors. This applies to the whole dissertation, not just the conclusion. Spend time proofreading your conclusion to ensure that it’s clear and compelling.
- Limitations – Generally speaking, for an article to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, the author must have considered the limitations of his/her chosen methodology. As such, to get a good grade, you too should consider the limitations of your methodology. You should clearly explain how/why this may have impacted the reliability or validity of your findings.E.g. You might say that, since your study was conducted in a laboratory setting, it may have encouraged demand characteristics. In turn, this may have negatively impacted the ecological validity of your study.
- But don’t be too apologetic! According to Pat Bellanca, professor at Harvard University, you should avoid being overly apologetic in your conclusion. So, although a good conclusion should recognise its limitations, it should also highlight its strengths. This will help you to demonstrate why the limitations of your dissertation did not ultimately undermine its value.E.g. “Although lab-based research can impact the ecological validity of findings, lab-based studies enable researchers to control extraneous variables; something which was particularly important for this project. Moreover, due to the standardised nature of this lab-based experiment, it would be simple for other researchers to replicate….”
3. How to demonstrate your contribution
Finally, a good conclusion tells the reader how the findings contribute to the field. You can highlight your contributions in two important ways:
- Explain the practical implications – Your conclusion should tell the reader how professionals in your field can use the research to their advantage. Indeed, if your dissertation has highlighted some specific insights that professionals can use to shape their practice, then you may organise these under a subheading called ‘Recommendations’.
- Explain the implications for future research – A good conclusion tells the reader how the project can be extended or developed. If you mention future directions, this will demonstrate how your project fits into the ‘bigger picture’ within your research field. This is your last chance to convince the reader of the significance of your dissertation, so don’t scrimp on this section!
The importance of chapter conclusions
We’ve discussed the importance of the dissertation conclusion, but it’s equally important to include a ‘mini-conclusion’ at the end of each chapter. Most, if not all, of your dissertation chapters should include a very short summary paragraph at the end of the chapter.
These ‘mini conclusions’ are really important because they’ll help to ‘signpost’ your reader.
Generally speaking, a mini conclusion should provide a very brief overview of what was discussed in that chapter, and then a sentence or two explaining what’s coming next.
Tips for writing a first-class dissertation conclusion
By now, you should have a good idea of how to write a good dissertation conclusion. However according to academics from our dissertation writing service, if you want your dissertation to stand out, “your conclusions should make a significant, publishable contribution to your field”. With that in mind, let’s finish with some top tips for helping you achieve this:
- Briefly summarise the journey – A conclusion shouldn’t just be a repetition of what you’ve written in the dissertation. Having said that, it can be helpful to provide the reader with a very brief summary of each stage of the dissertation. This will help the reader look back over the journey they’ve taken with you. This summary should be no more than a short paragraph. If you’ve signposted effectively throughout your dissertation, you’ll be able to cherry-pick these ‘signpost sentences’ and then reword them into a summary paragraph.
- Say something new (but don’t introduce new theory) – As mentioned, the conclusion shouldn’t just be a repetition of your discussion chapter. Instead, it should provide new insights (such as recommendations for professional practice and suggestions for future research). However, don’t try to bring new theories in here. Most conclusions won’t include any references for this reason.
- Keep it succinct – In the grand scheme of things, the conclusion is usually quite short. This is because it is a space to tie up loose ends and emphasise significance, rather than introduce new topics. If your conclusion is more than a couple of pages, this suggests that some of the information might be better placed in the discussion chapter. Ask your tutor for specific guidance regarding the length of the conclusion if you are not sure.
- Plant a seed – A great dissertation conclusion lingers in the reader’s mind long after they’ve finished reading it. To achieve this, try to ‘plant a seed’ in the reader’s mind. Sometimes, this can be achieved by asking a rhetorical question, or by impressing the reader with the potential future implications of your research.
- Think critically – Finally, show the reader that you’ve considered your findings from more than one perspective. Put your critical thinking hat on and really consider the implications and applications of your research. Because, as Golding (2017) puts is:
“Examiners favour a thesis that truly engages with the findings.”