In this blog post, you’ll learn exactly how to write the last chapter of your doctoral dissertation. In particular, you will get oriented with the overall goals of the conclusion chapter. Then, you’ll be taught on how to go about writing the chapter itself. Finally, you will be given guidance on what things to avoid in the ever-important final chapter of your dissertation.
The Main Goals of your Dissertation Conclusion
Before going into how to actually write the conclusion chapter of your dissertation, it’s important to review its purpose. Regardless of what discipline you are in, there are certain messages you always want your readers to absorb after reading your conclusion chapter. Basically, your conclusion should always:
Give a general overview of the important contributions of your work – Make it absolutely clear for your committee and the general reader the original contributions of your work and where they are situated with respect to the rest of your research field. A good way to do this is to simply display your contributions in a bulleted list.
Summarize the main points of your various chapters – Especially if you aim to get your work published, your conclusion should always strive to be an ‘executive summary’ of your work. Not every reader will be interested in reading your entire work. This way, you will have this chapter ready to give them a brief (yet comprehensive) overview of the dissertation.
Recommendations – You should always include at least a paragraph on the practical implications resulting from your findings. This is extremely valuable for yourself, the committee, and the general reader. You can be rather flexible with your recommendations as long as they are relevant and derived from the findings of your dissertation research. For example, you can list highly-specific recommendations and steps to be followed or you can list more general recommendations guiding the reader towards certain ideas and principles to follow.
Future Work – No matter how much you have done with your dissertation research, it will never truly be finished. There will always be lingering question marks and open ends. By no means does this indicate your work is incomplete On the contrary, no PhD work is ever complete and, in fact, a good dissertation is one that sparks a high level of general interest and motivates further research in a particular discipline.
How to Actually Write the Dissertation Conclusion Chapter
Now that you have a good grasp of what the general outline should be of your conclusion, it is important to look at how to actually write it. The most important principle to keep in mind while writing your dissertation conclusion is reflection. To illustrate:
- If readers were to go over nothing in your work except your conclusion, what message(s) would you want to leave them with?
- What would your ‘take-home’ message be to your audience? What idea, question, call-to-action, etc., would you want them to have as they finish reading your work and walk away?
These are what you must constantly ask yourself while you are writing your dissertation conclusion.
Usually, you should start writing your conclusion by first taking notes, and you should do this while proofreading the initial draft of your work. In general, you should use the following approach:
- Use an approach where you would 1) proofread, 2) take notes, and 3) summarize every single chapter of your work. This will pave the way and give you the structure you need for your dissertation conclusion.
- After you do this, simply copy & paste these mini chapter summaries and combine them into your conclusion.
- Now you have the ‘raw material’ and with this, you can start to modify and weave together the main ideas of your general summary.
- After that, simply add the sections on practical implications, contributions, and future work/research.
- As a final step, re-read the draft of your conclusion and ask yourself, “Does my conclusion really grasp the essence of my work?”
Pitfalls to Avoid for your Dissertation Conclusion
In general, there are three main pitfalls you should always avoid when writing the conclusion for your dissertation.
Protracted and Rambling Conclusion – A long and protracted conclusion is when you repeat yourself unnecessarily (without adding anything to what you are mentioning) about points you already mentioned in your previous chapters before the conclusion.
Short Conclusion – This is actually an improvement to a long and rambling conclusion, which wastes valuable time on the part of your audience. However, a conclusion that is too short also rambles about facts without coming to a logical conclusion, and does all this using less words and missing vital points/arguments.
Implausible Conclusion – Often times, doctoral students can come to wild conclusions that boggle the mind. They make claims that have absolutely no logical link to the evidence in their research, or that link is very weak. For example, many PhD students (in their very limited small-scale study) make wild assertions that the results of their study should be adopted by public policy-makers, governmental officials, and the like. If you make a list of unsubstantiated claims, you will be wasting a lot of hard work for nothing. Simply stay humble and avoid doing this!
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Conclusions for dissertations and theses
When writing longer pieces of work, it is still very important to observe some of the principles mentioned previously. For instance, you will still want to ensure that your conclusion really does conclude, and does not just go off at a tangent to discuss something that is unrelated to the thesis. Some people believe (mistakenly) that a conclusion is the place for you to relax and 'say whatever you want'. This is incorrect. If you do this, you will be likely to be marked down.
There are also likely to be some key differences in your approach when writing conclusions. Certainly, conclusions will be even more important in a dissertation or thesis, purely because of the length of the piece. Among the differences you will notice are the following:
- As well as having an overall conclusion to your dissertation or thesis, each chapter should also have a conclusion (as well as an introduction). The reason for this is that in a longer piece of writing, it becomes more important to remind the reader of what you have done and why you have done it, before you move onto the next stage.
- The conclusion of a dissertation or thesis is not an opportunity to engage in a personal 'rant'. You must draw out key aspects of the literature you have studied along with your recommendations and say how they are justified or contradicted by your research.
- It is a good idea in a chapter conclusion to remind the reader what happened in the chapter (For example: In this chapter, the literature relating to the teaching of vocabulary was considered.). After this, you need to build a bridge linking this chapter with the next one. (This will be further discussed in the next chapter.)
- In a dissertation or thesis, there is likely to be a longer section on the limitations of your research. Important though this is, however, you also need to be sure to sell your research in the conclusion - so it is best not to be too negative or over-modest about your achievements at this point. The key to many dissertations and theses is the need to emphasise the contribution that it makes to research.
- In a dissertation or thesis, it is more likely that you will have a section on the need for future research. In an MA or MSc dissertation you may like to suggest something that could be developed from your work as a PhD thesis. In a PhD thesis you may like to indicate some potential for post-doctoral work.
When writing an assignment, be careful of the following points:
- The topic you are writing about may not always require a full conclusion (this is particularly the case if your work is heavily analytical or mathematical, or not very discursive). Remember not all assignments require discussion. Check what the expectations are in your own department. Ask your tutor if you are not sure.
- Even if you do not need a full conclusion, remember that any assignment nearly always needs to be rounded off in some way and brought to an end. Consider this: will the reader will know that you have finished your work? (Or will they just think that you have run out of time - or energy)?
- Keep in mind the balance of your assignment. The conclusion should be clear and relatively brief.