In general, readers (or listeners) remember your Introduction and your Conclusion much longer than they remember the points developed in the Body of your essay (or speech). They remember the Introduction because that is what first caught their attention; they remember your Conclusion because that is the last thing they read (or heard).
Conclusions, then, are important. For most essays or speeches, an effective conclusion performs at least three functions:
- It provides a summary of your major points (thus reinforcing them in your audience’s memory).
- It provides a sense of closure (the essay or speech feels as though it is finished). A reference to something from the Introduction often provides this sense of closure, giving a sense of things coming full circle.
- It provides a "discovery" for the reader by making explicit some idea that has been implicit throughout the essay. This discovery might be the explicit connection between your major ideas, or it might an implication of your thesis that you have not yet discussed. In scientific and technical writing, it could even be a recommendation for future research or stating the questions that have not yet been answered by your document. Please note that this discovery should never be a completely new idea, for ending with a new topic prevents the sense of closure and makes the essay seem incomplete.
For every Introduction strategy, there is a corresponding Conclusion strategy. For instance, if you begin with a quotation, your Conclusion might refer back to that quotation, or might include another quotation by the same writer. If you begin with a concession, your Conclusion might explain why the point you conceded earlier is less significant than it might first have appeared to be. If you began with a paradox, your Conclusion might refer back to that paradox.