How to End a Research Paper

Lab reports and humanities papers follow the same basic pattern in the conclusion.
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A great research paper deserves a great conclusion, but writing a conclusion presents the challenge of connecting a thread through every major element of the paper. Since a research paper can be a lot of different things, from a summary of literature to a report on a new experience, there's no single best method for ending a paper. A few tips, however, apply regardless of the kind of research paper you're writing.

1 Follow a Conclusion Template

A good technique for is to follow a pre-made script. Gallaudet University has identified several common conclusions for research papers students can use as models. For example, the "closing with a recommendation" script allows the writer to summarize points raised in the paper as part of a suggestion to the reader. A paper on global warming, for example, might end with a recommendation to reduce carbon emissions. Alternatively, you could follow the "closing with a rhetorical question" model, finishing your essay by identifying questions unanswered by existing literature.

2 Point Out Value and Limitations

The conclusion of research paper should indicate its significance without claiming too much territory, according to Northeastern Seminary. Your conclusion should point out the value of the paper, whether you are reporting an new scientific finding or just reviewing old academic literature on a subject. However, you must be careful to identify potential weaknesses and shortcomings in your paper. For example, you might mention that your analysis of the mating cycles of frogs could be wrong due to questionable temperature controls potentially damaging the frogs' eggs, or that your review of ancient Greek philosophical texts was hampered because you had to use translations of the original material instead of reading the original Greek versions. Making these points helps other scholars follow your work and adds to your credibility.

3 Connect to Theory

The goal of a research paper is to summarize existing knowledge on a subject and, if possible, advance it. Many papers, however, become bogged down in specific facts and examples and forget their connection to the broader knowledge base. In your conclusion, tie your findings in with the theoretical understanding of the subject. In an essay about the history of World War II, for example, you might use the conclusion to compare how your research relates to realism, the theoretical model of international relations that views conflict as almost inevitable. Your research paper on a favorite author might tie in the conclusion with literary theorist Roland Barthes' idea of the "death" of the author. In this theory, the writer and text are unrelated, and the writer's original intention is unimportant to understanding a work.

4 Suggest Future Research

A final element of a good research paper conclusion is suggestions for future research. As you wrote your paper, you probably noticed some surprising gaps in scholarship on the subject. These gaps make excellent suggestions for future research, as do any new questions raised by your findings. These technique can also help you justify any weaknesses in your paper. In the frog example discussed previously, a conclusion might suggest that researchers examine the effects of temperature on frog eggs more carefully. Providing these suggestions provides readers and future researchers a clear idea of what questions need to be answered and also serves to highlight your paper's contribution to the field.

Nick Robinson is a writer, instructor and graduate student. Before deciding to pursue an advanced degree, he worked as a teacher and administrator at three different colleges and universities, and as an education coach for Inside Track. Most of Robinson's writing centers on education and travel.