How to write a dissertation conclusion

The conclusion is the very last part of your dissertation or thesis. Its main purposes are to:

  • Clearly state the answer to the main research question
  • Summarise and reflect on the research
  • Make recommendations for future work on the topic
  • Show what new knowledge you have contributed

The conclusion should be concise and engaging. Aim to leave the reader with a clear understanding of the main discovery or argument that your research has advanced.

Discussion vs conclusion

The conclusion contains similar elements to the discussion, and sometimes these two sections are combined (especially in shorter papers and journal articles). But in a dissertation, it’s usual to include a final chapter that wraps up your research and gives the reader a final impression of your work.

The conclusion chapter should be shorter and more general than the discussion. Instead of discussing specific results and interpreting the data in detail, here you make broad statements that sum up the most important insights of the research.

The conclusion should not introduce new data, interpretations, or arguments.

Length of the conclusion

Depending on the type of dissertation, the conclusion should typically be around 5-7% of the overall word count. An empirical scientific study will often have a short conclusion that concisely states the main findings and recommendations, while a humanities dissertation might require more space to conclude its analysis and tie all the chapters together in an overall argument.

Answer the research question

The conclusion should begin from the main question that your dissertation aimed to address. This is your final chance to show that you’ve done what you set out to do, so make sure to formulate a clear, concise answer.

Don’t repeat a list of all the results that you already discussed, but synthesise them into a final takeaway that the reader will remember.

Examples

In a dissertation that set out to solve a practical problem with empirical research, the conclusion might begin like this:

This research aimed to identify effective fundraising strategies for environmental non-profit organisations. Based on a quantitative and qualitative analysis of donation intention in response to campaign materials, it can be concluded that social distance and temporal distance are important factors to consider when designing and targeting campaigns. The results indicate that potential donors are more receptive to images portraying a large social distance and a small temporal distance.

In a dissertation that set out to make a theoretical argument based on an analysis of case studies, it might begin like this:

By analysing changing representations of migration and UK border policy in the past ten years, this dissertation has shown how media discourse can directly and indirectly shape political decision-making.

Note that in the second example, the research aim is not directly restated, but is implicit in the statement (the research aimed to analyse the relationship between media discourse and migration policy). To avoid repeating yourself, it is helpful to reformulate your aims and questions into an overall statement of what you did and how you did it.

Summarise and reflect on the research

The conclusion is an opportunity to remind the reader why you took the approach you did, what you expected to find, and how well the results matched your expectations. It should give an overview of the steps you took in conducting your research or building your argument.

To avoid repetition, instead of just writing a summary of each chapter, you can write more reflectively here. You might consider how effective your methodology was in answering your research questions, and whether any new questions or unexpected insights arose in the process.

You can also mention any limitations of your research if you haven’t already included these in the discussion. Don’t dwell on them at length, though focus on the positives of your work.

Examples

  • While X limits the generalisability of the results, this approach provides new insight into Y.
  • This research clearly illustrates X, but it also raises the question of Y.

Make recommendations

You might already have made recommendations for future research in the discussion, but the conclusion is a good place to elaborate and look ahead, considering the implications of your findings for theory and practice.

Examples

  • Based on these conclusions, practitioners should consider…
  • To better understand the implications of these results, future studies could address…
  • Further research is needed to determine the causes of/effects of/relationship between…

Avoid exaggerating the applicability of your research. If you’re making recommendations for policy, business or other practical implementation, it’s generally best to frame them as suggestions rather than imperatives  the purpose of academic research is to inform, explain and explore, not to instruct.

If you’re making recommendations for further research, be sure not to undermine your own work. Future studies might confirm, build on or enrich your conclusions, but they shouldn’t be required to complete them.

Emphasise your contributions

Make sure your reader is left with a strong impression of what your research has contributed to knowledge in your field. Some strategies to achieve this include:

  • Returning to your problem statement to explain how your research helps solve the problem.
  • Referring back to the literature review and showing how you have addressed a gap in knowledge.
  • Discussing how your findings confirm or challenge an existing theory or assumption.

Again, here, try to avoid simply repeating what you’ve already covered in the discussion. Pick out the most important points and sum them up with a succinct overview that situates your project in its broader context.

Finish your dissertation

The end is near! Once you’ve finished writing your conclusion, it’s time to wrap up the final steps to a completed dissertation.

It’s a good idea to write the abstract next, while the research is still fresh in your mind. If you’re not sure where to begin, read our guide on how to write an abstract.

Then you need to make sure your reference list is complete and correctly formatted. To speed up the process, you can use our free APA Reference Generator.

Once you’ve added any appendices, you can create a table of contents and title page. Finally, read through the whole document again to make sure your dissertation is clearly written and free from language errors. You can proofread it yourself, ask a friend, or take a look at Scribbr’s proofreading and editing service.

Finished your dissertation? We wrote a useful article on printing and binding your dissertation in which we explain all available options.

Checklist

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Shona McCombes

Shona has a bachelor's and two master's degrees, so she's an expert at writing a great thesis. She has also worked as an editor and teacher, working with students at all different levels to improve their academic writing.

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