Summation and Conclusion

Termination is always a function of the closing paragraph or sentence. Sometimes, depending on subject and purpose, you may need to make a summary or to draw a conclusion, in the sense of a final inference or judgment.

Summaries are more likely in long, complicated papers. Usually they are signaled by a phrase like in summary, to sum up, summing up, in short, in fine, to recapitulate. The label may be more subtle: "We have seen, and sub tlety is usually a virtue in such matters.

Logical conclusions or judgments may be necessary even in short essays. Certain subjects make them obligatory. Here the journalist Samuel Hopkins Adams concludes an article on the controversial Warren Harding (the twenty-ninth president, who served from 1921 to 1923):

The anomaly of Warren Gamaliel Harding's career is that without wanting, knowing, or trying to do anything at unusual, he became the figurehead for the most flagrantly corrupt regime in our history. It was less his fault than that of the country at large. Maneuvered by the politicians, the American people selected to represent them one whom they considered an average man. But the job they assigned him is not an average job. When he proved capable of meeting its requirements, they blamed him and not themselves.

That is the tragedy of Harding.

On occasion it may not be the best strategy, or even be possible, to round off an essay with a neat final judgment. The novelist Joseph Conrad once remarked that the business of the storyteller is to ask questions, not to answer them. That truth applies sometimes to the essayist, who may wish to suggest a judgment rather than to formulate one. The strategy is called an implicative closing. The writer stops short, allowing the reader to infer the conclusion. In effect the final sentences open a door instead of closing one. Here, for instance, is the ending of an essay about a teenage hangout:

The old lady who lives across the street from the place says that the most striking thing is the momentary silences which, now and again, break up the loud, loud laughter.


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