How to write the conclusion of a research paper
You may wonder where the conclusion to a research paper fits into the standard IMRaD format—introduction, materials and methods, results, and discussion—but do not worry. You can make it part of the discussion, concluding that section without giving it a separate heading. Its contents, however, signal to readers that they have reached the end of the paper. Alternatively, you can make Conclusions a subheading under the Discussion section—it does not matter one way or the other. You can skim through some recent papers in the journal to which you want to submit the paper and see what format they prefer, namely, a concluding paragraph with or without an explicit heading. That would be the least of your worries: the main thing is to know what to include in that paragraph, and this article offers you some tips on how to write a good conclusion for a research paper.
How a conclusion differs from an abstract
You may wonder how a conclusion is different from an abstract: both are short, typically a single paragraph, containing essential information and meant for those who may not have the time to read the paper in full. The difference lies in the purpose: the abstract is meant for the same category of readers who, you hope, will read the paper; the abstract is there to help them decide whether they should. The conclusion, on the other hand, is for those in a hurry and who may have neither the time nor the expertise to read the full paper but are keen to know the bottom line, namely, what is the outcome of your research and whether they should revise their knowledge or practice in any way in the light of those findings.
Another simple difference is that whereas an abstract has a specified limit on its length (typically 250–300 words), the conclusion, although short, is not constrained by such a limit.
What to leave out in the conclusion
More than what to write in a research paper conclusion, it is important to know what to leave out, because a common error is to treat the conclusion as though it were a summary. You leave out any reference to the methods, and you leave out nearly all of the results section. Also avoid any citations, and do not mention any tables or figures that are part of the paper.
It is increasingly common for authors to mention some limitations of their study. However, even that part belongs to the discussion section, usually towards its end, but cannot be part of the conclusion.
What to include in the conclusion
On the other hand, you may pick up some text from the introduction, especially from its end, namely, the objectives. Here is a made-up example of a research paper conclusion: “The highest yield among the plots that had received different doses of fertilizers was from the one that was supplied 25 kg each of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium per hectare. Therefore, this amount is recommended as the optimum dose for beans.” Note how the sentence touches upon what was tested and what the outcome was, but leaves out most of the details.
Here is another fictitious example of a research paper conclusion. “The commuters enjoy a wide choice in different modes of transport—taking a public bus or a commuter train, riding a bicycle, walking, or driving, but the final choice was influenced the most by how long it took to reach the destination, irrespective of the mode used. For short distances up to 1.5 km, bicycling or walking was the most efficient in terms of time, and for distances longer than 15 km, the most preferred choice was commuter trains if the roads were congested and driving if they were not.”
At times, you may have to confess that the data did not point to a definitive conclusion. For example, I read today of a study1 to find out the best font for web pages. The conclusion of the study? There is no single right font, because it depends on reader preferences and also their age, and what the readers liked best was not necessarily the font in which they read the fastest.
In such situations, it is acceptable to mention in the conclusion any future directions for research that may help in providing more definitive answers.
Whether to continue using abbreviations
It is customary to spell out any uncommon abbreviations the first time they are used in a paper and use the abbreviated version from then on. However, you may want to avoid using any abbreviations when writing the conclusion section as a considerate gesture to those who may want to focus only on that section and skip the rest. After all, if the journal does not favour this practice, the journal’s copy editor is free to put the abbreviations back in.
With these tips, the research paper conclusion should be the easiest part to write once you have written the whole paper—all you need to do is to focus on the most important takeaways.
1. Wallace, S. et al. Towards Individuated Reading Experiences: Different Fonts Increase Reading Speed for Different Individuals. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. 29, 38:1–38:56 (2022).
You're looking to give wings to your academic career and publication journey. We like that!
Why don't we give you complete access! Create a free account and get unlimited access to all resources & a vibrant researcher community.
Subscribe to Conducting Research