Writing a paper, conclusion – day 1: structuring a conclusion

Writing a paper, conclusion – day 1: structuring a conclusion

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You may not need a conclusion in all circumstances, if there weren’t any clear conclusions because of the nature of the results. Some authors and some journals may try to cover the conclusions in the discussion section. The Journal covered how a discussion section might be constructed with and without conclusions in an article last week.

What should be in the conclusion

The conclusion should cover the following in this order:

  • Briefly restate the purpose of the experiment and the most important findings.
  • State the significance of those findings and applications.
  • State the main limitations of your study and how things could be improved.
  • Recommend areas for future work, either that you intend to cover or for other researchers.

The conclusions section should be relatively short compared with the other sections of your paper – only one or two paragraphs. The length will depend on the length of the rest of your paper, but in most cases that should be around 200 to 300 words.

A conclusion will repeat the purpose of the experiment and the findings, but it should also offer some new thoughts, otherwise there is no point in having it. It is likely to be similar to your Abstract, but should focus more on the findings and improvements for the future.


During the writing of the conclusions you are likely to need to use the present, past and future tenses. The past can be used to write about anything to do with the experiment that was carried out out. The present can be used to write about the significance of your findings and limitations and the future for improvements and future work.

You may need to use the present perfect tense in the conclusion when writing about what you have done in your paper. The present perfect tense is the combination of the present tense and the perfect aspect to express a past event. We use it to describe actions that started in the past and continue to the present. For example:

We have described the limitations of this method….

We have commented on why these findings were not conclusive…

We have given an indication of the complexity behind…

Read the extract below to see the structure of an example conclusion.

Healthcare utilization and maternal and child mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic in 18 low- and middle-income countries: An interrupted time-series analysis with mathematical modeling of administrative data


Service volume reported from health facilities across 18 low- and middle-income countries were disrupted for outpatient care and key reproductive, maternal, and child vaccination services during the pandemic. This use of facility data highlights the potential, with additional investment and validation, for these systems to play an important role in monitoring the resilience of health systems during times of shock. Substantial variation in the magnitude of disruption was identified during the pandemic and across services and countries. Overall, though the average disruption to maternal and child services was lower than many hypothesized scenarios as the pandemic’s onset, the decrease in intervention coverages is projected to be associated with a substantial loss of life among women and children. These findings emphasize that safeguarding continuity of essential health services delivery must be maintained as part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and future crises particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

This extract is from: Ahmed T, Roberton T, Vergeer P, Hansen PM, Peters MA, et al. (2022) Healthcare utilization and maternal and child mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic in 18 low- and middle-income countries: An interrupted time-series analysis with mathematical modeling of administrative data. PLOS Medicine 19(8): e1004070. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1004070

This extract does not quite follow all of the structure we have outlined above, but it does focus entirely on the main findings of the study and the key implications for the study including for healthcare settings and policy makers. Therefore, the conclusion does add useful comments.

Useful grammar phrases

Reported from… were disrupted: uses the simple past tense to describe what was found

This use of: uses the present tense to describe the evaluation

was identified: again uses the past tense to describe another key finding

is projected: uses the present perfect to describe the

must be maintained: referring to a recommendation for future policy

Further study for this week

This week try to write a conclusion section covering the key items outlined above. Try the short quiz below to test your understanding.

Lesson tags: English for scientists, Writing a conclusion, writing a paper
Back to: English for Scientists