For me, the classic ending of all would have to be the last line of the last song of the last album by The Beatles, “… and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make”. How it encapsulates the human condition. How it parallel phrases a simple truth. How it resonates deep within us all. How it lingers with relevance long after we go back into our daily lives. Just as the opening line needs to hook the reader in with the promise of a compelling story, the closing line needs to reward the reader with a lasting gift for taking time out to read all of the text. For those of you not yet familiar with the Anatomy of Body Copy, here’s a quick run-down:
ARREST ATTENTION The how to say what to say in the form of a headline or title.
INTRODUCTION Expands on the headline and proves it right with a conversation for relatedness, starting with an opening sentence that hooks the reader in.
TRANSITION 1 Sums up the introduction and sets up the substantiation
SUBSTANTIATION The delivery of data and information synthesised into knowledge and insight, making the facts and stats super-useful.
TRANSITION 2 Sums up the substantiation and sets up the conclusion
CONCLUSION Invites the reader to take some form of action, and ties back to the idea or theme with a strong end-line.
Just like the opening sentence, the closing one can be just as difficult to pen without a lot of deep thinking and honing down to the clearest point. While the substantiation is often easier to write thanks to the raw materials of facts and stats at your disposal, this “body” of the copy needs a frame around it. The introduction and the conclusion frame your story and provides a bridge for your reader to enter and exit. An effective conclusion helps them see why all your analysis, information or argument should matter to them after they return to their own reality. It’s also a chance for you to have the last word on the subject and propel your reader to perhaps rethink the matter and even act upon it. Just as the first impression counts, so too is the case with the last impression, and enriching their mind is a sure way to a lasting last impression.
Now I’ve never had any strategies for thinking up a compelling ending, so to write this post I did a little research to find out what other writers might offer on the subject. To my delight, I found six handy little strategies from The Writing Centre that I myself have been using over the years but never realized they were strategies. So here they are for you to learn and apply in your next writing project and an example of each taken from stories in our Climate of Ingenuity book:
So What Strategy: After you’ve written a conclusion you’re not happy with, ask yourself “So What?” as you develop your ideas or your draft.
Case Study: Swarm Logic (device for smoothing out electricity consumption). The last line of The Substantiation and its Transition 2 reads:
So far, the result is a reduction in peak energy consumption of 20-30%. And as you can imagine, that goes straight to the customer’s bottom-line.
By asking the question “So What?” one is forced into reiterating the whole story into a kind of 10 seconds pitch to an edgy lynch mob. And that’s without compromising the thread of the narrative, ending up with a tacked-on conclusion. The narrative thread in this case was “the bottom-line”. So the conclusion:
- Calls for a far-sighted vision
- Reinforces the need to reduce coal and gas
- Synonymising monetary bottom-line with environmental bottom-line
- Makes the call for action urgent by quoting Elvis Presley’s “now or never”
And the final draft is:
In the long run, because this robust technology reduces the need for coal and gas, it also goes straight to the environment’s bottom line. By investing in efficient energy management now, we can restore the planet sooner rather than never.
Circle Strategy: Return to the theme/idea by referring back to the headline or introductory paragraph, using key words or parallel concepts and images. This strategy brings the reader full circle. It also reinforces the idea while at the same time adding further meaning to it.
Case Study: Electron energy (a call to think big about producing free energy). The image is a photograph of an electron in motion and the headline reads:
PERHAPS THE BIGGEST THOUGHT EVER HAD
- The conclusion references back to the headline with the parallel word “idea”
- It sums up the benefits of the idea
- Then finishes back on the idea using a new parallel phrase “no longer unimaginable”, and the parallel words “possibilities” and “huge” in a strong end-line finale …
All of which means the idea of generating and storing your very own energy cleanly, efficiently, cheaply, and wherever you are, is now a zero-carbon reality. Free energy is no longer unimaginable. And the possibilities? Nothing less than huge.
Pull Together Strategy: Synthesize, don’t summarize: Include a brief summary of your main points, but don’t simply repeat things that you’ve already written. Instead, show your reader how the points fit together.
Case Study: Biomimicry (an editorial piece on the solutions to climate change can all be found in nature). The headline reads:
THE BIOMIMICRY OF TOTAL GENIUS
This 1000 word editorial piece explains the concept of biomimicry and how it can solve all our environmental problems. And proving its case by presenting three case studies demonstrating how nature-made biological solutions translated into a man-made engineering solutions. The propositional content of 910 of those words were pulled together with the following 90 words:
But climate change tells us that there a no more excuses for our global dilemmas when tried and true solutions are in nature itself. You don’t have to be an engineer or a scientist to be inspired by nature. Pioneers of Biomimicry, like Janine Baynus, are carving out a path for the rest of us to rediscover the ingenuity that enable organisms to live gracefully for millenniums. The natural world is a global university of knowledge and expertise. It puts a whole new meaning on stopping to smell the roses.
Thought Provoking Strategy: Include a provocative insight or quotation from the research you did.
Case Study: Mushroom plastics (It takes 150 years for plastic waste to break down whereas MycoBond’s mushroom plastic is 100% biodegradable). The final thought we leave our reader with is:
The end result is landfill reduction of 25%. Imagine all the things we could do with that extra 25% of space on our planet.
Call to Action Strategy: Propose a course of action, a solution to an issue, or a question for further consideration. This can redirect your reader’s thought process and helps them apply your info and ideas to their own life, or to see the broader implications.
Case Study: Wave Conversion Energy (the technology of converting wave power into electrical energy to feed the grid).
While the usual Call To Action line is often literal (i.e.: ring this number, call us now, go to our website etc) we can also be more creative in the way we ask others to do something. In this case, the conclusion’s call to action opens the reader’s eyes to the many whole will benefit from their action:
Now that’s the kind of ingenuity we need to give our planet and future generations an even break.
Big Picture Strategy: Point to broader implications. For example, if your communication piece advocates the benefits of social enterprise, you could point out its impact on improving human and environmental well-being as a whole.
Case Study: The Sahara Forest Project (a large-scale, man-made ecosystem for the profitable production of the four essential resources: food, freshwater, electricity and biofuel)
The conclusion ties back to the concept about biomimicking the desert dwelling fog-basking beetle able to extract moisture from the driest conditions on earth, and leaves the reader with the big picture view:
If nature’s ingenuity can extract water from thin air, the Sahara Forest Project can provide for that extra three billion people predicted by 2050.
And as a useful finish to this post, it is always worth keeping in mind as you write that … it’s not what the writer puts into the sentence but what the reader takes out that really does the talking.