About conclusions, writer Katherine Anne Porter said, "I always write my last line, my last paragraphs, my last page first."
She wasn't alone in this practice.
Crime novelist Mickey Spillane: "I write the ending first. Nobody reads a book to get to the middle."
Of course, not every writer starts at the end. But no matter how they start their writing process, they all eventually must tie the beginning and the end of a piece into a coherent whole, into a powerful intellectual and emotional journey.
As with many things, the end of a document or presentation is embedded in the beginning.
Just as the start grabs attention, sets the tone, and establishes credibility, the end wraps the strands into one strong knot that binds purpose and messages together for an audience. Although readers or listeners are likely to remember beginnings and endings more easily than middles, the knot of understanding they take away should hold your entire document or presentation within their hands and memory.
To make that knot, loop the grabber through the closing and middle and then pull hard. These ways of ending can help you do that:
- Answer a question asked earlier
- Ask readers to share a belief
- Crescendo a running motif or theme so that it emphasizes messages
- Echo key words from a story, quotation, or motif used in the grabber
- Emphasize WIIFM (What's in it for me?) from audience perspective
- Predict or forecast
- Present a contrasting motif or theme that refines perspective
- Provide a quotation that illustrates or emphasizes message(s)
- Recommend a course of action and reason to act (a Call to Action)
- Restate or summarize main points in light of what you've just said (but not Tell'Em)
- Return to the opening anecdote or story and conclude it
- Return to an opening quotation and provide another that relates to it
- State benefits of a circumstance, condition, position
- Supply dialogue that reinforces message(s); link to opening dialogue
In other words, just as bookends hold journals or books straight on a shelf, a linked grabber and closing can hold the middle and provide its definition.
Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross begins the first chapter of On Death and Dying with lines by Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore and ends the last chapter by quoting lines from another of his poems.
In Musicophilia, neurologist Oliver Sacks begins chapters with stories or references to cases and correspondence but ends in various ways that connect to the opening—presenting dialogue, concluding a story, recalling benefits, restating.
In the article What's Inside America's Banks? authors Frank Partnoy and Jesse Eisinger begin by reviewing causes of the financial fall of 2008 and end by predicting a particular scenario related to what they believe to have been the major cause.
Wherever you begin your writing process, make sure that your closing links to the opening and holds the messages that come between. Bookend. Knot. Make it whole.