Writing Pet Peeves: The Lackluster Ending
By Kathy Wilson – ETMG Writer/Editor
I’ve just finished editing a very long white paper (~4,500 words) that started out with a bang but unfortunately ended with a whimper. This has brought to mind another of my pet peeves—the lackluster ending. How disappointing is it to read a thoroughly researched and well-written piece only to find that the conclusion section has been tacked on as an afterthought? Did the writer expend so much energy getting to that point that there just wasn’t enough left to summarized the paper properly?
Many readers are seriously multitasking and this creates very short attention spans. They first read a title and ask, “Will this be worth my time?” If the answer happens to be yes, they might read a summary sidebar, the introduction or executive summary section, and the concluding paragraph in order to get the high points. Only then will they dive into the meat of the paper, provided of course that they have the time and the interest.
This makes your intro and closing paragraph(s) of utmost importance. The more compelling they can be, the more readers are likely to engage with what you have to say. Like bookends (does anyone remember those?), these two key sections frame your material. They even help you organize and focus content in a way that keeps the body of your paper on track. In short, your opening is your hook, but your closing is that golden opportunity to crystallize key points for your readers. Nail these two elements and the rest should be relatively straightforward. In fact, many writers only fill in the middle sections of their papers after they have completed their lead-in and close.
So before you let yourself run out of steam, ask why you just went to so much trouble to write something and are then willing to jeopardize it all with a hastily thrown together ending. If a writing project has worn you out, if you’re feeling uninspired or distracted because you need to get onto the next big thing, walk away for a while until you’re ready to end your paper on the strongest possible note.