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The conclusion chapter

The final chapter of your project report has several important functions. One way to think of it is as a mirror of the introduction. There, you summarised the problem that your project addresses and set out your aim and objectives. The main purpose of the conclusion chapter is to show to what extent the aim has been achieved.

With one exception discussed below, the conclusion chapter does not contain any new information; rather, it summarises the information that has already been presented. As noted in the notes on reporting results, it is natural to state your conclusions as you discuss them. In that context, each individual conclusions that you draw from your results will probably be accompanied by quite a lot of content - discussion, interpretation, argument, etc. The job of the conclusion chapter is to bring all of those points together clearly so that the Reader can see how they match up to the aim of the project.

Structure

A good structure for the conclusion chapter is as follows.

Introduction

This may just be an introductory paragraph rather than a subsection with its own heading, but it is always good practice to provide the Reader with some orientation at the start of a major structural component of a document.

Summary of main findings

This is the section that brings together the various conclusions that you have drawn from your results. Remember that this is a summary and not a place for introducing new information. The point is to recap on the previous conclusions, separating them out from the accompanying discussion and presenting them in a way that shows how they relate to each other.

Comparison with initial aim

Here, you need to refer back to the aim and objectives that you set out in the introduction and discuss the extent to which they have been achieved by your project. You should include an explicit statement of any limitations so that the Reader is in no doubt as to the reliability and repeatability of the methods you have followed. The point of this section is not to persuade the Reader that you have achieved more that you have. It is to provide an objective assessment of those aspects of the work. From an academic point of view, doing a good job in this section shows your ability to remain objective and accurately characterise the value of a piece of work. If you exaggerate the achievement, then you are showing that you do not understand the nature of academic work.

Main contributions

This section is mainly relevant for project reports at PhD level, but may nevertheless be included if your project has produced some meaningful research results. The contribution we are talking about here is the contribution to the field of knowledge that you are working in. It should not be understood as a contribution to your own personal learning, to the operations of an organisation of some kind or to the functioning of some technical system. Again, if you misuse this term you will be showing that your appreciation of what constitutes a contribution to knowledge is poorly developed. If your project does not make a contribution to knowledge, the best approach is to leave this section out.

Limitations

Although you may identify limitations when discussing the achievement of the project aim, it may also be useful to include a specific section that summarises them. This can help to clarify the value of the project by bringing these things together in the same way that the summary section brings together individual conclusions that might have been widely dispersed in the earlier text. It can also provide a good link to the next section.

Limitations can arise at several points in the process. Just deciding on the specific aim right at the start limits the scope, for example. Every methodological decision that you make can also introduce limitations, as can any sources of data that you use. The nature of the limitation determones where in the report it is first mentioned, but you can use this section to summarise them all.

Suggestions for future research and development

You can think of your project as one in a (potentially) long series. You have referred to previous projects in your literature review, and once your report is complete, it is conceivable that other people might use if as a reference later on. This part of the report makes that relationship with hypothetical future projects explicit by providing a list of ways in which they could follow up and build on your work. Your suggestions can come from several sources including

  • Related questions that were ruled out of scope for your project

  • Any limitations that you have identified

  • Any other thoughts that you have had during the project

Self-appraisal

This is the one section of the conclusion chapter that may introduce new information since it constitutes an explicit discussion of your own performance on the project. It is important to remain as objective as you can, just like you do in all of the other aspects of the project. You should highlight strengths and weaknesses of the project, focussing on the process you have followed and the methods you have used. Remember not to dwell excessively on the weaknesses: part of an objective approach is to be able to identify the strengths as well. On the other hand, you have to strike a balance and avoid exaggeration.

Other approaches to the self-appraisal could include a discussion of new skills that you have learned especially for the project, and an analysis of challenging problems that you have had to solve along the way.