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It’s the final curtain call. The cast stands together, joins hands, and takes one final bow. If you’re a fan of the hit series “How I Met Your Mother,” you were exposed to this image for weeks before reaching the finale. Finally, fans would get the end to the story on how Ted Mosby met “the mother,” a punchline that’s been going on for nine years. This leads to an important fact in any form of writing: Your conclusion is just as important as your beginning, and if it misses the mark, your entire story can — and will — suffer for it.

The Consequences of a Poor Conclusion

If you took to Twitter after the show’s finale you would’ve been greeted with a lot of disappointed fans. One tweet in particular caught my eye after I finished watching the show: How I Wasted Nine Years of My Life.

This is what a poor conclusion can do to your work. It can make audiences so upset that they consider the work as a whole a giant waste of time. “Dear anyone who watched all nine seasons and 200+ episodes of the CBS hit comedy,” wrote Kristin Dos Santos for E! Online after the finale aired, “we would like to send our condolences to you during this very difficult time.” Before making this comment, she said how, if you watched only the first and last episode of the series, you would think that it was a brilliant comedy series. This statement means that, according to her, the rest of the series isn’t worth your time. Just stick to those two episodes otherwise you will be disappointed.

One bad conclusion led to more than 200 episodes of a fun series being seen as a waste. Really stop and think about that for a moment. Imagine working on something for nine years, gaining an audience, and making the word legendary a cool catchphrase. Can you imagine all of that being considered pointless because of one episode? This is why your conclusion is just as important as your beginning and the content in the middle. Once you have your audience hooked, the last thing you want is for them to walk away unsatisfied.

What a Good Conclusion Looks Like

Let’s check out these bullet points from the site Time4Writing and examine what a conclusion is:

  • A conclusion is what you will leave with your reader
  • It wraps up your essay
  • It demonstrates to the reader that you accomplished what you set out to do
  • It shows how you have proved your thesis
  • It provides the reader with a sense of closure on the topic

Knowing this, here is what a conclusion should look like:

  • A conclusion is the opposite of the introduction
  • Remember that the introduction begins general and ends specific
  • The conclusion begins specific and moves to the general

What made the conclusion of “How I Met Your Mother” so unsatisfying to its fans is because it didn’t do any of these things. The setup of the show has been the story of how Ted met “the mother,” but in the end that’s not really what the story has been about. That’s not to say that your conclusion can’t have any surprises, nor is this suggesting that your conclusion can’t bring in new information. The trick with having new information in your conclusion is to show that new information developing in the work as a whole. “If this information were significant enough to your argument, it should have been included in the body paragraphs,” writes Dona Le for Sibia Proofreading. “Adding it in the conclusion simply distracts the reader and detracts from the overall impact of your previously focused argument.”

Now you can argue that this is what “How I Met Your Mother” did. This new information has been developing over time. However, the problem with the ending is that it’s hard to distinguish what the new information is. It’s not really the mother, because she’s been in the title since day one and we’ve been waiting to meet her. Sure you can look back at the series and realize that, yes, it’s been about someone else this entire time. But now we’re left wondering… why build up the mother at all when, as the kids point out, she’s barely been seen in the story?

When your title and your story promise sometime, that’s what your audience wants in the end. In this case, the conclusion feels like two conflicting points and raises more questions than answers. That’s not what a conclusion is. A conclusion is an ending, something the audience can walk away from knowing that there’s nothing left to say. Unfortunately, in the case of this series, audiences have been mostly saying “no” and there’s no going back now — unless, of course, an alternate ending is created. What a coincidence?

However, you may not always have a chance to go back and undo what’s been done, so write a conclusion that’s worth it now instead of trying to go back and fix what you post later.