Conclusions: last impressions count too! [6/8]

Last but not least: conclusions are a crucial part of your paper's key message

endWe all know that first impressions count and set anchoring effects. This is true both in real-life interactions and in academic articles as we have discussed in the posts on titles, abstracts and introductions. But even so, last impressions are still important. At the end of a meeting, you recap the agreements you made, reinforce how nice it was to meet your counterpart, and maybe what you enjoyed in particular. You do not usually end a meeting with a reminder of all the things you didn’t agree about, or end a social occasion with all the things that you disliked.

So why do so many academics end their paper with limitations? Of course you need to duly note your study’s limitations, but do that as part of the discussion section, not the concluding section. Ending a paper with limitations – even when paired with suggestions for future research – will leave any reader disappointed. They might well ask themselves, why on earth did I bother to read this paper if there is so much wrong with it? So please: don’t don’t don’t end your paper with limitations.

Examples of conclusions

Most journals have considerable flexibility in their expectations for concluding sections. In most Business & Management journals it is typical though to conclude your paper with a short paragraph that briefly summarizes the entire study. It is the mirror image of the abstract and often includes the same elements that we have have discussed there (research background/context, research gap, research question, methods, results and implications), though typically it devotes a bit more attention to the wider implications of the paper than the abstract does and might have a specific call for action at the end. Here are two examples:

Theory/concept focused conclusion

In this article, my former PhD student Shea Fan introduced the psychological concept of (ethnic) identity confirmation to the field of international business, with a special focus on ethnically similar expatriates. Shea also published a conceptual article on this topic, as well as an article based on dyadic survey data and a practitioner-oriented article based on interview data. In the abstract we introduced the concept.

In the conclusion we focused on the study's key contributions: the focus on host country employees rather than expatriates and the use of an experimental method, which is still very uncommon in international business. However, we ended the conclusion by emphasising the theoretical/conceptual contribution again, as - rather than the specific results - this is what we felt to be the study's core contribution.

Context/action focused conclusion

This article was one of a series in which we investigated the level of gender and international diversity in editorial boards of academics journals. We found that geographical diversity of editorial boards had increased over time, but that a very large proportion of board members still came from the home country, a tendency that was strongest in the USA with more than 80% home country membership. However, rather than focusing on the specific results in the concluding section, we decided instead to focus on the importance of editorial board diversity and the possible consequences of a lack of diversity to provide a strong call for action.

How to end your paper effectively?

What academics will remember from your paper is heavily dependent on your final sentence or two. So try to end the paper on a strong note recapping its key contributions. Ensure that the last sentence or the last 2-3 short sentences of your paper can be read on their own and provide a powerful take-away, preferably indicating what you want to see changed as a result of your paper. I haven't always followed my own advice, but here are some articles where I did.

We thus argue that a fair and inclusive cross-disciplinary comparison of research performance is possible, provided we use Google Scholar or Scopus as a data source, and the recently introduced hI, annual—a h-index corrected for career length and co-authorship patterns—as the metric of choice. [Harzing & Alakangas, 2016]

Consequently, we recommend that studies in International Business focus first and foremost on home and host country context and resist the temptation to use (cultural) distance as a catchall concept, thus avoiding an illusion of causality, which ultimately hinders the potential of International Business research to provide useful guidance to managers on key International Business phenomena. [Harzing & Pudelko, 2016]

Given the particular challenges of international survey research we described above, many areas in the field of international management still remain largely under-researched, even though they provide ample opportunities to advance our knowledge. However, we hope that by identifying some of the key issues in international survey research and offering various solutions, we have been able to encourage and promote such future research. [Harzing, Reiche & Pudelko, 2013]

In this article we have provided the first large-scale empirical analysis of the language barrier and its solutions. Our conclusions mirror Feely & Harzing’s (2003:50) conceptual article in that it is important to ‘‘understand the language barrier well and to mix and match the solutions into a blend that is right for the company context’’. Most importantly though, MNCs should take the language barrier seriously. Only then will MNCs be able to progress in tackling the language barrier and increase their competitiveness on a global scale. [Harzing, Köster & Magner, 2011]

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