The final piece of a manuscript that authors may find a bit challenging is writing a compelling and succinct conclusion.
As I always recommend, be sure to check your target journal’s instructions for preferred format. A number of journals specify that no conclusion section should be included; others may ask for a summary, which is indeed different from a conclusion section.
For papers reporting benchside or clinical research findings, a conclusion section needs to do several things. It should reiterate the main focus of the paper – what question your research addressed and how you have answered that question. Second, this section should review the significance of your main findings – what your research brings to the field of study. Finally, it should describe where to go next – note your thoughts for further studies that will fill in knowledge gaps that still exist, or offer your research as a new way to think about an “old” problem. Invite your readers to look at your results in a new context.
A summary generally differs a bit from a conclusion section. Rather than emphasizing findings, summaries include take-home messages rather than specific findings. However, a summary, like a conclusion section, should also concisely present your interpretation of what you have presented, and potential “where do we go from here” statements. The final section of reviews and meta-analyses are usually summaries, as there aren’t necessarily conclusions to be drawn, but general thoughts on a topic.
Whether a conclusion or summary is included in your paper, it should be succinct. Rather than repeating parts of the paper, use this last paragraph to wrap up what you want readers to remember most.
As always, feel free to contact me with any manuscript questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.