As a professional communicator, you need to use many styles of writing in your work, not just the widespread news writing formula of the 5 Ws and at least one H, which is based on the first paragraph of any news piece, as noted in my article, “Get greater impact at the start of your articles.” But what about writing stronger endings for your articles? What would that achieve? There are actually many ways to write stronger article endings.
In a Medium article reviewing endings of top articles, writer Jason Chen analyzed 100 top US feature articles published in The Atlantic, Fast Company, The New York Times, including six written separately by top author Malcolm Gladwell. Shen said he wanted to look at feature writing that explores people, places, stories, and ideas that have significance: articles that are timely and read for their perspective, not just for their raw information. He wanted the articles to have been carefully edited (which meant cover stories) and had created reader interest (which meant looking at the most shared pieces of writing).
Shen’s investigation makes sense for comms pros to learn from. We write much more than press releases. We write a wide variety of material such as feature stories, human interest stories in internal and external publications, updates of information, speeches, video scripts, annual reports and other types of reports, organizational commentary on public issues such as the growing impact of climate change on our lives and working environment, social media items, storytelling, messaging, blog content, copywriting, etc. Therefore, knowing how to write stronger article endings makes our writing more effective.
Two elements affecting readers persisting to the end
Readers take a different approach to the endings of articles than the beginnings. Shen says two elements that affect your read-ratio (how many people read to the end) are length and popularity:
- The longer the piece, the more likely a lack of time or other distraction will keep them from getting to the end.
- The more popular the piece, the more likely the article will find its way to someone who isn’t in your target audience, and that they will quit reading after skimming the first few paragraphs.
Why endings matter
Although not everyone makes it to the end of every piece, the readers who do reach the end matter much more. They are more invested in your work and will be the ones most likely to remember, talk about, and share your writing, which is good for SEO. And you want them to finish on a strong note. It’s worth striving to write stronger article endings.
Shen (image, above) notes that:
Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman and collaborators have found that people seem to form memories based on averaging the most intense part of an experience and its final moments, a tendency that they dubbed “The Peak–End Rule… there’s no reason why this rule shouldn’t hold for writing.
Using the ending to cement your piece of writing in the reader’s memory and even make an emotional impact makes good sense. By studying great endings, you can also improve the way you close a paragraph, a section, or a piece of writing and create an outsized impact for your most engaged readers.
So how does great writing conclude? In what ways do you think you can write stronger article endings? Find out below.
Elements vs. patterns
Shen analyzed how the top articles conclude and how they can be an example for you “about honing the ending of your own articles” to achieved stronger article endings. His analysis found 23 specific elements of endings, as shown in this table:
An element used more in endings doesn’t imply that it’s somehow “better”—the elements that work best for an article depend on the effect you’re trying to have on your reader, the research you’ve done, and the subject matter itself.
Simple and universal elements
Such elements can be easily used in almost any kind of ending.
- Summary — A general recap of the main points or facts discussed in the piece. This can span many sentences rather than being a focused single statement.
- Quote — A direct citation of the words of a third-party source, usually someone the writer directly interviewed or has been quoting throughout the piece.
- Question — An inquiry used to frame the piece and the answers to which can tee up the final paragraphs/sentences.
- Stats — Numerical figures that relate to the main topic in some fashion.
Structured and thoughtful elements
Elements in this category require more thinking but can be very satisfying for smart readers.
- Call Back—A reference or follow-up to something (question, event, idea) that was said earlier in the piece.
- Thesis (Re)Stated—One to two clearly worded sentences that articulate (sometimes for the first time) the main argument of the piece.
- What’s Next — Forward-looking statements that describe the main subject’s plans or what most informed people expect to happen in the near future.
- Possible Outcomes—A much more speculative version of “What’s next” that usually features two or more possible ways things may unfold.
- Compare/Contrast—A discussion of a different idea or entity to illustrate something about the main subject of the article.
Elements in this category are found in articles that imply or are meant to drive the reader to not just think differently, but take action.
- Actionable Advice—Specific suggestions directed at readers who want to improve their own lives in the area discussed by the topic.
- Call to Action — A direct appeal to the reader to take certain actions or support certain causes in order to produce a broadly desired outcome.
- Policy Recommendations — A series of recommendations by the writer that are directed at industry, academic, or government leaders who have the power to implement the ideas mentioned in the article.
Elements in this category are more about how the ending is written than a specific item.
- Optimistic — A kind of tone that pervades the end of the piece suggesting that good things are ahead.
- Pessimistic — A kind of tone that pervades the end of the piece suggesting that things will be getting worse.
- Zoom Out — The use of historical context or a broader perspective to show how the topic of the article fits into a wider scenario.
These are elements typically found in pieces written by professional reporters and journalists and, while harder to pull off, can be very powerful.
- Story — A full plot arc featuring one or more characters and a beginning, middle, and end.
- Scene — The description of one or more characters at a particular setting and/or point in time, but without a full plot resolution, as in a Story.
- Dialogue — Several lines of quoted conversation between two people, usually captured directly by the writer.
- On the Other Hand — A way to balance the coverage by explaining counterpoints to the prevailing wisdom. Often seen in conjunction with Optimistic/Pessimistic/What’s Next.
Elements in this category tend to be the very last thing in the article.
- Abrupt — The article just ends without a formal conclusion. This kind of ending usually appears in list-based articles at the end of the final list item.
- Personal Statement — One or more sentences that directly state the writer’s feelings and beliefs about a topic.
- Open Ended — An ambiguous statement, quote, or action that hides the intentions of the writer and/or pushes the reader to decide for themselves what to think of the topic.
- Zinger — A pithy, memorable, or otherwise powerful statement, usually the very last sentence of the article.
How the ending elements differ for entities vs. ideas
As in Jason Shen’s article on beginnings, he differentiates in his article about endings by analyzing topics that are about entities (people, things) versus those about ideas and found that the types of endings also varied based on this classification.
Entity-based articles focus on a specific person, organization, or event. Fast Company might profile a company like Pinterest or Giphy. A New York Times op-ed piece might share the personal story of someone who knelt with former NFL star footballer Colin Kaepernick or encountered workplace sexual abuser Harvey Weinstein. Compared to their articles that focused on ideas, articles that featured an entity were more likely to use Open Ended, Scene, Personal Statement, Dialogue and What’s Next in their endings.
Meanwhile, idea-based articles are about less tangible things: trends, arguments, recommendations. An example from the Atlantic might be an article about women bullying other women in the workplace. That piece might mention a number of companies and share specific experiences people have had, but its subject is bigger than any one of those specific entities.
Compared with their counterparts, articles that featured an idea were more likely to use Abrupt, Actionable Advice, Thesis (Re)Stated, Call Back, and Policy Recommendations in their endings.
Jason Shen goes on to give further details and examples of the ending elements he has reviewed in his Medium article, “How great writers end their articles.” You can benefit by referring to the above lists he has developed as creative thought starters to help you decide on the most appropriate way of ending articles you are writing in your role as a communicator, especially when you may stuck for an idea to end an article effectively.