Once you’ve sucked people in with your headline, entranced them with your opening, and sent them down the slippery slide with each sentence until the conclusion, you may find yourself wondering…
How do I wrap this thing up?
How you start will determine if you get read, but how you end will determine how people feel about the experience. And, depending on your goals, your ending will determine the success of the piece as a whole.
Begin With the Ending in Mind
One key to a successful ending is to understand exactly where you are trying to take the reader before you ever write a word. I tend to do this all in my head before I write an article, but if that doesn’t work for you, do a quick outline and state exactly what the point of the piece is.
The goal of any effective writing is to take the reader on an enjoyable, informative ride from point A to point B, possibly persuading along the way. The way to do that is to have clarity before you start.
5 Ways to Close Like a Champ
Here are five general ways to close things out, depending on your goals:
Ever hear people give this advice?
Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em… tell ‘em… tell ‘em what you told ‘em.
This three part approach is critical due to the psychological importance of primacy (what we take in first) and recency (what we take in last). It’s that middle part that gets muddled.
As Kevin Kline’s Otto in A Fish Called Wanda says repeatedly:
What was that middle thing again?
Tell ‘em what you told ‘em.
2. Call to action
The direct response copywriter’s favorite closer is the call to action… what do you want someone to do? Is it to buy something, call you, download a report, bookmark the post, leave a comment, or click a link?
Don’t forget to ask, or, if appropriate, tell the reader what to do. If you make people figure it out for themselves, less people will perform the desired action.
Make it clear what you’d like to have happen.
Often times a great piece of writing is intended to make people think or feel a certain way, and in these instances simply asking or telling them to do so is counter-productive. In these situations, finding an artful way to leave things up to the reader is key.
If you are inspired when you write the post, your conclusion will many times work itself out based on the way you began. Tie your conclusion back to your opening, but don’t spell everything out for the reader. Rather, let the reader tell themselves the story.
4. Post Script
Another copywriting favorite, the P.S. is actually a strategic device designed to entice people to read the main copy. In direct mail, people will generally read the headline and a few sentences, flip to the end and see who signed it and notice the P.S. Check out Roberta Rosenberg’s great post on writing a P.S. from a sales letter perspective.
The post script is used a lot in blogging, although you might not recognize it… it’s called the UPDATE. When a post is updated with new information at the end, and pops back up in Bloglines, you might read the eye-catching update even though you didn’t read the original post, which then prompts you to go ahead and read the whole thing.
I think I may have just unleashed a monster…
So often online, our goal is simply to make sure people pay attention the next time we show up, whether it be the next email, blog post or installment in a tutorial. In these situations, it’s important to build curiosity with a compelling reason to stay tuned in.
Take a cue from Tinsel Town on cliffhangers. As disappointed as some were with the second Pirates of the Caribbean film (middle movies are hard, too), that cliffhanger ending all but guarantees that the third installment will be HUGE.
Endings are crucial because the last impression you leave with people is the most important, both in terms of response and emotion. That’s why having a clear understanding of what your goals for the piece are, and knowing where you’re going when you start, are the keys to going out with style.
Read this post from Kathy Sierra if you want more great tips on effective endings.
Next time, we’ll look at the danger of following advice from people like me….
P.S. Which of the 5 closing techniques did I NOT use?
Reader Comments (39)
By default, I believe that would be inspire – although I think blog posts on Thursdays probably should spell things out 🙂
Daphne Gray-Grant says
I agree with everything you say except for the almost offhand comment “do a quick outline.”
NO! Outlines are death for writers. Your strategy of “working things out in your head” makes a lot more sense.
I’m a writing & editing coach and I spend a lot of time undoing the damage done by high school teachers who wrongly obsessed on outlines (and forced their captive students to do the same). This wrongheaded technique consistently messes up otherwise good writers.
Instead of outlining, people should be creating mindmaps. This technique — which is super-easy to learn — encourages creativity and makes writing easier, faster and more fun.
If anyone wants to learn about mindmapping, I offer a free e-booklet on it via my website, http://www.publicationcoach.com
Just go to the “free newsletter” page.
Otherwise, enjoyed your post and thought you did an excellent job of summing up the ways to end an article.
Michael Stelzner says
Depending on what you are writing, the call to action is the ONLY way to end your document.
If you are writing to persuade, this is a time-tested formula.
A very interesting study was performed by the scientist Howard Leventhal on call to actions. It had to do with students and Tetanus shots. The results were rather telling.
CLIFF HANGER: Read what I wrote about it here.
Mike Empuria says
You used all 5.
1 “Endings are crucial because…” = Summerize.
2. “Read this post from…” =Call to Action
3. “…keys to going out in style” = Inspire
4. “Next time we’ll look at the danger…” = Cliffhanger
5. “P.S…” = Post Script
Tom you got it (although I hope someone was mildly inspired by accident). 🙂
Daphne, I agree on outlines, and that’s why I don’t do them. BUT, some people can’t work things out effectively without putting it down on paper, so some kind of rough outline and stated goal is often better than nothing. I’ve found that mind mapping benefits strong right-brained people the most.
Michael, I’m familiar with that study, and that’s a good post you did on it. And yes, I myself am partial to the call to action as well.
Mike, that inspiration was accidental. 🙂
Ask and you shall receive does work! Thanks so much Brian for this post. I have been waiting for it.
I am a list and logic person and this is exactly the type of approach I needed. Your tips are very helpful and I will definitely refer back to this list.
Richard Hearne says
Could anyone be so kind as to link to the study referred to Michael Stelzner above?
BTW, nice post Brian (shuffles away to rewrite most recent post)
Roberta Rosenberg says
Thanks much for the shout-out, Brian!
A thought on the call to action – unless we’re copywriting for our own enjoyment (and what kind of fun would that be?), ultimately every business piece we write has to include some call to action at the conclusion (Buy something. Visit something. Do something. Even wait for something.)
Sometimes it’s smart to begin the call to action much earlier in the process, too.
Michael Stelzner says
Richard – Follow the link in the 3rd response. That will bring you to two articles written on the topic that provide significant detail. – Mike
Toivo Lainevool says
The “update” on a blog post may not work as effectively as you think. By default Bloglines does display updated posts, but it is also possible to turn off this feature off. The new Google Reader does not display updated posts at all. So, there will be a large percentage of readers who do not see the update.
Regardless, just like a “P.S.” an update can catch the attention of a skimmer and prompt a careful reading of the entire post.
Daphne Gray-Grant says
Just want to add that, in my experience, mindmapping actually helps left-brained (that is so-called linear, logical) thinkers the most.
True, right-brained people may find mindmapping faster and more natural to do. But it’s the left-brained people who BENEFIT most because it helps tap into a part of the mind they’ve tended to let atrophy a bit.
Iteration – where you repeat something you already said prior – is a cool way to end a piece (creative writing especially). A good example of this (in my self-plugging mind) is this story called “Ice Man” by A. Hamilton at http://www.fromthepen.com/issue18.html
The Summereyes and Call 1-888-4AX-SHUN are my favorites.
You cannot be too specific with your instructions to your visitor.
Great post Brian (as usual). Your blog teaches me all i ever wanted to know about copy writing. Keep up the good work!
By the way, have you ever considered writing a book? I’d definitely buy it.
Excellent tips! I am a huge proponent of strong openings paired with even stronger headlines. So, I unfortunately tend to not spend as much time on my ending.
I know it makes no sense that I discount the importance of a strong conclusion. I understand that it’s the last thing your readers see, and therefore must be memorable and invoke emotion. I just need a little reminder now and then that it is necessary to spend more time on the concluding pieces (not saying that time should be plucked from the development of a strong headline or opening paragraph).
So really, you’re serving as the little reminder-string around my finger!
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