How to Write a Strong Personal Essay
At some point, you may be required to write a personal essay. Watch this video to learn how to turn your personal experiences into an effective essay.
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Reasons for a Personal Essay
Have you ever met someone at a party, and within the first few minutes, they’ve given you way too much personal information? You may have thought, ‘Hey, I don’t even know you, and I definitely don’t need to know all of those details!’
Well, when you’re assigned a personal essay , your job is to do what our friend there didn’t do, and that’s strike a good balance. You need to give glimpses of yourself - your personal experiences, observations and views - but you need to do so with a specific purpose in mind. Your job isn’t to throw out a ton of details, but rather to achieve a certain goal by using a select few of those experiences, observations, and views.
You may be asked to write a personal essay as part of the application process for a college, or you might be given the assignment of writing a personal essay for a writing course or a test. Whatever the case may be, there are a few things that you should keep in mind in order to keep your personal essay on track.
Identify Your Purpose
There are three major types of personal essays, and we can identify each by its purpose. Some personal essays are meant to entertain, some are meant to inform, and others are meant to support or oppose a specific position. So when you’re writing a personal essay, the most important thing to do is to identify your purpose.
Perhaps you’re writing a narrative essay that tells a story about a significant event that happened to you. If that’s the case, you need to ask yourself whether your purpose is to entertain, as some stories do, or perhaps to do something altogether different.
If you’re writing a narrative essay as part of an application, for example, your goal should ultimately be to inform, to let your reader know something important about yourself - to underscore a specific feature like your athleticism, your artistic abilities or the fact that you’re well-traveled, for example. If this is the case, remember our friend from the party, and think about which details are important to flesh your story out. Which details capture the message that you’re trying to convey? Remember: stay on track, and don’t ramble. Use your personal experiences and observations to support your main point or main idea.
If you’re writing a personal essay that’s meant to inform the reader about some specific aspect of your life, like the fact that you do a lot of volunteer work, it can be a good idea to carefully choose a few specific anecdotes that help illustrate your commitment to volunteer work, and to describe each of those anecdotes briefly, spending roughly the same amount of time on each short story.
Remember that there is a third major type of personal essay. You may be asked to write a personal essay that requires you to support or oppose a specific position, supporting your reasoning with experiences and observations from your own life. Keep in mind that this type of personal essay differs a bit from the typical persuasive essay because with a typical persuasive essay , you’ll often rely on external evidence - facts, statistics, expert opinions - to build your case, much like a lawyer would.
But in a personal essay that supports or opposes a specific position, your job will be to support or oppose an idea based on your own experiences, observations, and views. Remember our friend from the party, though. Your job isn’t just to throw out random, overly-detailed stories. Instead, you should think carefully about what experiences or observations you want to share to support your position .
Three Important Guidelines
Keep in mind these general guidelines:
1. Narrow Your Scope
Especially when you’re writing a personal essay with the purpose of supporting or opposing a particular point, it’s best to stick to a specific theme with the personal experiences and observations that you bring up in support of your position.
For example, if you’re writing a personal essay in which you support the position that public schools should require students to wear school uniforms, you might explain your personal experience of having worn school uniforms, and explain that it helped you focus on your school work. Explain how it helped, using a few concrete examples.
If you bring up several completely different examples in a relatively short personal essay, you might feel that you’re providing ample evidence in support of your point, but you may actually be creating a real problem: an essay that feels scattered and that lacks focus. So instead, work on achieving a narrow scope in which you offer one major example or a few related examples.
2. Edit Your Ideas
As you think about how to use your personal observations and experiences to show your support for or opposition to a position, keep your eye on the ball. (The ball here is the main point of your essay.)
You may have observed or experienced a lot of things that relate to the topic of your essay, but that doesn’t mean that those things are relevant and should be in your essay. Always ask yourself: does the idea that I’m about to include support my point? For example, you may have worn your school uniform to a lot of activities, like chess club after school, but if that fact has no bearing on your position that public school uniforms are a good idea, then edit that idea, and omit it from your essay.
3. Don’t Meander
This guideline is similar to the previous one. As I mentioned, it’s important to omit irrelevant facts and ideas. It’s just as important to keep relevant points on track. For example, you might explain in your essay that wearing a school uniform helped you focus clearly on your class lectures because you had fewer fashion-based distractions. Then, describe how that was the case, but don’t wander into a story about the fact that your best friend thought that the school uniforms were a terrible idea and that the two of you used to get into heated debates about them.
To help yourself stay on track, it can be very helpful to sketch out a quick outline for your own use before you start writing your actual essay - even a personal essay - as it can help keep you on track with the points you need to make.
If you’ve been asked to provide your own personal experiences and observations to support or oppose a position, remember that your position on the issue you’re writing about should be the centerpiece of your essay. Your stories about your experiences and observations are important, but they should be details presented in an organized way to support your main point.
Remember that there are different types of personal essays, and when writing one, your purpose might be to entertain, to inform, or to support or oppose a specific position. No matter which type of personal essay you’re writing, you want to present your personal experiences, observations, and views with your particular purpose in mind. Remember to stay focused with a narrow scope, to edit your ideas so that you’re presenting only relevant points, and be sure that you don’t meander. Rein in your points and examples so that you don’t ramble in your paper.
After watching this lesson, you should be able to:
Identify three types of personal essays, based on writing purpose
Construct your own personal essays by following the three important guidelines
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