8 Steps to Writing the Perfect Personal Essay
It's your first day back in English class and you are given the assignment to write a personal essay. Do you remember how? You will, with the reminders below. Your teacher has a good reason for this assignment. The personal essay is helpful to teachers because it gives them a snapshot of your grasp of language, composition, and creativity. The assignment is really quite easy, it's about you after all, so this is your opportunity to shine!
It's a good idea to start by making sure you understand the composition of an essay. The simplest structure has just three parts: an introduction, a body of information, and a conclusion. You will hear of the five-paragraph essay. It has three paragraphs in the body instead of one. Simple.
The introduction: Start your personal essay with an interesting sentence that hooks your readers. You want them to want to read more. If you need topic ideas, see No. 2. Once you have a compelling topic, decide on the main idea you want to communicate and introduce it with a bang.
Body: The body of your essay consists of one to three paragraphs that inform your readers about the topic you introduced. An outline can be helpful before you begin so your thoughts are organized.
Paragraphs often have the same structure as the entire essay. They begin with a sentence that introduces the point and draws the reader in. The middle sentences of the paragraph provide information about the point, and a concluding sentence drives home your view and leads to the next point.
Each new idea is a signal to start a new paragraph. Each paragraph should be a logical progression from the previous idea and lead to the next idea or the conclusion. Keep your paragraphs relatively short. Ten lines is a good rule. If you write concisely, you can say a lot in ten lines.
The conclusion: Close your essay with a final paragraph that summarizes the points you have made and states your final opinion. This is where you offer insights or lessons learned, or share how you were, or will be, changed because of your approach to the topic. The best conclusions are tied to the opening paragraph.
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Find Inspiration and Ideas
Some days we are brimming over with topics to write about, and other times it can be difficult to come up with a single idea. There are things you can do to inspire yourself.
- Check out our lists of ideas.
- Write in a stream of consciousness. Open a blank document and write whatever comes into your mind, without stopping, until you've got three pages. It's a mind dump. Don't stop, even if you have to write that you don't know what to write next. Julia Cameron, in her book The Artist's Way, calls this technique Morning Pages and suggests you practice it every morning upon waking.
- Do a little research. Browsing tends to get the creative juices flowing. There are a lot of places beyond the Internet to do research. Don't steal ideas, let them inspire you to write about your own ideas.
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Freshen Up Your Grammar
English grammar is tough, and even native English speakers find it tricky. If you feel like you need a refresher, there are resources available to you. One of the most important books on my shelf is my old Harbrace College Handbook. The pages are yellow, stained with coffee, and well read. If it’s been a long while since you opened a grammar book, get one. And then use it.
Here are some additional grammar resources:
Use Your Own Voice and Vocabulary
Language is more than grammar. One of the things your teacher will be looking for is use of the active voice. The active voice tells your reader exactly who is doing what.
Passive: An essay was assigned.
Active: Ms. Peterson assigned a personal essay about summer vacation.
Personal essays are casual and full of feeling. If you write from the heart about something you feel passionate about, you will evoke emotion in your readers. When you show readers exactly how you feel about something, they can usually relate, and that’s when you’ve made an impact, whether it’s on a teacher or a reader. Be firm about your opinion, your feelings, your views. Avoid weak words such as should, would, and could.
The most powerful language is positive language. Write about what you are for rather than what you are against. Be for peace rather than against war.
Use the voice that comes most naturally to you. Use your own vocabulary. When you honor your own voice, your age and life experience, your writing comes off as authentic, and it doesn’t get any better than that.
Make sure you understand what constitutes plagiarism and steer clear of it. This is your essay. Never use the work of other people and call it your own.
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Be Specific with Your Descriptions
Personal essays are your unique view of the topic. Be descriptive. Use all of your senses. Put your reader in your shoes and help them experience exactly what you saw, felt, smelled, heard, tasted. Were you nervous? What did that look like? Sweaty hands, stutter, drooping shoulders? Show us. Help us experience your essay.
Be Consistent with Your Point of View and Tense
Personal essays are just that, personal, meaning you are writing about yourself. This usually means writing in the first person, using the pronoun "I." When you write in the first person, you are speaking for yourself only. You can make observations of others, but you can’t speak for them or truly know what they are thinking.
Most personal essays are also written in the past tense. You are relating something that happened to you or the way you feel about something by giving examples. You can write in the present tense if you want to. The main point here is to be consistent. Whichever tense you decide to use, stay in it. Don't switch around.
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Edit, Edit, Edit
No matter what you write, one of the most important parts of the writing process is editing. Let your essay sit for a day, at the very least for several hours. Get up and walk away from it. Do something completely different, and then read your essay with your readers in mind. Is your point clear? Is your grammar correct? Is your sentence structure correct? Is the structure of your composition logical? Does it flow? Is your voice natural? Are there unnecessary words you can eliminate? Did you make your point?
Editing your own work is hard. If you can't do it, ask someone to help you. Hire an essay editing service if you need to. Choose carefully. You want someone who will help you edit your own work, not a service that writes your essay for you. EssayEdge is a good choice.
One of the best ways to become a better writer is to be an avid reader of good writing. If you want to master the art of the essay, read great essays! Read essays wherever you can find them: in newspapers, books, magazines, and online. Notice the structure. Enjoy the art of language used well. Pay attention to how the end ties back to the beginning. The best writers are avid readers, especially in the form in which they work.