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How to Write a First-Person Essay

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 3 min read

First-person essays are an opportunity for a writer to share their personal experiences. They can be funny, inspiring, or challenging to the reader. Either way, the goal of a first-person essay is to forge a connection with the person who is reading it, inviting them to follow along with your personal journey and learn something about themselves in the process.



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What Is a First-Person Essay?

A first-person essay is a piece of writing that describes an important lesson gathered from a writer’s personal experience, written in the first-person point of view. Personal essays can take the form of formal academic writing or informal personal narratives. They usually have a conversational tone and contain a mixture of personal anecdotes, an emotional throughline, and a strong POV.

First-person essays are distinguished by personal pronouns. Writing first-person essays requires the use of first-person pronouns such as “I,” “me,” and “we.” This differs from the third-person point of view—which requires the use of third-person pronouns like “he,” “her,” or “them”—and the second-person point of view—which employs second-person pronouns like “you” and “yours.”

How to Write a First-Person Essay in 5 Steps

When it comes to writing a first-person essay, the possibilities can feel limitless—after all, you may have many personal experiences that may feel essay-worthy. Here is a step-by-step guide to help you choose your topic and write an effective personal essay:

  1. Choose your topic. First-person essay writing can tackle any subject. You could write a narrative essay about how Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird changed your notion of morality. You could choose to write about a high school teacher who had a profound effect on you. Or maybe you want to write about the first time you left the United States and explored a new country. All that matters is that you choose a topic that you’re passionate about. That will ensure that the point of view of the essay is strong.
  2. Consider your voice. Before beginning their first draft, essay writers should consider the voice and tone of their essay. Depending on the intention of your essay, your writing style may need to adapt. If you’re writing an argumentative essay or persuasive essay, you may want your first-person perspective to be measured and logical in order to convince your reader of your main point. If you’re writing a reflective essay, you may want to employ humor in order to engage your reader. What’s important is that your tone is consistent, that your writing is personal and engaging, and that your reader feels a connection with your first-person narrative.
  3. Jot down a rough outline. Once you’ve chosen your topic and determined the best tone, it’s time to sketch out a rough outline. Think of any people, places, or events that might be relevant to your essay. What are the main bullet points of your story or argument? What do you want the reader to take away from your first-person narrative? How do you want them to feel? Jotting down quick notes before diving in will make the writing process easier.
  4. Write a rough draft. Now it’s time to begin writing. Remember, you aren’t writing an academic essay or research paper: Your essay should be heavy on emotion, candidness, and personal observation. In first-person writing, you are the main character of your own story, so make sure you are injecting the essay with plenty of your own personality.
  5. Go back and edit. Once you’ve completed a draft of your essay, it’s time to edit. This is your opportunity to make sure your point of view is strong and your writing is crisp. Are there sentences written in the passive voice that could be rephrased in the active voice? Is your use of first-person consistent throughout the essay? Does your essay offer enough sensory details to engage the reader and make them feel a part of your experience? College students may need to consult the APA style guide if they’re submitting their essay to a professor or academic journal to make sure that their essay adheres to proper submission standards.

Find MasterClass instructor Margaret Atwood’s favorite examples of point of view in literature here.

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