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Writing

How to Write a Personal Essay: 6 Tips for Writing Personal Essays

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 3 min read

People write personal essays for a number of reasons. High school students write them for college admissions and writers use them to share personal stories with others. A personal narrative essay can enlighten and inspire an audience with information gained from real life experiences.

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What Is a Personal Essay?

A personal essay is a piece of writing that serves to describe an important lesson gathered from a writer’s life experiences. The essay often describes a significant event from a first-person perspective, and can be done in various writing styles, like a formal essay or as creative nonfiction. Personal essays usually have a conversational tone that creates a connection with the reader. This type of essay can be inspiring and uplifting, or it can serve as a warning to others to avoid the author’s mistakes.

Personal essay topics cover a variety of different subject matters. They could be about the first time you failed a test in high school, an estranged family member, a moral turning point encountered during adolescence, a war experience overseas, a survival of abuse, or a professor that changed the way you feel about literature. Any moment in your life that sparked growth or changed you in some way can be written about in a personal essay and enriched by you personal opinion.

How to Structure a Personal Essay

A good personal essay should contain an introductory paragraph, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. The standard length is about five paragraphs, but personal essays can be longer or shorter, as long as they contain all three basic sections:

  • Introduction: The first sentences of your essay should include a hook that captures the reader’s attention. Provide a personal statement that you plan on proving in the body of your essay. Avoid common cliches like opening with a famous quote (especially if this is a college essay), and try to form a unique connection with your audience.
  • Body: The body of your essay is the meat of your story that should include your main points and personal evidence supporting the thesis statement of your narrative essay. This is where you, as a writer, share how your personal experiences shaped your point of view, and reflect on the knowledge gleaned.
  • Conclusion: Your conclusion should restate your thesis and contain the moral of your story or a revelation of a deeper truth. Review why this essay matters and sum up the things you want the reader to take away from this particular piece.
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6 Tips for Writing a Personal Essay

While everyone’s writing process differs, there are a few general guidelines to keep in mind when drafting your essay:

  1. Create an essay outline. Drafting a personal essay outline first can help you lay out the main points and tone of the message you are trying to share. Your outline will help you figure out early on if this specific moment is worth writing about. Whichever topic you choose for your essay, it must have had a strong emotional impact on you or have taught you a lesson in some way.
  2. Start with your intro. Include your hook, state your thesis, and form an emotional connection with the reader. Set your audience up for what your piece will be about and give them something to look forward to.
  3. Fill your body paragraphs. Use sensory details about the sequence of events surrounding your thesis to guide the reader through your personal essay. Build up your personal story here to eventually lead the reader to your main point.
  4. Be specific. A descriptive essay about a significant moment in your life is much more engaging than a general overview of something that happened to you. Provide the details necessary about real life characters or any particular feelings experienced.
  5. Include a conclusion. Summarize what you learned from your experience and what message you hope to pass on to the reader. It might be a difficult or unsettling revelation, but ending on a generally positive or hopeful note can help it feel more aspirational or uplifting.
  6. Proofread your work. Aside from checking spelling and grammar, make sure your intent is clear and your narrative is easy to follow. No matter how good your writing skills are, it’s always helpful to reread your own work and ensure you’ve solidified your story.

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