Students are often asked to write an essay about someone who influenced their lives. While focusing on specific ways the person has helped is a great start, John Mauk and John Metz, authors of "The Composition of Everyday Life: A Guide to Writing," advise writers to "remember that the goal is not simply to tell a story about your past, but to discover something meaningful---something that can be shared and valued by others." To create an essay that communicates the importance of the person in your life, it is essential to reflect on what they helped you learn.

Use pre-writing strategies such as listing, clustering or free writing to help in the discovery process. Review the writing generated and narrow down topics to three or four most significant ways the person has helped. Reflect on how you changed as a result of knowing the person, such as understanding yourself or life, and connect this understanding to each example.

Make the purpose of the essay clear in the introduction. Provide general background information describing the person's character. Incorporating descriptive anecdotes draws readers into the scene, helping them connect to the person and to recall their own similar experiences. End with a thesis statement that sums up what you have learned. Avoid clichés like 'I learned I could move mountains.'

Organize the paper's body paragraphs so that each paragraph discusses one specific way the person has influenced you. Build support by including two or three examples that illustrate the point, being sure to explicitly state how the advice, encouragement, or other behavior caused you to alter your behavior in a positive manner. Model: When Ms. Jones trusted me to write the test answers on the board for the class, I became a more confident student.

Avoid closing an essay with a statement like 'in conclusion.' Create a sense of finality by restating the paper's thesis and topic points. Including an anecdote that mirrors the one used in the introduction can effectively tie in the past and present significance of the person. Imagine what your life might have been like had you not crossed paths with the person. Remind readers what you learned and how it continues to shape your life.

Revisit the paper to ensure that it has enough concrete examples. Look for places in the narrative where examples are missing reflection on the significance of what has been learned. Edit wordiness and proofread several times, checking for distracting grammar, mechanical writing and spelling errors.