A personal essay can be a fun way to ease into the writing process, and it’s much less difficult than a research-based essay because you already know plenty about the topic of “you.” A classic essay is divided into five sections: the introduction, three main topic paragraphs and a conclusion. If you’re writing a school assignment that requires a different structure, follow your directions first and use this tutorial as a way to develop ideas and hone your writing. If your assignment doesn’t specify the structure, a five-paragraph essay is probably the safest and most effective format to use.
Brainstorm about some of the things you might want to write about. You can either make a list as things pop into your mind or draw a flow chart with the word “me” circled in the middle, followed by bubbles stemming from the “me” circle that list important aspects of your life -- family, friends, job, sports, hobbies, etc. From there, focus on subcategories of each bubble. For example, hobbies might include “playing video games, skateboarding, painting, scrapbooking, etc.”
Choose three of the most interesting or unusual aspects about yourself for main topics. If your personal essay is supposed to be about the most exciting thing that happened in your life, you’ll need to structure it chronologically (first this happened, then this, then that) rather than topically (my kids, my job as a waitress, my love of guitar).
Develop your introductory hook. A hook is usually the first sentence, and it should draw the reader into the essay. If in doubt, consider your favorite quote or something funny or profound that a loved one has said about you.
Write a thesis statement. A thesis is no more than a point you’re trying to make by using your three main ideas. In a personal essay, such a thesis could be worded “because of A, B and C, I was encouraged to follow my dreams to be a (insert dream here).” A, B and C represent the three main ideas you’ll be discussing in the following paragraphs.
Develop your three middle paragraphs. Each one should revolve around one main idea, with a few relevant examples or anecdotes. If you’re using the thesis template above and topic A is your father, you could tell a story about something your father did to support your goals when you were a child.
Add transitions between paragraphs. If you’re unsure, transition words like “next,” “another” or “later” may be good lead-ins to transitions. For more seamless transitions, try connecting an idea from the end of one paragraph to the start of another. For example, if you’re going between topic A (your father) to topic B (your wife) your second paragraph could begin, “However, my father wasn’t the only person who supported my dream,” followed by a sentence introducing your wife.
Write your conclusion. A concluding paragraph often mirrors the introduction, referring back to the thesis. Be careful not to say the exact same thing you’ve said in your thesis. Instead, try to come to a “greater” conclusion about your main ideas.
There are no hard-and-fast rules for the writing process. If your mind doesn’t work linearly, feel free to write the middle sections before doing the introduction and conclusion. Sometimes this sort of writing will make the task feel less daunting, and it may even give you great ideas for an introductory hook or a closing phrase. Try to write in your natural voice for a personal essay. Don’t feel pressured to use an academic tone, especially since this will sound forced if it doesn’t come naturally to you. The most effective essays are honest, straightforward and conservative in word count (i.e. cut out “fluff” and replace it with new and interesting information).
- writing image by Anna Chelnokova from Fotolia.com