Personal essays


Students write personal essays for different reasons: some have to complete a task for school or college, while others want to share their story with the audience. Whatever the final goal is, you will learn how to generate such essays at school. It would help if you got the right idea of the structure, elements, and some techniques.

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A personal essay may seem to be a straightforward writing assignment at first. However, there are some peculiarities. Remember the times when you had a clear-cut picture in your head? Often, when you start putting it on the table, the result is not even close to the original image. Here, you will learn the basics of personal essays.

The purpose of personal essays

The name of this type of essay defines the essence of it: you are to share the story from your life experience. What is more, such a story should exemplify how you learned a particular lesson based on that incident from your life. In other words, a personal essay’s purpose is to tell about some essential incident from the writer’s life.

The most exciting thing about a personal paper assignment is that you are free to decide on the writing style. If you want to make it look like a diary, non-fictional story, or formal essay, you can do it! The only condition here is cohesiveness and a conversational tone that connects you with the readers. Besides, you can choose the overall tune: it can be inspiring or warning, for instance.

Topics for your essay

As you may understand, the topics vary a lot. Some examples for you to make up your mind are as follows:

  • My best summer holiday.
  • The most emotional celebration of the last year.
  • Estrangement with a friend.
  • A teacher who made me who I am.
  • First time I failed an exam.
  • The gift I will never forget, etc.

Thus, it is nearly any experience you faced in your life that could be interesting for others for a specific reason. The story should be precious for you and, therefore, can come in handy for anyone else.

Structuring your personal essay

Personal essays are well-structured and include three essential parts: introduction, main body, and conclusion. While the minimum number of body paragraphs is three, you will want to add some more of them, for sure. The average number of sections is five. The golden rule is to have three standard parts, though.

Introductory part

The first paragraph is very intense as it includes the hook, presentation of the theme, and a thesis statement. Your hook must gain the attention of your reader while he is reading the paper. Despite the temptation, you should not use cliches and phrases that do not have any semantic charge in order to “enrich” your vocabulary. The conclusion is about being concise and up to a point.

Main body part

Consider the body part as the flesh of your essay, the stuffing. And you must make sure that this part is worth reading. Your thesis can be outstanding, but it is this part that must grasp your reader. The audience has some expectations, and you can meet these by providing a logical and exciting story.

Use various means such as questions, exclamation marks (do not go hard with these, though), appeal to readers’ emotions, and create imagery. Every paragraph must be complete so that there are no open endings in your story. Also, correlate everything you write with the thesis statement.

The concluding part

In the last paragraph, you will paraphrase the thesis and drive your reader to your story’s moralistic conclusions. Examine the importance of the story for you personally. At the same time, you should mention why you decided to share this story, how your readers can win from this essay.

Personal Essay Examples

  • Who Am I?

Who Am I?

  • A more personal essay about betrayal

A more personal essay about betrayal

  • My Personal Statement and Future Plans

My Personal Statement and Future Plans

Get down to writing your personal essay

Every student has some specifics of how to prepare for writing and carry out this task. However, some general rules will be helpful for anyone, including you. Here are some of these:

Write the essay outline and follow it

The outline helps students to follow the structure and mention everything they wanted to use in their work. You need to note the thesis statement and all the body parts’ key points in your plan. Also, while writing the outline, you will see whether you chose the right topic.

If you are stuck at the stage of the outline creation, there is no way you can finish your paper. Thus, you can see that the plan can save you time. Besides, it would help if you see your future paper’s structure, as this will organize your thoughts and see whether any changes are needed.

Think about Statement

Arguable thesis means that it can be argued. It must either state or refute an argument about your topic. To be debateable, a thesis must have some possibility of being true. However, the thesis should not be universally accepted as true. Instead, it should be something that people can disagree with. A thesis can be both an observation or an opinion.

observation + opinion (the "why") = thesis

Seeing if your thesis creates a powerful antithesis is an excellent approach to determine how strong it is.

Common thesis pitfalls:

  • A thesis in the form of a fragment.
  • A thesis that is overly broad.
  • A thesis that is phrased as a question. (The thesis is usually derived from the solution to the question.)
  • Extraneous information is included in a thesis.
  • A thesis that begins with the words "I believe" or "In my opinion."

Be specific when describing

You are going to introduce your recollection of some incident to your reader. While doing it, do not forget that a reader does not know the people you are talking about or some specific places. Therefore, you must provide enough vivid details. Be specific. The readers must be able to recreate your story in their imagination with your compelling descriptions.

Use appropriate author’s voice, tone, and vocabulary

The author’s voice is the way you present your thoughts in work. Your teacher will pay special attention to what words you use and how it all makes your writing style different from any other. It does not mean that you must start being creative on every step, though. The trick is to find what technique resonates with you and the way you see the world.

As for the choice of verbs, you should understand that there should be consistency in their tense. So, if you decide on using the past tense, then keep on going using it. Also, it would be best to use active voice throughout the text. You still can use passive voice when it is appropriate; however, focus on the active voice.

Students should pay attention to the choice of vocabulary as well. Here is how you can do it:

  • If you want to write about something fundamental and matters a lot to the entire story, use powerful words and not waver.
  • Use some positive language to create a corresponding atmosphere.
  • If you need to make the feeling of danger, uncertainty, or any other, your words should convey a clear message.

Concluding sentences

The conclusion for a personal essay is similar to those of any other essay type. Here, you summarize the major points and remind your readers about the thesis statement in other words. The final paragraph must draw the line and give some implications based on the life story you just pictured for your audience. Consider using a smooth transition between the sentences.

You can discuss how this particular story changed you, what it gave you, and why you care about it so much. Also, you may explain why you feel that you need to share your story with others and how it can be helpful for every reader. It is up to you how to end your text. One way is to present critical outputs, and another one is to leave something for readers to mull over the next several hours. Whatever you decide will work.

Final brush strokes — editing

Editing is an essential part of any writing task. You will have to spend enough time on this after you finish writing your paper. It will help if you give yourself a break and only then start checking your text. A 15-minute walk, exercising, or sleep can provide you and your brain some rest so that you can look at your work with a fresh look.

Some of the things to consider are as follows:

  • The correctness of the sentences’ structure.
  • Grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
  • Cohesiveness. Is your paper easy to follow?
  • Do you stick to the outline and the topic?
  • The descriptiveness of the object.
  • Correlation with the thesis statement.

While you can check the paper’s grammatical side with the help of your books, the Internet, and even some online tools, you must do the rest of the things on the list on your own. One way to see whether the essay flows is to read it both silently and out loud.

Why do you need to read your work aloud? First, you can hear how the voice you use in the paper would sound in real life. Secondly, it may be more effective in terms of noticing some mistakes. Besides, it is easier to track the cohesiveness of the story.

You may even ask someone to help you with the revision. A look from the side will help to see the reaction of a reader. Thus, you will know whether your vocabulary and the author’s tone are the right ones for the topic you chose. If you see that you should change the structure or paraphrase some parts of your works, then do it with no regrets.

List of Personal Essay Topics

  1. The best place in the local area.
  2. A place where you would like to live your whole life.
  3. Works of art you admire.
  4. The job of your dream.
  5. Your biggest disappointment.
  6. Books that made a great impression on you.
  7. What annoys you?
  8. Your family traditions.
  9. Are you addicted to technology?
  10. What modern songs inspire you?
  11. Could you live without money?
  12. Your fondest memory
  13. A time when you saw your parent cry
  14. The moment when you knew you were grown up
  15. Your earliest memory of holiday celebrations in your home
  16. Times when you should have made a better choice
  17. A time when you dodged a dangerous situation
  18. A person you will think about at the end of your life
  19. Your favorite time period
  20. A failure you've experienced
  21. A disappointment you've experienced
  22. A surprising turn of events
  23. What you would do with power
  24. What superpower you would choo
  25. What games did you play when you were a kid?
  26. The biggest challenge you’ve ever faced.
  27. Do you remember your first birthday?
  28. Tell us how you learned something new.
  29. Have you ever met a wild animal?
  30. Where would you like to spend a thunderstorm?
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