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Dos and Don’ts for Writing Your Personal Essay

A personal essay is called personal for a reason. There is no defining structure or thesis that should be included in it: the style, the parts, the very language of it strongly depends on the personality of the writer. You. A personal essay is a short text that opens up the author's experience, his or her thoughts, and worldview, something they learned through their life and want to share with the world.

Everything is permitted while writing a personal essay. But complete freedom makes us much more puzzled than strict regulations. To help you on your way to writing a perfect personal essay, we gathered a set of Dos and Don'ts for creating it. Hope that you'll enjoy them and find them useful!

Don't choose the topic because it is "convenient"

The topic you write about should show your own opinion and personality. Don't try to be a "good" or “pious” person and write something that will be equally accepted by anyone. Even if your experience is rough or ambiguous, it is still worth sharing, because that's what shaped you as you are now. We all share something in common, like feelings of fear, love, the need to make difficult choices and take responsibility. But each of us has their own way to the universal truth, and that's what makes the value of a personal essay.

Try to express what you are talking about in the very first paragraph. You'll have plenty of pages to expand your thought, but formulate your topic and your introduction as if they are written on the cover of your book. Will people become interested in what is inside after reading the cover? Will they open it?

Place hooks for the reader

The great topic isn't enough to make your personal essay outstanding. Make each of your paragraphs equally thrilling, drawing the attention of your readers with a strong statement. They will read as much text as you write after it to see how you open up the sense of that statement and how it is related to your personal experience and life lessons.

You don't need to invent a special statement for each paragraph; it won't look natural. Try to start from the accounts instead. Your experience may be divided into stages of understanding or different cases that helped you grasp the subject of the essay. Each stage, case, or another logical part can be described shortly and precisely in a catching manner and make a great first sentence for your paragraph.

Don't neglect the structure

The personal essay still has to be structured, at least partly. It doesn't have a strict pattern like essays on nature or other science-related topics, but that only means that you need to invent the pattern by yourself and make it suit your narrative. If you are talking about life experience, try to structure it at least chronologically. Usually, it helps, showing the development of your personality throughout the text. If you are talking about personal epiphanies, not related to a particular time period, you may use another order; but a clear structure should be present, to evade the "wait, I had to tell you that first!" situation and long and painful rewriting.

Create a short outline that you can mix and match without too many efforts. This will be the "skeleton" of your essay. Later you will grow the flesh of neat and eloquent sentences on it, but right now, your task is to assemble the bones in the right order. Having some "I-statements" is fine on that stage. Or you may use the hooks from the previous piece of advice if you have them ready. Try to use the principles of a good fiction story: introduction, then raising the tension until the climax – and the emotional resolution and conclusion. From the age of the first tales of humanity, this method has always proved successful.

Use your emotional power

The personal essay is a work where you may allow yourself to be descriptive. That's your world and your experience. Let your readers feel like you felt along all your way. Describe what your perception tells you, remember your emotions at every particular moment. Humans are empathic creatures, and they will inevitably feel the same you felt, if only you describe it right. Try to get under the reader's skin and make them walk in your shoes for the time of reading your essay.

Close your eyes and imagine what you are writing about. Do you remember what you felt at that exact moment? What did you see? What was your heart rate, how did you breathe? What thoughts filled your mind at that time? Try to remember the details, experience that feeling again, and then transfer it to the text.

Leave a thought-provoking ending

The main idea of a personal essay is to show what you have learned and how you have changed. But if the readers were a bit you and made their own journey through the events you described, they might have changed a bit too. Tell them about your changes, your conclusions, and your experience, but leave room for their own reflections.

Your essay will be remembered if the readers close it with thoughts about themselves, their similar experience, and their changes. Let them do this. After telling them about your conclusions, ask them about their own. You may not do this directly; make sure that they will relate to your words.


The personal essay is one of the most liberal forms of written tasks. You aren't tied to the facts and research, and you may just tell the world what makes you a person you are now. The sheer awesomeness of it lies in the fact that each one of us has their story that changed our life, shaped us, and is worth sharing with the rest of the world. Each of us has the experience that may be used and appreciated by others. And that's wonderful.