TIPS & SUGGESTIONS for writing personal essays

See some example essays here.

Tips to write a great essay

1) Try writing what first comes to mind. Stream of consciousness produces a lot of good stuff. You can revise & edit later.

2) Use a catchy first line. Start by grabbing people’s attention in a way that will make people want to read further. Good past examples: “In 2002, a drunk driver turned left into my lane.” “I’m lucky to have a smile on my face 30% of the time.” and “I'm a vampire.” Often the opening line can wrap back around at the end.

3) Keep on asking yourself a series of “whys” until you get to a deeper "why."

For example, if you first say "To make a difference." Go to the next level and ask yourself "Why do you want to make a difference?" "Where did that desire come from?" Be willing to take a chance and be candid, bold and vulnerable. The most common answers to "wdydwyd?" are "For love," "For family," "Why not?" "To make a difference," "Because I can," and "It makes me happy." You could take all of these to the next level of "why?"

4) Be very very specific. If you say anything that could be placed under someone else’s face without anyone noticing the difference, then it’s too general. Add descriptive details to reflect your personality & history. Give it texture. Make it unique to YOU.

5) Center your essay on real-life personal stories to illustrate the main point you are trying to convey (see examples). Use an anecdote as a metaphor that shows what you want to say rather than simply telling the reader.

• For example, Markita first wrote: "My calling is to teach with energy, passion and joy."  In her second draft, she wrote this instead: "Teaching was a gift from my late father, who taught chemistry and physics for 25 years. His students remember him forever." Markita's first draft tells the reader, which isn't as powerful as her revision, which shows us her "passion & joy."

• One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever got was this: "If you're writing something BIG, you need to make it small. If you're writing something small, you need to make it BIG." Answers to "wdydwyd?" are by definition BIG, so make it small by being specific and using metaphors and anecdotes to illustrate your BIG ideas. Memories often work well to accomplish this goal. Tell a story.


6) Use everyday conversational language. Don’t try to sound smart. Be straightforward rather than flowery or poetic. Read it out loud to hear if it sounds like something you’d tell a friend.

7) Ask yourself other questions to spark your thinking, such as:
• What three values do I hold most closely? What experiences have led me to prioritize these? 
• What experiences or events have shaped me?
• What do I most doubt or fear?
• What makes me feel most alive?
• What are my dreams?
• What hurdles or barriers have I faced?
• What is my purpose or calling in life & where does it come from?
• What do I care about the most? Why this and not something else?


8) Solicit critical feedback. 80% of writing is in revising. Ask friends for feedback. Revise. And, revise again! Use your sectionmates to get feedback.

9) Have fun with it! Don’t just use what you’ve written already (e.g. college application). Consider the question with a “beginner’s mind.” It doesn’t need to be profound. Just real.

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  • If you'd like clarity or further explanation on any of these tips, just ask below and I'll respond.


    Also, if you have any ideas, comments or suggestions, post it below. It can help others.

  • Here are three example essays that will help you write yours.


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