Personal Essay

4-page (1000-word) essay. Draft due Wed, Jan. 30; Revision due Wed, Feb. 6

For your first formal essay, you’ll write a personal essay. More specifically, your assignment is to engage with an idea presented in one or more course readings and to use that idea to reflect on your own experience of identity. How does the other writer’s idea apply to your experience? How does your own experience of identity bear out or cast doubt on the other writer’s hypothesis? To explain how this idea does or does not apply to your own experience of identity, discuss in detail one or two specific incidents that have shaped the way you see yourself, your place in the world, or the nature of identity.

Below are some guidelines/suggestions. While you may, if you like, tackle the assignment in the order in which the guidelines are presented, you’re welcome to organize your essay differently. For instance, you could start by describing a personal experience, then introduce a source idea that brought your experience to mind, and go on to explain how your experience relates to the idea.

Engage with a Reading

  1. Choose a Specific Idea to Discuss
    • Review the course readings. Which claims have made the strongest impression on you? Which have you found the most surprising, provocative, or illuminating?
    • While you can certainly cite more than one reading, choose one idea to respond to in depth
  2. Present the Idea to your Readers
    • Introduce the author by name
    • You can quote the source if you’d like, but if you do, be sure in addition to paraphrase the idea in your own words
  3. Respond to the Idea
    • Indicate why you find it striking or surprising—why it’s worth writing about
    • Explain why you do or do not find it persuasive
  4. Acknowledge Source Ideas and Source Words
    • Within your essay, use parenthetical references to indicate where you are citing another writer’s ideas (page #s, and, only if necessary, the name of the author[s])
    • Include a list of works cited at the end of your essay. Any documentation style is fine for this first essay.
    • Be sure to put any borrowed phrasing in quotation marks.

Connect the Reading to Your Own Experience

  1. Choose a Personal Experience to Discuss
    • Think about moments in which you suddenly became keenly aware of who or what you identified with, or moments that prompted you to think about how others identified you, or instances that you see, in retrospect, as moments where your self-understanding pr ideas about identity evolved
    • Choose one such moment—a personal experience you can point to in your essay and use as a basis for your remarks
      • as an example to illustrate your view of personal identity
      • as a “test case” for the source claim you’re exploring—as grounds for explaining why you find that source idea persuasive, insufficient, or misguided
  2. Vividly Describe Your Experience
    • Strive to paint an evocative mental image that will enable your readers to visualize the scene and imagine what it was like to be in your shoes, what you saw and thought and felt.
    • Use concrete language and sensory details to help your readers picture the moment
    • Carefully select important details to emphasize. Less is more here.
  3. Relate Your Personal Experience to the Source Idea You’re Responding to
    • Explain how your experience illustrates the source writer’s point, why it calls that idea into question, or why your experience leads you to embrace a qualified version of the source writer’s idea
    • For instance, if you’re writing about identity and narrative, you might talk about how and why, in your story about yourself, you have integrated some experiences and glossed over others
    • Or if you’re writing about how you play different roles and experience your identity differently in various contexts, you might explore situational factors that influence how you see yourself and interact with others

Formatting and Turning in Your Essay

  • Essays should be typewritten and double spaced, with a 1-inch or 1.25-inch margin.
  • Hand in a hard copy of your essay in class
  • Submit an electronic copy through our canvas website