Writing a personal essay is not as easy as people think. Sure, you're in expert on your life, but writing about one's background can be tricky, especially if the stakes are high for things like college applications or professional bios. Thought, planning and essay writing skills can make writing a personal essay much easier. Readers should get to know your background as you describe important elements in your life. It's important to lay these elements out clearly, without sounding pompous, which is no small feat! Luckily, with a bit of planning, you'll have no problem highlighting your best qualities while still sounding compelling to your reader.
Brainstorm your personal essay by making a list of your interests, achievements and goals. Include foreign travel, employment, research projects and any unusual activities. Consider difficult situations you may have overcome and how you coped with them. Don't just consider the good times: also think about hardships you encountered, family problems or disappointments, and how those have effected you.
Your essay's introduction should grab the reader's attention. A startling statement, appropriate quotation or anecdote will do just this, and make the reader want to read more about your background. Before you start writing, take time to outline your ideas, so that you know what sequence events will unfold in throughout your personal essay. When you write your introduction, use brief, informative and interesting sentences: for example “One of the most rewarding adventures of my life was when I overcame my fear of the ocean to snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef."
To write the body of the essay, you'll need to flesh out your ideas. Follow your outline to develop your thoughts. You should use selective detail and stick to the important points in order to keep your essay brief. In fact, most college essays are 500 to 700 words long, which doesn't give you too much space to work with. Be sure to highlight your major accomplishments including as hobbies, experiences, likes and dislikes, other languages spoken, cultural heritage or community service are interesting discussion points, since these set you apart from others. Develop your thoughts clearly by using appropriate language and vivid images, and be sure that the body of your personal essay relates to the introduction.
Conclude your essay with a brief summary of the important points. Be sure to end with a powerful statement, like: “Even with my background, I realize I can’t change the world, but I hope to make a difference."
Other considerations: Be sure to use transitions from one paragraph to the next. Be honest and confident. Brevity is required, so don't ramble. Carefully check spelling, punctuation, grammar and sentence structure. Revise and edit your essay. Have someone else read it, in order to get an objective opinion on whether you adequately described your background.
Based in Bellmore, N.Y., Shula Hirsch has been writing since 1960 on travel, education, raising children and senior problems. Her articles have appeared in "Newsday," "Mature Living," "Teaching Today," and "Travel News." She holds a Master of Arts degree from Columbia University and is a retired professor of English.