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What are personal essays?

The personal essay is one of the most popular forms of creative nonfiction. Phillip Lopate says that the essay, for more than four hundred years, has been one of the richest and most vibrant forms of literature. This is expressed in his book The art of the personal essay ( The art of personal essay ). Read on to expand your knowledge of this form of content.

Personal essay definition

The Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) defines an essay as “a literary genre written in prose in which an author develops his ideas on a given topic with personal character and style.” In his book Writing Life Stories , Bill Roorbach gives an excellent definition of the personal essay, saying that it is writing based on personal opinion. He affirms that the personal essay based on one’s own opinion has the following characteristics:

  • It is a conversation with your readers.
  • It’s an informed mix of stories, facts, wisdom, and personality.
  • Examine someone else’s topic or your own, but through a personal lens.
  • The subject of the personal essay may be the self, but at the same time the self is treated as evidence for the argument.
  • Narrative passages often appear, but they are often used as evidence in inductive argumentation.
  • He strives to state the obvious and come to a conclusion that the reader may or may not agree with.
  • A personal essay can question its subject, it can go round and round, it can have both a long and a short vision, always contributing the experience, knowledge, learning and personal history of its author.

Personal essay as personal opinion

A personal essay can also be an opinion piece about a certain political or social concern or topic of interest. In this type of essay the writer can state the problem, provide solutions, and then write a conclusion, which should make an important point. However, being of a personal nature, this type of essay is permeated by the subjectivities of the writer, so this topic does not have to be precisely objective.

A personal narrative has the following elements:

  • It is based on own experience . From it, we speak of an important vision of a situation, a lesson learned or a significant event.
  • It is a personal story . The author tells the story including dialogue, imagery, characterization, conflict, plot, and setting.
  • It is written in the first person .
  • The author is honest with his readers .

Structure of a personal essay

A good personal essay should have an introductory paragraph, any body paragraphs you deem necessary, and a conclusion. The standard length is about five paragraphs, but personal essays can be longer or shorter, as long as they contain the three basic sections:

  1. Introduction . The first few sentences of the essay should include a hook that grabs the reader’s attention. You can provide a personal statement that you intend to prove in the body of your essay. Avoid clichés and try to establish a unique connection with your audience.
  2. Body of the essay . The body of the essay is the most important part of your story. It should contain the main points and personal evidence that support your personal thesis statement. This is where, as a writer, you share how your personal experiences have shaped your perspective on the topic at hand and reflect on the insights you’ve gained.
  3. The conclusion . The conclusion should restate your thesis and contain the teaching of your story or the revelation of a deeper truth. Think about why your essay is important and summarize what you want the reader to take away from your writing.

Tips for creating a personal essay

Everyone has a story to tell and a message to share. The challenge is to get that story and that message out of your head and put it into words in a way that resonates with your audience. For this we give you three tips.

  1. Limit your reach . Don’t try to write about a general topic. Your essay may be about sexism, but you should illustrate it through the lens of a defining incident that is deeply personal to you. What have your experiences taught you about sexism? What does it mean to you as an individual?
  2. Show, don’t tell . She closes her eyes. She thinks about the scene that you are going to write. What have you felt with your five senses? Your challenge is to evoke these senses and feelings without outright exposing them. Don’t say “I felt cold”. Instead, you can say, “I breathed out and my breath turned to vapor and hung in the air.”
  3. Write a thought-provoking conclusion . Your essay should end with your own reflection and analysis. What have you learned? How have the events and thoughts you have described changed your life or your way of understanding it? It is not enough to say “And this is what happened”. You have to describe how what you have experienced shaped you.


  • Iglesias, R. (2012). The essay : a personal way of writing and saying .
  • Lopate, P. (1995). The Art of the Personal Essay : An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present .
  • Royal Spanish Academy. (nd). essay .
  • Roorbach, B. (2000). In Writing Life Stories: How to Make Memories into Memoirs, Ideas into Essays, Life into Literature . Edited by Writer’s Digest Books.