How to start off a personal experience essay

What Is a Good Way to Start Writing a Reflective Essay?

Whether writing about a group project or a significant personal event, a reflective essay lets you present an overview of a personal experience and its impact on you. Beginning a paper that requires evaluation of your own work and behavior, though, can be challenging. You can get started on a reflective assignment by understanding the specific assignment requirements and using brainstorming activities to compile evidence of your growth and change.

Understand the Requirements

Before you start writing, read through the assignment sheet several times, taking special note of the essay prompt and what kind of experience you’re asked to discuss. For example, you may be asked to reflect on the development of an essay in English class, or to describe a personal challenge for a scholarship or college application. Careful focus on the prompt will be critical to your essay’s success. Pay attention to the length requirement as well; a reflective essay will typically be two to three pages and therefore require a summary of events rather than a descriptive, lengthy narrative.

Write an Event Log

The University of Reading’s online study advice department suggests writing an objective log of the experience you’re focusing on. This means recording a description of events without inserting any personal judgments or emotional language. You can then use the log to note how the experience changed your thought process or behavior. For example, you may be writing about a personality clash with a coworker and how you chose to find a way to communicate rather than be in conflict. This reveals that you’ve learned to be flexible and understanding in dealing with different people.

Write a Thesis Statement

Like any academic essay, a reflective paper needs a thesis statement, a sentence placed near the beginning that gives an overview of what you’ll be discussing. One way to structure your thesis is by previewing your analysis of your experience and how you changed as a result. For example, if you’re writing a reflective essay about a science project, your thesis might read, «Although my experiment helped me to better understanding the scientific method, my ability to design an effective hypothesis still needs improvement.» Be prepared to revise your thesis as you craft the actual essay and get new ideas.

Make an Outline

A reflective essay typically includes an introduction, at least three body paragraphs that both detail your experience and evaluate your response to it, followed by a conclusion. To structure a well-organized paper, make an outline with notes about the details of the experience, what progress you’ve made and what evidence illustrates your development. Be careful not to let the story itself dominate the essay; Queensland University of Technology suggests focusing on only the most crucial details so you have room left to reflect on what happened.

How to Write a Strong Personal Essay

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

You must create an account to continue watching

Register to view this lesson

As a member, you’ll also get unlimited access to over 75,000 lessons in math, English, science, history, and more. Plus, get practice tests, quizzes, and personalized coaching to help you succeed.

Already registered? Login here for access

You’re on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Just checking in. Are you still watching?

  • 0:05 Reasons for a Personal Essay
  • 0:56 Identify Your Purpose
  • 3:16 Three Important Guidelines
  • 5:55 Lesson Summary

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Amy has taught college and law school writing courses and has a master’s degree in English and a law degree.

Reasons for a Personal Essay

Have you ever met someone at a party, and within the first few minutes, they’ve given you way too much personal information? You may have thought, ‘Hey, I don’t even know you, and I definitely don’t need to know all of those details!’

Well, when you’re assigned a personal essay, your job is to do what our friend there didn’t do, and that’s strike a good balance. You need to give glimpses of yourself — your personal experiences, observations and views — but you need to do so with a specific purpose in mind. Your job isn’t to throw out a ton of details, but rather to achieve a certain goal by using a select few of those experiences, observations, and views.

You may be asked to write a personal essay as part of the application process for a college, or you might be given the assignment of writing a personal essay for a writing course or a test. Whatever the case may be, there are a few things that you should keep in mind in order to keep your personal essay on track.

Identify Your Purpose

There are three major types of personal essays , and we can identify each by its purpose. Some personal essays are meant to entertain, some are meant to inform, and others are meant to support or oppose a specific position. So when you’re writing a personal essay, the most important thing to do is to identify your purpose.

Perhaps you’re writing a narrative essay that tells a story about a significant event that happened to you. If that’s the case, you need to ask yourself whether your purpose is to entertain, as some stories do, or perhaps to do something altogether different.

If you’re writing a narrative essay as part of an application, for example, your goal should ultimately be to inform, to let your reader know something important about yourself — to underscore a specific feature like your athleticism, your artistic abilities or the fact that you’re well-traveled, for example. If this is the case, remember our friend from the party, and think about which details are important to flesh your story out. Which details capture the message that you’re trying to convey? Remember: stay on track, and don’t ramble. Use your personal experiences and observations to support your main point or main idea.

If you’re writing a personal essay that’s meant to inform the reader about some specific aspect of your life, like the fact that you do a lot of volunteer work, it can be a good idea to carefully choose a few specific anecdotes that help illustrate your commitment to volunteer work, and to describe each of those anecdotes briefly, spending roughly the same amount of time on each short story.

Remember that there is a third major type of personal essay. You may be asked to write a personal essay that requires you to support or oppose a specific position, supporting your reasoning with experiences and observations from your own life. Keep in mind that this type of personal essay differs a bit from the typical persuasive essay because with a typical persuasive essay, you’ll often rely on external evidence — facts, statistics, expert opinions — to build your case, much like a lawyer would.

But in a personal essay that supports or opposes a specific position, your job will be to support or oppose an idea based on your own experiences, observations, and views. Remember our friend from the party, though. Your job isn’t just to throw out random, overly-detailed stories. Instead, you should think carefully about what experiences or observations you want to share to support your position.

Three Important Guidelines

Keep in mind these general guidelines:

1. Narrow Your Scope

Especially when you’re writing a personal essay with the purpose of supporting or opposing a particular point, it’s best to stick to a specific theme with the personal experiences and observations that you bring up in support of your position.

For example, if you’re writing a personal essay in which you support the position that public schools should require students to wear school uniforms, you might explain your personal experience of having worn school uniforms, and explain that it helped you focus on your school work. Explain how it helped, using a few concrete examples.

Unlock Content

Get access risk-free,
just create an account.

How Should I Start My Thesis for My Personal Narrative?

Unlike a conventional academic essay, a personal narrative is about your own experiences or feelings. Still, a personal narrative contains a «thesis,» the main point you are trying to communicate. Because a personal narrative allows you more creative freedom than a traditional essay, you don’t need a one-sentence thesis that neatly summarizes your argument. Instead, you can get creative and write a thesis that is more suggestive or ambiguous.

Main Point

You can begin a personal narrative by simply stating the main point of your piece. If, for instance, your narrative is about a difficult experience during your childhood, start with something like, «Childhood experiences stay with us all our lives, even the bad ones.» Beginning your thesis with the main point provides a focus for the remainder of the paper. Be clear, and expand upon your main point in the paragraphs and sentences that follow.

Mid-Thought

Sometimes the best thesis for a personal narrative begins in the middle of a thought. This places the reader right in the middle of the action and can be a more gripping way to begin a thesis. For example, in a personal narrative about your first day of kindergarten, begin with something like, «Why do I still remember that day after all these years?» Instead of telling your reader the lesson you will try to impart, you are setting up an anecdote by showing its effect in the present.

Chronologically

Personal narratives are stories, so begin your thesis by launching right into the plot from the beginning. One way to do this is to adopt the present tense while narrating the past and setting the scene. By illustrating the past as if it is happening now, you make your reader feel the immediacy of the event. For instance, your thesis might begin, «It is raining out. I see flashing lights and loud noises. All of a sudden, I realize it’s an ambulance.»

Mini-Anecdote

Although your personal narrative is a story about yourself, your thesis can begin with a short anecdote that pertains to your own story. This way, you clue your reader into the theme before you even get to your own narrative. For a personal narrative about drug abuse, for instance, your thesis could be about someone you knew who struggled with a similar problem for years. In showing how he dealt the the issue, you can compare or contrast it to your own narrative.