English 217

Writing Project Three: Personal Essay


Sketch due: Monday, November 3rd

Rough draft due: Wednesday, November 5th

Final draft due: Wednesday, November 12th


Background: The writer Scott Russell Sanders states that an “essay is the closest thing we have on paper to a record of the individual mind at work and play.” The personal essay differs somewhat from the memoir in that it is not rooted solely in the past. Though its central topic may be sparked by some event or situation from the past, it entails an exploration of a related topic that interests the writer, so the journey of the writer–and hence of the essay–occurs in the present.


Assignment: You will write a personal essay on a topic that interests you and that you would like to explore further. Again, the topic should be related to a personal experience, but your aim here is not merely to relate what happened, but to explore some aspect of that experience. For example, in the essay “Mother Tongue,” Amy Tan writes about her life growing up as a Chinese-American; however, Tan interrupts her narrative to delve into ways that language unites and divides us. Your essay should convey a sense of purpose to your reader; in other words, you are exploring this topic because you have been challenged in some respect by it and want to make sense of it. Your essay should be 5-6 pages in length.


Other points to consider:

  • Your essay should reflect a personal voice—yours—so that it comes across as a  personal reflection and not a report on your topic.
  • For some of you, your topics may require outside research in the form of interviews    and reading texts related to your topic.
  • Your essay, then, is an attempt to “get things,” to allow yourself the freedom to discover your thoughts and feelings about your topic as you ruminate, perhaps even research a bit, and compose. Try to look at your topic or question from different angles or perspectives.



Finally, your essay should be 5-6 pages in length, typed in 12-pt. font and double-spaced. Please number your pages. Submit your essay with all process materials in a pocket folder.


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