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Wikipedia Personal Essay

“For more than four hundred years, the personal essay has been one of the richest and most vibrant of all literary forms.” (The Art of the Personal Essay by Phillip Lopate.) The personal essay is also one of the most popular forms of creative nonfiction. A personal essay can be based on a personal experience that results in a lesson that you learn. A personal essay can also be a personal opinion about a topic or issue that is important to you. This article defines the personal essay.

Personal Essay versus a Formal Essay

The personal essay is different than a formal essay. In the personal essay, the writer writes about experience without having to prove the point. The author needs only to introduce the subject and theme. It is based on feeling, emotion, personal opinion, and personal experience. It is autobiographical. On the other hand, in the formal essay, the writer states the thesis, and then attempts to prove or support his point with facts—to provide proof. To do this, the author must do research.

Definition of the Personal Essay

A personal essay is either a personal narrative in which the author writes about a personal incident or experience that provided significant personal meaning or a lesson learned, or it is a personal opinion about some topic or issue that is important to the writer.

The Personal Essay as a Personal Narrative

A personal narrative has the following elements:

  • It is based on a personal experience in which you have gained significant meaning, insight, or learned a lesson. It can also be based on a milestone or life-altering event.
  • It is personal narrative. The writer tells the story by including dialogue, imagery, characterization, conflict, plot, and setting.
  • It is written in the first person. (“I” point-of-view)
  • It is an autobiographical story in which the writer describes an incident that resulted in some personal growth or development.
  • A personal essay is a glimpse of the writer’s life. The writer describes the personal experience using the scene-building technique, weaves a theme throughout the narrative, and makes an important point. There must be a lesson or meaning. The writer cannot just write an interesting story.
  • It does not have to be objective. However, the writer must express his/her feelings, thoughts, and emotions.
  • The writer uses self-disclosure and is honest with his/her readers.
  • The writer writes about a real life experience. The incident or experience must have occurred. The writer must use fact and truth.
  • The writer must dramatize the story by using the scene building technique. A scene includes setting/location, intimate details, concrete and specific descriptions, action, and often dialogue.

The Personal Essay as a Personal Opinion

A personal essay can also be an opinion piece, an opinion that is based on a particular political or social concern or topic of interest. In this type of personal essay, the writer can states the problem, provide solutions, and then write a conclusion—which must state an important point. Whatever the writer discusses, the topic is of interest to the writer. The writer frequently seeks to explain the truth or reality has he/she views it. Sometimes the writer ponders a question. Other times the writer explores a topic from his own perspective. The writer must not lecture, sermonize, or moralize. In other words, the writer must present his/her opinion in such a way that allows the readers decide for themselves.

In Writing Life Stories, author Bill Roorbach provides an excellent definition of the personal essay, one that is based on a personal opinion. He states that the personal essay that is based on a personal opinion has these attributes:

  • A personal essay is a conversation with your readers.
  • The personal essay is an informed mixture of storytelling, facts, wisdom, and personality.
  • The personal essay examines a subject outside of yourself, but through the lens of self.
  • The subject of the personal essay may be the self, but the self is treated as evidence for the argument.
  • Passages of narrative often appear but generally get used as evidence in the inductive argument.
  • The personal essay strives to say what is evident, and to come to a conclusion that the reader may agree or disagree.
  • A personal essay can wonder through its subject, circle around it, get the long view and the short, always providing experience, knowledge, book learning, and personal history.

It should also be noted that a personal essay doesn’t need to be objective. It can be purely subjective. You don’t have to prove a point or show both sides of the argument. But you must express your own personal feelings, thoughts, and opinions on a topic or issue in a logical manner.

Subjects for the Personal Essay

Your subject can be about anything that you are passionate about. You can write about a “turning point” in your life, or a milestone, or adversity, such as death, illness, divorce. The subject you choose must have provided you with significant personal meaning or a lesson that you have learned. But, keep in mind, you are not just reflecting or remembering, you are going to make a point, some universal truth that your readers can appreciate. Otherwise, your story is just a story. So, write about the following:

  • Personal experience
  • Incident
  • Anecdote
  • Topic
  • Issue
  • A memory

Your subject can also be a personal opinion on an issue or concern that is important to you, such as the garbage strike, crime, or unemployment.

How to Choose a Topic

Choose a topic in are interested in and passionate about, and that resulted in a lesson that you learned or personal meaning. Here is how:

  • Your writing needs to be a process of inquiry. So answer the 5-Ws: Who? What? When? Where? Why?
  • Brainstorm your topic. Create a list of topics. Then create subtopics.
  • Mind map your topic. For more information on mindmapping, search the Internet. This is a popular form of creative thinking.
  • Narrow your topic. Instead of writing about global warming, you can narrow your topic by writing about “going green” or “how you should recycle in your home”.
  • Think of a milestone, or something memorable, or a turning point in your life. What were your impressions? What did you learn? What meaning came from the personal experience?
  • Be sure that your topic has a universal theme—such as hard work, love, death, bravery, wisdom.
  • Your goal is to make others laugh, learn, hope, empathize, sympathize with what you have written. Your readers must be able to identify with what you have written.
  • If something happened to you that was interesting, humorous, sad, and so forth, you can write about it.
  • Write about personal experiences that have taught you a lesson.

Make the Most of Life Experiences

  • Your goal is to make others laugh, learn, hope, empathize, sympathize with what you have written. Your readers must be able to identify with what you have written.
  • If something happened to you that was interesting, humorous, sad, and so forth, you can write about it.
  • Write about personal experiences that have taught you a lesson.
  • Include your opinions, point of view, feelings and thoughts.
  • Be truthful and honest. In other words, state the facts and evidence.

Resources for Writing Personal Essays

There are some fantastic books available to help you learn to write a personal essay. Here are the books I recommend:

  •  Writing Life Stories: How to Make Memories into Memoir, Ideas into Essays, and Life into Literature by Bill Roorbach
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction, edited by Philip Gerard
  • The Art of Creative Nonfiction by Lee Gutkind
  • The Art of the Personal Essay by Phillip Lapote

The personal essay has loose structure and conversational tone. It is usually written in the first person. The writer uses self-disclosure, honesty, and truth. The writer can write about any subject, topic, or personal experience. But the personal essay must have a universal theme and conclude with a major point. Otherwise, the reader says, “So what?” It was a nice story, but so what is the point?

In the next post, I will explain how to structure/organize your personal essay and what to include.

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Tags:Creative Nonfiction, Creative Writing, Personal Essay, personal narrative, personal opinion, Resources, The Art of Creative Nonfiction, The Art of the Personal Essay

By Dave Hoodin Creative nonfiction Writing, Creative Writing, Personal Essay on .

"WP:ESSAY" redirects here. For the Wikipedia policy on personal essays as articles, see WP:NOTESSAY. For the wikiproject on Wikipedia essays, see WP:WikiProject Essays.

Essays, as used by Wikipedia editors, typically contain advice or opinions of one or more Wikipedia contributors. The purpose of an essay is to aid or comment on the encyclopedia but not on any unrelated causes. Essays have no official status, and do not speak for the Wikipedia community as they may be created and edited without overall community oversight. Following the instructions or advice given in an essay is optional. There are currently about 2,000 essays on a wide range of Wikipedia-related topics.

About essays

Although essays are not policies or guidelines, many are worthy of consideration. Policies and guidelines cannot cover all circumstances, consequently many essays serve as interpretations or commentary of perceived community norms for specific topics and situations. The value of an essay should be understood in context, using common sense and discretion. Essays can be written by anyone and can be long monologues or short theses, serious or funny. Essays may represent widespread norms or minority viewpoints. An essay, as well as being useful, can potentially be a divisive means of espousing a point of view. Although an essay should not be used to create an alternative rule set, the Wikipedia community has historically tolerated a wide range of Wikipedia related subjects and viewpoints on user pages.

The difference between policies, guidelines, and some essays on Wikipedia may be obscure. Essays vary in popularity and how much they are followed and referred to. Editors should defer to official policies or guidelines when essays, information pages or template documentation pages are inconsistent with established community standards and principles.

Avoid "quoting" essays as though they are policy—including this "explanatory supplement page". Essays, information pages and template documentation pages can be written without much—if any—debate, as opposed to Wikipedia policies that have been thoroughly vetted by the community (see WP:Local consensus for details). In Wikipedia discussions, editors may refer to essays provided that they do not hold them out as general consensus or policy. Proposals for new guidelines and policies require discussion and a high level of consensus from the entire community for promotion. See Wikipedia:How to contribute to Wikipedia guidance and Wikipedia:Policy writing is hard for more information.

Essays are located in the Wikipedia namespace (e.g., Wikipedia:Reasonability rule) and in User namespaces (e.g., User:Tony1/Beginners' guide to the Manual of Style). The Help namespace contains pages which provide factual (usually technical) information on using Wikipedia and its software (see below). The {{Essay}}-family templates (with several variants like {{Notability essay}} and {{WikiProject advice}}), versus the {{Guideline}} (and variants, like {{MoS guideline}}) and {{Policy}} templates give an indication of a page's status within the community. Some essays at one time were proposed policies or guidelines, but they could not gain consensus overall; as indicated by the template {{Failed proposal}}. Other essays that at one time had consensus, but are no longer relevant, are tagged with the template {{Historical}}. Current essay policy nominations are indicated by the banner {{Proposed}}. See Wikipedia:Template messages/Wikipedia namespace for a listing of namespace banners.

Types of essays

Wikipedia essays

Further information: WP:ESSAYPAGES

Essays in the Wikipedia namespace – which are never to be put in the main (encyclopedia article) namespace – typically address some aspect of working in Wikipedia. They have not been formally adopted as guidelines or policies by the community at large, but typically edited by the community. Some are widely accepted as part of the Wikipedia gestalt, and have a significant degree of influence during discussions (like "guideline supplements" WP:Tendentious editing, WP:Bold, revert, discuss cycle, and WP:Arguments to avoid in deletion discussions). Many essays, however, are obscure, single-author pieces. Essays may be moved into userspace as user essays (see below), or even deleted, if they are found to be problematic.[1] Occasionally, even longstanding, community-edited essays may be removed or radically revised if community norms shift.[2]

See also: Category:Wikipedia essays

User essays

Further information: Wikipedia:User pages

According to Wikipedia policy, "Essays that the author does not want others to edit, or that are found to contradict widespread consensus, belong in the user namespace." These are similar to essays placed in the Wikipedia namespace; however, they are often authored/edited by only one person, and may represent a strictly personal viewpoint about Wikipedia or its processes (e.g., User:Jehochman/Responding to rudeness). Some of them are widely respected by other editors, and even occasionally have an effect on policy (e.g., the WP:General notability guideline originated in a user essay). Writings that contradict policy are somewhat tolerated within the User namespace. The author of a personal essay located in his or her user space has the prerogative to revert any changes made to it by any other user, within reason. Polemics against particular people, or against Wikipedia itself, are generally just deleted, as unconstructive or disruptive.

See also: Category:User essays

WikiProject advice pages

Further information: WP:PROPAGES

WikiProjects are groups of editors who like working together. Advice pages written by these groups are formally considered the same as pages written by anyone else, that is, they are essays unless and until they have been formally adopted as community-wide guidelines or policies. WikiProjects are encouraged to write essays explaining how the community's policies and guidelines should be applied to their areas of interest and expertise (e.g., Wikipedia:WikiProject Bibliographies#Recommended structure).

See also: Category:WikiProjects

Historical essays

The Wikimedia Foundation's Meta-wiki was envisioned as the original place for editors to comment on and discuss Wikipedia, although the "Wikipedia" project space has since taken over most of that role. Many historical essays can still be found at Meta.Wikimedia.org.

See also: Meta:Category:Essays

Wikipedia how to and information pages

Further information: Wikipedia:Information pages

Wikipedia's how-to and information pages are typically edited by the community. They provide technical and factual information or supplement guidelines and policies in greater detail. Where "essay pages" offer advice or opinions through viewpoints, information pages are intended to supplement current community norms in an impartial way (e.g., Wikipedia:Administration).

See also: Category:Wikipedia information pages and Category:Wikipedia how-to

Creation and modification of essays

Main page: Wikipedia:Wikipedia essays

See also: Wikipedia:Project namespace § Creating new project pages

Further information: Wikipedia:Project namespace § Deletion of project pages

Before creating an essay, it is a good idea to check if similar essays already exist. Although there is no guideline or policy that explicitly prohibits it, writing redundant essays is discouraged. Avoid creating essays just to prove a point or game the system. Essays that violate one or more Wikipedia policies, such as spam, personal attacks, copyright violations, or what Wikipedia is not tend to get deleted or transferred to user space.

You do not have to be the one who originally created an essay in order to improve it. If an essay already exists, you can add to, remove from, or modify it as you wish, provided that you use good judgment. However, essays placed in the User: namespace are often—though not always—meant to represent the viewpoint of one user only. You should not normally edit someone else's user essay without permission. To be on the safe side, any edits not covered by REFACTOR and MINOR should not be made without agreement with the author. More radical edits should be discussed with them on the talk page. If the original author is no longer active or available, then a consensus should be sought from the other editors who have edited the essay. Another option is to just write a different essay.

Finding essays

Wikipedia:Essay directory - lists about 800 essays to allow searching for key words or terms with your browser. The gist of user written essays can be found at Wikipedia:Essays in a nutshell. Essays can also be navigated via categories, the navigation template (as seen below), or Special:Search (as seen below; include the words "Wikipedia essays" with your other search-words).

Notes

  1. ^Miscellany for deletion (WP:MFD) is one process that can be used by Wikipedians to decide what should be done with problematic pages in the namespaces which aren't covered by other specialized deletion discussion areas. Items sent here are usually discussed for seven days; then they are either deleted by an administrator or kept (sometimes with modifications, which may include moving or merging), based on community consensus as evident from the discussion, consistent with policy, and with careful judgment of the rough consensus if required. Pages which are not specifically being posted for deletion can also be moved through the requested moves (WP:RM) process.
  2. ^Two examples are "WP:Don't be a dick" and "WP:Don't feed the divas", replaced by the heavily revised WP:Don't be a jerk and WP:Don't be high-maintenance, respectively, after too many incivility complaints. Conversely, an attempt to replace the rather stern WP:Give 'em enough rope with a much more mild-toned "WP:Let the tiger show its stripes" was rejected by consensus, and the latter eventually deleted as redundant. Some essays, like WP:Advice for hotheads, are intentionally written with such history in mind, and are worded to not offend and to advise against using them in attempts to offend.

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