First-person essays are aimed at sharing an experience, letting your reader see and feel it. They show how that experience changed your mind, affected you, educated you. Your essay is your personal journey of discovery. And your main task while writing your essay is to engage a reader to take that journey with you.
To make your thoughts and emotions run in the right direction, you need to follow the basic rules. Here is how to write from your perspective and show your reader the true sense of the story.
Choosing an Experience to Share
The topics are endless. Almost anything can be the subject material for your essay – relationships, nature, climbing, death, traveling – just ask yourself what you have experienced that has emotional appeal. Your topic can be funny, compelling or touching. If you cannot decide what to write about, ask yourself what makes you happy or what makes you sad. All topics are at your fingertips, you simply need to choose a great illustrative one that will make your reader care.
When you have a clear idea of what you want to share, go to the next important step – writing the first draft.
Preparing the First Draft
The first draft of your essay is your first step in creating a thoughtful and focused writing piece. Let your emotions and ideas flow! Don't critique your first draft, after all, you'll have time to improve it later. All you need to do right now is to describe the things that are crucial for your story – people, places, events. You need to find the balance in giving the reader enough information so they can understand your actions or decisions.
While writing your first draft, it is OK to pause, recollect your thoughts and remind yourself of your goal. When you think you've said all you can say, close your notebook and walk away. In several hours, in a day, or so, read your essay. You'll find information that shines with brilliance and you'll see plenty of unnecessary details. It's good to recognize this before you submit your work.
Style and Voice
The goal of your first-person essay is to connect with a reader, so they can visualize your point of view. You need to write in a personal, engaging, understandable and revealing way.
- Personal – You are the main protagonist, so make your essay intimate and revealing to show the reader your personal world. The best essays are written like a conversation with a smart friend, in a real and genuine way.
- Engaging – To make your essay interesting, include intriguing details, humorous experience and descriptive language. Your essay shouldn't sound like a science report, so make sure your writing style is appealing and entertaining.
- Understandable – Write in a straightforward and understandable way. Avoid using unclear references or dubious phrases. Use simple, clear and concise language that will easily connect you with a reader.
- Revealing – It is very important to make your first-person essay revealing. Personal references establish the setting, mood, theme and historical relevance. If you fail to do that, you'll find it really difficult to disclose all necessary information in your essay.
Perfecting Your Essay
The last step in crafting an effective essay is to thoroughly revise your writing piece. You've written what you think is close to a perfect work, but don't rush to submit it at once. Take time to reread your essay and ensure that it doesn't contain the common pitfalls.
A good essay is one that appeals to the five senses. Make sure you offer enough details, so your reader can see, hear and smell what you're writing about. Don't just tell the audience what's going on, use the verbs to show that. However, avoid being too emotional. It's fine to show happiness, anger or sadness, but you need to find a balance.
In addition, check your essay for grammar, punctuation, repetitions. You don't want to spoil your personal journey by silly typos or mistakes. Ask yourself if your writing is clear and to-the-point and whether you share your thoughts in the most understandable way.
Write in detail, be honest, talk about emotions and your first-person essay will surely engage your reader!
The dreaded “I” word. How can one letter be so malignant when it comes to academic writing?
It’s likely that many of your teachers and professors have drilled it into your head that using first-person writing in your essays will immediately result in another unrelenting letter of the alphabet: “F.”
As a curious student, you may be thinking that surely there must be some instances where using first-person writing is okay.
If that’s you, you’re asking all the right questions. This post will cover when it’s okay to use first-person writing in your essays and when it’s better to stick with third-person.
What Exactly Is First-Person Writing?
First-person writing involves using singular first-person pronouns such as I, me, my, mine, etc. You could also use plural first-person pronouns such as we, our, us, ours, etc.
For instance, this adorable kitten is talking primarily in first-person perspective (the “you” and “your” there is second-person perspective, which could be another blog topic entirely).
First-person writing can get really boring really fast. For example, I’ll write a short narrative about my day so far.
I opened my emails.
I ate breakfast.
The neighbor’s dog annoyed me.
I pet my cats and later pushed them off the couch.
I thought about eating popcorn for breakfast…but didn’t.
My roommate and I could not decide whether or not to hang the art in our apartment.
While I might think I am fascinating, you have probably stopped reading the list by now. You’re done hearing about me, me, me, right?
Well, think of that as part of the reason your teachers might boycott first-person pronouns. If your professor wants you to write an essay about President Obama, he or she probably doesn’t want to hear about what you (or the President for that matter) ate for breakfast.
When Is First-person Writing Ineffective or Unwarranted?
Let’s face it. Everyone likes to write about themselves. The problem with first-person perspective in academic writing is that it can sound
When your instructor wants you to write a 15-page research paper about the problems in the Middle East, exclusively talking about your opinions on the matter is going to be an issue.
Instead, you should look for unbiased sources, search through the material, and use that in your research paper to make it more credible. Yes, that might sound like a lot more work, but it will pay off when you get your grade.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to take out first-person writing altogether. If you have the impulse to write in first-person perspective a lot, that’s okay! It’s still a great way to get your thoughts out on paper.
For example, pretend that this is one of my main points for a poem analysis I am writing:
Using words such as “melancholy” and “frustration,” the poem made me feel sad.
In this case, the first-person “me” would not be appropriate because the focus needs to be on the poem itself and not on what I think about it. But, because I wrote this, I now understand what the poem is doing.
I can rewrite this idea in my second draft using third-person perspective:
Using words such as “melancholy” and “frustration,” the poem employs a mournful tone to demonstrate the difficulty that comes with the loss of a loved one.
Most times, you’re the only one who will see your first draft, so go ahead and throw first-person perspective in if it helps you get your thoughts on paper. Make sure, however, that you go through and take it out in your revision.
Make or Break Your Academic Career: When Is First-person Writing Okay?
Okay, I was being dramatic with that header. Really, if you mess up on choosing whether to use first-person writing or not, you don’t have to forever hang your head in shame. You might get a slap on the wrist (in the form of some red marks on your paper), but it’s not the end of the world.
However, it never hurts to educate yourself on the dos and don’ts of first-person writing.
While essays about you require first-person, other types of essays (e.g., research papers) usually should not include first-person perspective.
Here are some examples of types of essays that, by their nature, require first-person writing:
- Personal narrative essays
- Memoir/reflective essays
- Personal statements (e.g., college application essays)
Try writing an essay about the first time you went to the dentist (narrative essay) without using first-person writing. It would probably sound something like this:
One time, someone’s mom took a person to the dentist, and that person did not like the dentist because the person had cavities.
Writing using “I” just makes more sense for the context:
One time, my mom took me to the dentist, and I did not like the dentist because I had cavities.
Much better, right? There, you already have ammo to use against your teacher when he or she says “no” to first-person writing.
If you would like to look at more examples of essays that require first-person writing, check out these sample personal narrative essays!
Getting Down and Dirty with First-Person Writing
Now we get to the more complicated bit: knowing when to use first-person writing in other types of academic papers.
As a failsafe, I would suggest that you stay away from first-person writing in most instances. As long as you are not writing personal essays, it would be hard to go wrong with leaving yourself out of it.
There are cases where first-person writing is appropriate in other types of academic writing, but I would highly suggest discussing it with your professor first. Here are a couple of those cases:
Case #1 – Replacing Passive Voice with First-person Writing
Passive voice is another no-no that professors and teachers pound into students’ heads, and one way to fix it is to use first-person perspective. Here is a sentence that is in passive voice:
The flask was used to combine the liquids so the experiment could be observed.
While some style guides say to limit passive voice, others strictly say not to use it at all. For instance, the above sentence would not be acceptable in APA Style. Here is one way to fix the sentence:
The researcher used the flask to combine the liquids and observe the experiment.
However, if you are the researcher, it would be appropriate to use “I” in your APA format lab write-up.
I used the flask to combine the liquids and observe the experiment.
“We” would also be appropriate an appropriate pronoun if there were more than one researcher and you were one of them.
We used the flask to combine the liquids and observe the experiment.
Case #2 – Personal Anecdotes
In some essays, adding a personal experience or anecdote can make your essay more successful. For instance, talking about an experience you had when you went to a public forum might be pertinent in a persuasive essay about why more people need to attend public forums.
That being said, don’t go crazy with the first-person writing like this guy.
In these types of essays, limit your use of first-person writing to maybe one short paragraph, and make sure that the writing is relevant to your topic. If you are writing an essay about how important doctors are, for example, you might not want to talk about how your dog has superpowers.
Just a hunch.
The Verdict on First-person Writing: Sometimes
Like many hard-and-fast rules, there are instances when using first-person pronouns (or even running red lights) is okay.
Remember that personal essays (essays about you) need first-person writing. Research papers, literary analyses, and other academic papers, on the other hand, can include first-person writing on a situational basis as long as it is relevant and does not occur all the way through the essay.
If you need help taking the first-person pronouns out of your essay, you can always get help from our talented Kibin editors.
*Cover image by Frederik Delaere
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