by Laura Michelle Thomas
Whether you are an intermediate, secondary or post-secondary student, you have to deal with writing sight essays at least one per year. Typically you are asked to write a personal essay in less than an hour on a ridiculously broad topic, which seems terrible but is actually quite good. Unlike a literary essay question like “discuss the theme of jellybeans in Macbeth,” for which you need to know the right answer, the broad personal essay topics that show up on finals and entrance exams are much easier to write. Here’s how.
ONE. look at the topic and decide if you agree or disagree with the statement. For example, pretend the topic is: Diversity makes life more interesting. Let’s say I agree with that statement.
TWO. Make a list of three examples that come to mind when you consider the topic. Here’s what I’m thinking off the top of my head:
1) It’s cool to have different kinds of pets because they give and take from each other in helpful and interesting ways. My friend’s bird eats fleas that live in his dog’s fur. Diversity is mutually beneficial.
2) I always try to eat 27 different foods every day. Diversity in diet helps me stay healthy because I consume a wide variety of nutrients.
3) I like to shop in parts of my city that have different ethnic flavours. Diversity makes my city more interesting and gives me something interesting to do on a Saturday afternoon.
THREE. Chose the example from your list that you most feel like writing about at the moment. I’ll go with the first one about my friend’s pets.
FOUR. Start writing. I will use examples two and three to bring my reader into the discussion about diversity and why I think it’s better than the opposite–uniformity. I’ll talk briefly, probably humorously, about shopping and my 27 different kinds of food and the benefits I get. Think of it like you are at a party and the topic of diversity comes up and you want to join in and give your two cents about how you agree that diversity makes life more interesting. Then imagine that once I get everyone’s attention I start telling a story that really drives my point home.
FIVE. Move from your introductory remarks to your main story. For me this is about the dog and bird in the first example and how they benefit from the diversity in my friend’s household. I will go into some detail telling this story. I will use rhetorical and literary devices and thick description to make it engaging and entertaining.
SIX. End with your thesis statement. Basically, just take the essay topic that was given to you and say it in your own fresh way like this: “From seaweed to saltines, from Italian coffee to curry, even dogs and birds benefit from living in a world of differences and diversity.” This should be your last sentence.
SEVEN. Write a title. Look at your last sentence and pull a few key words for your title. Examples: “Dogs and Birds” or “Seaweed, Curry & Flea-eating Birds.”
Once you get the feel for these steps you can use them for more than acing English essay tests. This is essentially how you can build a blog article or magazine article. The type of writing is the same–you keep it personal and take your reader on a little voyage of discovery into your unique way of looking at a mundane subject such as diversity. Good luck!