Autobiography Essay: Writing Tips from 2 Experts

Autobiography Essay: Writing Tips from 2 Experts

At some point in his or her college career, a student will likely be required to write an autobiographical essay.  In fact, most college admissions applications require the prospective student to write an autobiographical essay (otherwise known as a "personal statement").

Students often find writing autobiographical essays difficult for multiple reasons.  First, many learners have a hard time talking about themselves.  Second, students often have difficulty with finding a topic for their document.  Third, students often misinterpret the purpose of writing a biographical article.

To make the process easier for students and to ensure that they don't receive autobiography essays that are vary so greatly that they are difficult to read, clear instructions are provided.  Many universities give specific guidelines for length, format, and topic.  So, although the subject is the student him/herself, the topic might include something such as "The most important moment of your life," or "What is your dream career?"

Still, many learners fall short of submitting a riveting autobiography essay.  Instead, they submit a piece which fails to differentiate them from the multitude of other students who have been given the same assignment.

The point behind autobiographical essays is to give students the opportunity to present their own unique sense of themselves.  For this reason, a student should select a topic that has not been overdone.  One's experience on the student council, winning the district semi-finals, or that last family vacation are not what college admissions counselors want to read.  They want to know what makes each student unique.  What makes each one different from the thousands of other students who apply to that same school each year?  

It is important that an autobiographical essay steer away from a rote dictation of the student's life or activities.  Such essays are not only dull, they do not—in any way—differentiate the student from the masses.  The report should also be easy and entertaining to read.  It should have personality and it should reflect the personality of the writer.  Students do not do themselves justice by writing in a way that they are not comfortable with.  Such writing is obvious to the reader.

The best autobiographical essays are a clear snapshot of a part of the writer's life.  Whether that snapshot is a one-time event or a brief synopsis of a series of events, the reader should be able to visualize the events.  They should come to life and animate the writer him/herself for the reader.

Viewpoint of Author #2

An autobiographical research paper is a text that blends the writer's own experience with scholarly research in order to present an idea, point, or argument about a particular topic.  Autobiographical research papers are not common assignments outside of a student's English composition course; however, they are a common form of writing that is frequently found in popular magazines and journals.  Therefore, students may be more familiar with autobiographical research writing than they may think.

An autobiographical research paper is very different from a standard project that seeks to present a claim about a specific topic through the use of external sources.  In an autobiographical research paper, the majority of the text deals with the writer's own experience.  Research is used only to support the author's opinions or clarify his or her experience.  For example, an autobiographical research paper may be about a student's experience with discrimination.  Because the project is an autobiographical research paper rather than a standard research paper, much of this paper will discuss events and experiences that happened directly to the student, and recount those events from the point-of-view of the pupil.  In other words, the autobiographical research paper will use the first-person voice ("I" and "me").  This is another characteristic of autobiographical articles that sets them apart from standard research papers: in most standard research paper writing, the use of the first-person voice is discouraged or even forbidden.

The research element of autobiographical research papers is used as support for the student's claims and as validation for his or her recounted experiences.  For instance, if the student were a Latina writing about discrimination against Latinos in the workplace, she would not only mention her personal experience, but indicate how her experience compares to other Latinos by pointing to research studies citing statistics of discrimination against Latinos in the workplace.  In this way, the writer's own experience becomes not only a personal expression of her individual life, but one instance among many illustrating a trend of discrimination.  

The type of research used in autobiographical research papers will likely depend on the topic.  For instance, in an autobiographical research paper about traveling in Tibet, a student would not incorporate statistical data, but scholarly studies that examine Tibetan cultural practices.  Regardless of what type of research is included, however, it should be used to supplement the writer's own personal experience—not speak for it.

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