If you’re writing a short piece based on your real-life experiences, editors of literary journals will identify this as a personal essay.If you’re writing a book about an experience, it’s a memoir.Some personal essays may cite other texts (like books, stories, or poems), but the focus of the citation is not to make an academic point.
Short Story Example: A writer is inspired by a car explosion in his town. Though factual, the personal essay, sometimes called a narrative essay, can feel like a short story, with “characters” and a plot arc.
He writes a story based on the real explosion and set in a similar town, but showing the made-up experiences of his characters (who may be partly based on real-life). A personal essay is a short work of nonfiction that is not academic (that is, not a dissertation or scholarly exploration of criticism, etc.).
Summary: The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes.
Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the widespread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.
Do not leave the reader guessing about the purpose of your narrative.
Remember, you are in control of the essay, so guide it where you desire (just make sure your audience can follow your lead).Short Story Example two: A writer writes a story based on a made-up explosion, set in a made-up town, and showing the made-up experiences of his characters. In a personal essay, the writer recounts his or her personal experiences or opinions.In an academic essay, the writer’s personal journey does not typically play a large part in the narrative (or plot line).Sometimes the purpose of a personal essay is simply to entertain.Some personal essays may have a meditative or even dogmatic feel; a personal essay may illustrate a writer’s experiences in order to make an argument for the writer’s opinion.A commentary is often very short (a few hundred words) and more journalistic in tone than a personal essay.It fits nicely as a column in a newspaper or on a personal blog. Some very short nonfiction pieces may be better suited to newspapers than to literary journals; however, literary magazines have been known to publish commentary-esque pieces that have a literary bent.The genres of short prose writing can be very confusing.For example, some writers will call their personal essay a story, and others will call their essay a memoir.Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.