Essay Inquiry into Self, “This I Believe”

Essay 1: Inquiry into Self, “This I Believe”
For your first essay, you’ll engage in one of the oldest forms of inquiry—a personal essay. Specifically, you’ll compose a “This I Believe (Links to an external site.)” essay like those broadcast on CBS radio from 1951-1955 and revived on NPR from 2005-2009.
The purpose of writing a personal essay is to conduct an inquiry into one’s self—asking who you are and why. As with all inquiry, you should start your personal essay with a question you don’t already know the answer to—what value(s) or beliefs shape your daily life? Where do those values or beliefs come from? What values or beliefs do you want to understand better? Your inquiry should lead you to write, not some abstract philosophical statement, but a focused depiction—a story—that illustrates a specific value or belief that helps explain why you live as you do. Keep in mind that the most fruitful inquiries often come from exploring ideas that are surprising, contradictory, paradoxical.
Here are the This I Believe guidelines:
“Tell a story: Be specific. Take your belief out of the ether and ground it in the events of your life. Consider moments when your belief was formed or tested or changed. Think of your own experience, work, and family, and tell of the things you know that no one else does. Your story need not be heart-warming or gut-wrenching—it can even be funny—but it should be real. Make sure your story ties to the essence of your daily life philosophy and the shaping of your beliefs.
Name your belief: If you can’t name it in a sentence or two, your essay might not be about belief. Also, rather than writing a list, consider focusing on one core belief, because three minutes is a very short time.
Be positive: Please avoid preaching or editorializing. Tell us what you do believe, not what you don’t believe. Avoid speaking in the editorial “we.” Make your essay about you; speak in the first person.
Be personal: Write in words and phrases that are comfortable for you to speak. We recommend you read your essay aloud to yourself several times, and each time edit it and simplify it until you find the words, tone, and story that truly echo your belief and the way you speak.”
The final draft should be at least 500 words. While writing a short essay about yourself may seem easy, the challenge will be to convey the significance of your subject through a narrow focus and selective detail.
This is an essay that’s deceptively simple: it’s short, and it’s about you, so you can likely create a first draft quickly. But then it will be a matter of revising and honing as you work to make complex meaning in your essay; in fact, it may take several drafts and a lot of feedback from readers to help you discover and narrow the point you want to make, and more importantly, for you to make choices about what details can briefly convey meaning.
You’ll likely find that after you begin writing, the point you want to make changes. Rather than how you may have written previous essays where you decide your main point and then find ways to show it, you’ll be inquiring and figuring out what your point is as you draft the piece: you’ll start from something that you find interesting and move toward your main idea, not the other way around.

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