Notice how each of these objects are objective correlatives for the writer’s family. Taken together, they create an essence image.
Quick: What essence image describes your family? Even if you have a non-traditional family–in fact, especially if you have a non-traditional family!–what image or objects represents your relationship?
Based on the image the writer uses, how would you describe her relationship with her family? Close? Warm? Intimate? Loving? Quiet? But think how much worse her essay would have been if she’d written: “I have a close, warm, intimate, loving, quiet relationship with my family.”
Instead, she describes an image of her family "huddled in front of the fireplace while drinking my brother’s hot cocoa and listening to the pitter patter of rain outside our window.” Three objects--fireplace, brother’s hot cocoa, sound of rain--and we get the whole picture of their relationship. We know all we need to know.
There’s another lesson here:
Principle #2: Engage the reader’s imagination using all five senses
This writer did. Did you notice?
- Fireplace (feel)
- Brother’s hot cocoa (taste, smell)
- Pitter patter of rain (sound)
- Biggest photograph (sight)
And there’s something else she did that’s really smart. Did you notice how clearly she set up the idea of the scrapbook at the beginning of the essay? Look at the last sentence of the second paragraph (bolded below):
Cutting the first photograph, I make sure to leave a quarter inch border. I then paste it onto a polka-dotted green paper with a glue stick. For a sophisticated touch, I use needle and thread to sew the papers together. Loads of snipping and pasting later, the clock reads three in the morning. I look down at the final product, a full spread of photographs and cut-out shapes. As usual, I feel an overwhelming sense of pride as I brush my fingers over the crisp papers and the glossy photographs. For me, the act of taking pieces of my life and putting them together on a page is my way of organizing remnants of my past to make something whole and complete.
The sentence in bold above is essentially her thesis. It explains the framework for the whole essay. She follows this sentence with:
This particular project is the most valuable scrapbook I have ever made: the scrapbook of my life.
Boom. Super clear. And we’re set-up for the rest of the essay. So here’s the third thing we can learn:
Principle #3: The set-up should be super clear
Even a personal statement can have a thesis. It’s important to remember that, though your ending can be somewhat ambiguous—something we’ll discuss more later—your set-up should give the reader a clear sense of where we’re headed. It doesn’t have to be obvious, and you can delay the thesis for a paragraph or two (as this writer does), but at some point in the first 100 words or so, we need to know we’re in good hands. We need to trust that this is going to be worth our time.
Principle #4: Show THEN Tell
Has your English teacher ever told you “Show, don’t tell?” That’s good advice, but for a college essay I believe it’s actually better to show THEN tell.
Why? Two reasons:
1.) Showing before telling gives your reader a chance to interpret the meaning of your images before you do. Why is this good? It provides a little suspense. Also, it engages the reader’s imagination. Take another look at the images in the second to last paragraph: my college diploma... a miniature map with numerous red stickers pinpointing locations all over the world... frames and borders without photographs... (Note that it's all "show.")
As we read, we wonder: what do all these objects mean? We have an idea, but we’re not certain. Then she TELLS us:
That second page is incomplete because I have no precise itinerary for my future. The red flags on the map represent the places I will travel to, possibly to teach English like I did in Cambodia or to do charity work with children like I did in Guatemala. As for the empty frames, I hope to fill them with the people I will meet: a family of my own and the families I desire to help, through a career I have yet to decide.
Ah. Now we get it. She’s connected the dots.
2.) Showing then telling gives you an opportunity to set-up your essay for what I believe to be the single most important element to any personal statement: insight.
Principle #5: Provide insight
What is insight? In simple terms, it’s a deeper intuitive understanding of a person or thing.
But here’s a more useful definition for your college essay: Insight is something that you’ve noticed about the world that others may have missed. Insight answers the question: So what? It's proof that you’re a close observer of the world. That you’re sensitive to details. That you’re smart.
And the author of this essay doesn’t just give insight at the end of her essay, she does it at the beginning too: she begins with a description of herself creating a scrapbook (show), then follows this with a clear explanation for why she has just described this (tell).
Final note: it’s important to use insight judiciously. Not throughout your whole essay; a couple times will do.
So what can you steal from this for your essay?
- Principle #1: Use objects and images instead of adjectives
- Principle #2: Engage the reader’s imagination using all five senses
- Principle #3: The set-up should be super clear
- Principle #4: Show THEN Tell
- Principle #5: Provide insight
Key Components Of A Five-Paragraph Essay: Things To Consider
The five-paragraph essay is the classic format for high school and college essays. It isn’t the only accepted format for writing essays, of course, but it is a fairly easy model for you to follow when you’re developing your composition skills. The key components of a typical five-paragraph essay are explained here:
This paragraph has more than one purpose. This is where you either peak your reader’s interest, enticing him or her to read on, or you lose them completely and they move on to something else. Your introductory paragraph should include your thesis statement. The paragraph should conclude with a transition to move the reader to the body of the essay.
The body of your paper will be divided into three separate paragraphs, each with its own job.
- First paragraph: this is where you’ll make your strongest, most impressive argument. This is your beginning point, so you want to come on strong. The topic for this paragraph should be your first or second sentence and should relate to the thesis statement you made in your introduction.
- Second paragraph: this paragraph will contain your second strongest argument, a significant example or a clever follow up to the first paragraph. Your topic sentence for this paragraph should be in the first or second sentence. It needs to relate back to the thesis statement in the introductory paragraph.
- Third paragraph: in this paragraph, you’ll make your weakest argument in defense of your thesis statement. Your topic sentence for this paragraph needs to be in the first or second sentence. You can use an example or an illustration here to relate back to your thesis statement. The final sentence in this paragraph should include a conclusion that signals to the reader that you are making your final major point of your paper. This last sentence should lead into the concluding paragraph of your essay.
The key components of your concluding paragraph bring your argument together and wrap it all up for your reader. It should include these points:
- a reference to the pattern you used in your introductory paragraph restate your thesis statement. It must not be a duplicate of your thesis statement, however. You want to mirror the
- original language.
- summarize the three main points you made in the body of the paper.
- a final statement that lets the reader know that your discussion of your topic has come to an end. If this is a persuasive paper, this would be considered at “call to action.”