Topics For Expressive Essays

Interesting Personal Essay Ideas

A personal essay gives the reader a glimpse of your personal life experience. A lot of times you may need to compose a personal essay. It could be for a simple class assignment, or the requirement for a college application. In order to gain ideas of writing a personal essay, you can get inspired by the listed topics below. Just think of each of the ideas as a prompt for writing, and imagine any special moment the prompt may bring to your mind.

  • How you and your best friend met
  • The bravest moment of your life
  • What makes your parents special
  • The experience of overcoming a fear
  • The moment your life changed forever
  • Why you can succeed in life
  • A difficult choice you have made
  • A place that is special to you
  • The experience of being let down by a friend
  • A failure you experienced
  • A disappointment you had
  • A surprising turn of events you experienced
  • Your favorite period of time
  • A place you always try to avoid
  • If you had power, what you would do with it
  • What super power you choose to have
  • If you could change someone’s life
  • How money matters for your life
  • Where would you go hide
  • The biggest loss you have experienced
  • If you could have a do-over
  • Words that stung
  • A book that has changed your life
  • When you have the desire of running away
  • When you have the urge of hiding in a hole
  • The proudest moment of your life
  • When you were taught a lesson by a child
  • Words that prompted hope
  • If your dog or cat could talk
  • Your favorite time with family
  • If you could invent something
  • If you could live in a different country
  • What the world would be like in 100 years
  • If you lived 100 years ago
  • The animal you would like to be
  • The greatest movie moment
  • One thing you would change about the world
  • If you could change one thing about yourself
  • The type of teacher you want to be
  • If you could live anywhere
  • A museum you’d like to visit
  • If you could become a building
  • Something a robot could never do
  • An animal that could be in charge of the world
  • The greatest discovery
  • Your most fortunate day
  • Your secret love
  • Your secret talent
  • The ugliest thing you have seen
  • The most beautiful thing you have seen
  • An accident which changed everything
  • Something you have witnessed
  • A right choice
  • A wrong choice
  • How you would spend a million dollars
  • The meaning of color
  • If you could start a charity
  • Your favorite gift
  • A close call
  • A secret place
  • A hard lesson
  • An unexplained event
  • Something you can’t resist
  • A visitor that you can’t forget
  • The longest moment you ever had
  • An awkward social moment
  • A near death experience
  • The hardest news you had to deliver
  • A special morning
  • A kiss that meant a lot
  • Why you will never tell a lie
  • When you needed a hug

How to Write an Expressive or Descriptive Essay


A Dozen Quick Hints

  • An expressive essay is normally not subject to
  • all the strict rules governing some other forms of college writing—for example, contractions and informal language might be allowable where they would not be permitted in informative writing. However, even though an expressive essay ordinarily uses a less formal style than other kinds of academic writing, you still must follow rules of grammar, spelling and word usage!  For example, do not call a person “that,” and make sure your sentence structure is correct.
  • It is customary in an expressive essay to use dialogue. English almost always requires joining-words for dialogue or quotes. 
  • In expressive and descriptive writing, use descriptive language—that is, describe people, places, things and ideas that you make reference to, and do not simply name them.  Think in terms of the five senses
  • :

    A. Sight—Paint a word picture of what you are describing.  Try to do this well enough that if your audience reads your words and later encounters the same scene for the first time, they will have an “Aha!” moment of recognition,

    B. Sounds—If appropriate, describe what you heard or hear in the situation you are writing about.

    C. Touch, smell and taste—If appropriate, describe these sensations as well. 

  • In expressive essays, describe your feelings.  Use feeling words like: love, happiness (joy), sadness, pain (hurt), anger (fury), fear, pleasure, loneliness, excitement, comfort (safety, relaxation, contentment), shock, pride, scorn (contempt), shame (guilt, regret, modesty, shyness), boredom, fatigue (exhaustion, feeling tired, sleepiness), jealousy (envy, greed, ambition) and interest (curiosity, desire), or verbs describing these feelings.  As you write, own your feelings.  Do not write “there was some anger in the air about this betrayal,”  Write “I became angry because they betrayed me.”

  • Let your words carry the load, and do not rely on exclamation points. Even if the situation you describe is very exciting or emotional, avoid exclamations like:

  • "Wow!"  "Damn!"  "Oh God!"  or the like.  And, never USE ALL CAPITALS to emphasize an exclamation.  This points you out as a childish writer. 

  • C
  • ut the fat. When you use adjectives be sure they are colorful and descriptive, and that each one pulls its own weight. Avoid “fat,” which in this type of writing means extra adjectives that add bulk without really describing anything.  For instance, to describe a slice of fruit pie as “tart and steaming, topped with a dollop of sweet, white whipped cream slowly melting down the sides of the pie” is both descriptive and appetizing. To describe the same pie as “deliciously prepared, attractively sliced, beautifully topped and elegantly served” is not descriptive—it is simply verbal fat, and thus bad writing..

  •  In. expressive writing, whenever possible prefer active verbs. Active verbs include almost every English verb except the “verb to be” (am, is, are, will be), the verb “to go” (go, going, went) and the verbs “to have“ or “to get.”  Experts suggest that writers should look for nouns ending in “-ment” or “-tion” and transform them into verbs.  E.g., change “I had a conversation with the professor” to “I conversed with the professor.”  Replace “She had an abortion” with “She chose to abort her pregnancy.” However, do not strain for this—to write “the pie had a dollop of sweet, white whipped cream on top” is descriptive.  “The pie was gloriously crowned with a fluffy, gleaming cloud of exquisitely sweet, snowy white whipped cream” is just silly and phony, and sounds more like the writing of the 1800’s than that of the 21st century. Nobody writes like that any more except for English class. Think of your audience and do them a favor: spare them from word-games. 


  • Avoid stringing more than three adjectives together.  To describe the pie as “tart, juicy, steaming, sweet, hot and delicious” strains the limits of what is allowable in today’s English, even though each adjective by itself is descriptive. If you must do this, there are other techniques to use that will work better, such as placing “and” between every other adjective.  Long strings of adjectives make the text look as though you are straining to stretch it, or make you look like a bad, wordy writer showing off your English vocabulary knowledge.


  • Avoid poofy, general description.  Do not write “She quickly drove away,” or “Many of us went to the party.”  Instead, write “She jumped into her Porsche and burned rubber to get away,” or “At least a dozen of us attended the party.” Your descriptions should be as specific as possible without becoming scientific-sounding. Numbers are the great lie-detector, but be sure you have information to back up each number you use.  Never write “he was  three quarters drunk,” unless you administered a breathalyzer test on him to verify such a precise conclusion.


  • Avoid adverbs unless absolutely necessary for description.  In contemporary English, adverbs are “fattier” than adjectives, and must be used with more care, even in expressive writing.  Never string two or more adverbs together with one verb, and never try to go back and insert extra adverbs where they are not needed—let your action verbs do the work instead. [Hint: Most adverbs end in –“ly,” like “greatly,” “quickly,” “gravely” or “absolutely.”] 


  • Your expressive or descriptive essay must have conscious arrangement just like any other kind of serious writing. The most common tactic seems to be to organize an expressive essay chronologically (what happened first, what happened afterwards). If your paper is describing a static scene (like a painting or a snapshot), first describe the main figures or objects in the scene, then the background, then your reaction and the feelings it provokes in you.  Other arrangements also work well, including problem-solution-resolution, cause and effect, and order of importance.

    NOTE:  An expressive essay does not ordinarily involve research, and should not require a Works Cited page or in-text citations unless you were the author or subject of the works cited.

    O.W. 12/05


    For educational purposes only.


    Owen M. Williamson - Education Bldg 211E - phone: (915) 747 7625 - fax: (915) 747 5655

    Open Courseware | OCW |This work is dedicated to the Public Domain..


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