Writing Through Narrative

Why the Narrative Essay?

If you’re like many college students, you have never written a narrative essay (and perhaps have never even heard of it), and that’s okay. This chapter is designed to help you understand why it’s included as one of your writing assignments, what separates it from other styles of writing, how to most effectively structure it, and what outcomes you should hope to achieve once you’ve written it.

The narrative essay provides a unique opportunity for you to tell a personal story within the context of academic writing. Although empirical research and data are certainly vital in academia, personal experiences can provide intriguing perspectives in helping us better understand the world in which we live, and should therefore be valued as a useful form of academic writing as well.  An added benefit to the writer is it narrative essays tend to be more enjoyable to write than other types of essays because of the emphasis on personal storytelling: narrative writing encourages you to express yourself by sharing personal experiences in a way most other forms of academic writing do not. Because you’re telling a story, you should definitely consider how you incorporate the various components that make up a story. For instance, the beginning of a story is where you are introduced to the story’s setting and main characters; therefore your introduction should include this information. The middle of the story is where major developments, rising action, climax, and falling action take place, which corresponds directly to your body paragraph. Lastly, the end of the story contains the resolution, which in your narrative essay will be your thesis and any other last insights you want to leave with your audience.

It is important to keep in mind, though, that you are not simply telling the story to entertain or amuse use; the purpose of a narrative essay is to communicate with specific message to your audience did the use of personal stories and examples. Thus, you must intentionally choose personal experiences from your past that enable you to communicate and meaningful message to your audience. Given a writing prompt, your audience will often be specified to help you better understand for whom you are writing and why. However, in cases where your audience is not specified, you should consider your audience to be someone who is interested in how your personal experiences provide insight into the particular topic you’re writing about.

Considering your audience is crucial because your audience determines the particular style with which you communicate your message. If you are skeptical regarding this truth or simply feel ill-equipped to properly address your audience, consider the following examples. Do you speak to your grandparents differently than the way you speak to your best friend? Does an email you sent to a classmate sound different than the one you sent your professor? If the answers to these questions seem like an obvious “YES” (and they should), you can understand how audience shapes the way we communicate with one another and should therefore keep this in mind as you write your essays.


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University Academic Writing for International Students: A Usage-based Approach Copyright © 2020 by Carol Lynn Moder; Alys Avalos-Rivera; Ho'omana Nathan Horton; Miriam Kinfe; Paul Sims; Seth French; and Yelin Zhao is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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