Steps to Writing a Personal Statement

Many law school applicants, upon sitting down to write their personal statements, feel a lot of pressure to write a perfect personal statement in one draft, one session at the computer. Such pressure is often unhelpful—and can even be damaging—to the personal statement writing process. Take care to spend time in each stage of the writing process, before moving on to the next: brainstorm, freewrite, draft, edit, and proofread.
Spending time on the earlier steps will save you time later—and possibly help you avoid the realization that your “finished” personal statement simply isn’t your strongest work, and you have to start over or, worse, submit it anyway because you don’t have time to start over.

Step 1: Brainstorm topics for your personal statement.

Step 2: Follow the freewriting rules and spend 10 – 15 minutes on 3 of your topics. 

Step 3: Review what you have written and decide whether to use one of those topics or select another from your brainstorm list.

Step 4: Draft an outline of the personal statement. 

Step 5: Begin to draft your personal statement.  Remember:

Describe. Description is a strategy that tells how something looks, sounds, smells, feels, or tastes. Effective description creates a clear DOMINANT IMPRESSION built from specific details. Description can be objective, subjective, or both.

Narrate. Narration is a strategy for presenting information as a story, for telling "what happened." It is a pattern most often associated with fiction, but it shows up in all kinds of writing. When used in an essay, a report, or another academic genre, a narrative must support a point—not merely tell an interesting story for its own sake. It must also present events in some kind of sequence and include only pertinent detail. Sometimes narrative serves as the organizing principle for a whole text.

Consider the significance of the narrative. You need to make clear the ways in which any event you are writing about is significant for you now. Write a page or so about the meaning it has for you. How did it change or otherwise affect you? What aspects of your life now can you trace to that event? How might your life have been different if this event had not happened or had turned out differently? Why does this story matter to you?

Adapted from Richard Bullock’s The Norton Field Guide to Writing, 3rd edition.

Step 6: Proceed through the editing process including having at least one objective person review your draft.

Step 7: Finalize and proofread.