Arguing from Personal Experience
Project #1: Arguing from Personal Experience
For most of us, our values and beliefs about life and society are formed by our personal experiences,
which include not only what has happened to us or what we’ve done but also who we’ve known, talked
to, admired, or even disliked. What we believe in, how we think life should be lived, what we feel is
important in life, and what we know about the world don’t come out of thin air but from our experiences.
When we encounter people who have had different experiences and therefore have different beliefs,
values, and ideas, we often argue about what is true or correct about an issue, their beliefs or ours. These
arguments are not necessarily heated or violent; many times they are just friendly discussions as we
explore our individual differences and try to come to some common ground on which we can build a
relationship. These discussions invariably are based on personal experience. When you argue in
academia, in a public forum, or in a professional context, your argument is usually more like the friendly
discussion than a heated argument.
The Assignment: Create an argument about a debatable issue based on an experience or group of
experiences that have brought you to your position on this issue. Direct this argument to a specific
audience. You don’t necessarily have to focus on an earth-shattering experience that changed your life; a
common, ordinary experience or series of experiences can be just as influential and persuasive to make
How to Get Started:
First, find an issue on which you have a fairly strong opinion.
Next, think about the experiences that have contributed to this opinion.
Then, select a representative experience or several experiences that you can narrate in order to
form your argument.
Finally, select an audience you would like to target with this argument, and think about how you
can present your experience in order to best appeal to this audience and fulfill your persuasive
Skills You Will Use in This Essay: This is an argumentative essay, but the main skills you will use to
persuade your readers are narration and description. Although telling a story may seem easy and
straightforward, there is more to think about than you might imagine. Consider the following elements as
you begin drafting:
To write good narration:
o Select only the details of the experience that will help your readers see and understand the
experience you narrate. For example, if you are going to discuss a harrowing car ride to
school, it isn’t necessary to include details about waking up and preparing to leave for school
unless the fact that you got up late and had to hurry contributed to dangers you encountered,
which wouldn’t have occurred had you left for school on time. Thus, if you are going to
include details, consider what they contribute to the story.
o Arrange the details in the best order to make the most of the story. Many stories are effective
if you start at the beginning and relate the story chronologically, but other stories might be
more suspenseful or involving for the reader if you begin in the middle or at the end of the
story and then go back to the beginning and work your way forward. If your draft doesn’t
seem that effective, try playing with the order in which you present the events or details of
o Don’t make the story all summary or all specific details. The best stories are a combination
of detail and summary—details and scenes for the most important parts of the story and
ENGL 102/ Gonzalez
summary for information your reader needs to know but which is not essential to the story.
For example, you can say, “I got in the car and started to drive to school” rather than putting
in detail like “I inserted the key into the door lock and unlocked it. Then I opened the door
and got in and buckled my seat belt, inserted the key into the ignition, turned it and heard the
engine start, shifted into reverse, checked the rearview mirror, and slowly backed out into the
street.” All these details are not necessary if they don’t contribute directly to the experience
you are relating.
To write good description:
o Use concrete details—for example, in describing the setting, you might state “a line of maple
and elm trees in the full fall colors of red and yellow shaded the road” instead of “trees grew
on either side of the road.” A reader can “see” the first description; the second is rather
o Show important people, actions, and scenes rather than just quickly summarizing them.
Whatever you really want your reader to see or experience must be “shown” rather than
o Use sensory details—details that appeal to the senses of sight, sound, touch, taste, and
smell—to make readers feel as though they are experiencing the story