Contest Guidelines

Rules and Criteria:

Every January past Writing 150 students have the opportunity to submit to the Writing 150 Contest. Winners and finalists will be asked to participate in the annual English Symposium by reading their entries and discussing them in a roundtable or panel with an audience of other students and instructors.

Winning entries are published online in The Draft.

The categories are as follows:

Category One: Personal Narrative/Creative Nonfiction Essay

Personal Narrative

Definition and Purpose:

“A personal narrative is an autobiographical story about a specific incident or series of related incidents in a writer’s life which show conflict and eventual growth in the writer’s character. Narratives serve many vital functions in society. For example, narratives maintain community and culture, helping people understand beliefs. Narratives can also create new communities or enlarge the scope of a current community” (Hatch and Van Valhenburgh 16).


Because personal narrative is defined as an “autobiographical story,” the writer of this genre should employ story-telling techniques. These techniques include the effective blending of summary and scene, dialogue, imagery (appealing to the five senses), characterization, the evocation of setting in order to advance character and plot, and the use of active verbs and nouns in favor of the typically less effective stacking of adjectives. Structure and focus are important in the personal narrative just as they are in any piece of writing. A story need not be told in chronological order. The structure of story, however, typically includes conflict, rising action, crisis, and resolution.

Creative Nonfiction Essay

In contrast to a narrative, a creative nonfiction essay is defined as an anecdote or anecdotes taken from one’s life and connected to a larger idea or concept. For example, in Thomas Plummer’s “Diagnosing and Treating the Ophelia Syndrome,” his idea is that students should take responsibility for their own education and thought processes and not wait for someone else to tell them what to think. To evidence the validity of this idea, Plummer draws on experiences from his own life as well as examples from literature and popular culture. Plummer’s essay is very much idea-driven; however, the idea in a personal essay does not need to be as overt as Plummer’s. It can be more subtle and open to interpretation. As Philip Lopate says in “What Happened to the Personal Essay?”:

“While it is true that historically the essay is related to rhetoric, it in fact seeks to persuade more by the delights of literary style than anything else” (301).


As with the personal narrative, the essay should be written using effective story-telling techniques. However, because a personal essay may be more idea-driven than image- or story- driven, these devices may be less prevalent than in the personal narrative. Structure is paramount in the personal essay. The writer of the personal essay has the challenge to, without heavy-handed moralizing, impose meaning on the seemingly random and sometimes chaotic events of his or her life. Hence, the reader of the personal essay needs to be pointed in the correct direction by the writer-he or she needs some sort of “road map” so that it is clear where the essay is going and why it is important to read it. Typical structures for the personal essay might include comparison/contrast, cause and effect, definition and process.

Category Two: Research and Inquiry

Definition and Purpose:
Research-driven writing with a persuasive thesis. Research writing is a way of creating new knowledge, of entering the academic conversation. The research paper helps students understand how to synthesize information and the points of view of different authors and experts, use differing ideas and topics to create new avenues of research, mindfully explore, and ethically communicate what you have learned and what you have discovered through research to an audience in a persuasive way that interests them in the topic and inspires action.

Research based writing also aids students in understanding and using the conventions of academic writing and expectations.


A research paper should have an effective title, an introduction, a focused, arguable thesis based in good rhetorical practice, a body that supports the thesis with support from research material, and parenthetical citations in MLA or APA format within the text. An “arguable thesis” is one which creates an argument-that is, one which does not necessarily contain a proposed solution to a problem or a call to action (although these are also acceptable) but is a statement reflecting a topic that invites attention, discussion, and creates new knowledge. The support from research material should be integrated in such a way that it is clear where the sources start and end.

Category Three: Advocacy Report

Definition and Purpose:

Members of a community, such as a nation, city, or school district, must communicate with each other in order to do their business, whether it’s campaigning for political office or discussing a zoning issue, advocating for change in procedure, policy, or action. This is rooted in the idea that while we prize knowledge, ultimately we need to take that knowledge and “Go Forth to Serve.” An advocacy report is a persuasive essay aimed at a specific community that advocates for change in a practical and generative way. The topic will most often come from your inquiry report and be backed by research. This genre challenges you to make a brief but compelling argument with a particular audience in mind that asks your reader to engage in practical ways.


Advocacy papers usually include a catchy title, an introduction that identifies the issue and author’s position, and several body paragraphs that provide reasons, evidence, and explanations for the position the author has taken and what needs to change. The style of writing can range from the conversational, even chatty, to the more formal feel of an academic argument, and can be deeply rooted in what the author cares about. The important thing is that an opinion about specific, actionable issues is asserted and ultimately supported, perhaps even anticipating and responding to counter arguments.

Contest rules:

Deadlines: January 15th

To submit a paper click here. Fill out the form, including your instructor’s email address. Completely remove all references to your name and your teacher’s name from the paper. Attach the paper as a PDF; the site will only accept PDFs. All entries must be submitted by the relevant date and must be submitted into the correct semester and year or they will not be judged. Submissions will not be returned. Submitting to the BYU Writing 150 contest constitutes permission to use writing samples for educational and research purposes.

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