Contest Guidelines

Rules and Criteria

Every January past Writing 150 students have the opportunity to participate in an annual Writing 150 Writing Contest. This is a cash award contest with the following prizes: $300/1st, $200/2nd, $100/3rd,  $50/Honorable Mention in each of the four categories. Each student may win up to a total of two prizes overall. Winning entries are published online and possibly in some other format by the college. The four categories are as follows:

Category One: Personal Narrative/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.

Personal Essay:

Definition and Purpose:

A personal essay is defined as an anecdote or anecdotes taken from one’s life and connected to an idea. 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 personal 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: Analysis

Definition and Purpose:

An analysis paper provides an opportunity for students to exhibit the critical thinking skills Lisa Nielson Thomas describes, “Analysis is the interpretation of the world’s texts. It is finding out what a text says and how it says it . . . taking it apart and studying it, then coming to a well-founded conclusion.” Whether students examine persuasive elements of rhetoric in a political speech, language and tone of a literary text, or use of medium and elements of genre in a work of art, they are examining a text and presenting their well-supported claims in their thesis-driven analysis papers. This category allows for a broad range of texts, including but not limited to the categories of art, theater, music and dance, literature, film, and science. Students may include (under separate headings, if desired) a historical contextualization of the text and a discussion of the significance of the text in their own lives.


An analysis paper should be organized by a strong thesis and supported by evidence from the text. The analysis category includes textual or rhetorical analysis. The student should assume that the judges are familiar with the work and not include a significant amount of summary, although a short synopsis at the beginning of the paper is fine. It is not necessary to include a copy of the text analyzed. Secondary sources should be cited according to the guidelines of a style such as MLA.

Category Three: Research or Advocacy

Definition and Purpose:
Research-driven writing with a persuasive thesis. Research writing is a way of creating new knowledge, of entering the academic conversation, responding to scholars one finds in one’s research and voicing one’s own position on issues. The research paper helps students understand how to synthesize information and the points of view of several different authors, subordinating these voices and arguments to the students’ own voice, using them to support a unique paper. It also aids students in understanding and using the conventions of academic research writing.


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 Four: Opinion Editorial

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, and many of these discussions take place in newspapers, in letters to the editor and opinion editorials, or op-ed columns. These venues provide citizens an outlet for expressing their points of view on issues of civic concern; they also represent places people can go to learn what others think about a variety of issues. While letters to the editor tend to be quite brief, opinion editorials are longer, more fully developed arguments on issues of immediate concern and interest to particular people or groups and can range from the seemingly trivial—are public displays of affection a breach of etiquette?—to the more consequential—what should the U.S. do to secure its borders? In short, opinion editorials are not just stated opinions, but carefully reasoned arguments.


Opinion editorials 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. The style of writing can range from the conversational, even chatty, to the more formal feel of an academic argument. The important thing is that an opinion on a topical issues is asserted and ultimately supported, perhaps even anticipating and responding to counter arguments.

Contest rules:


Winter semester students: May 1
Spring/Summer students: August 23
Fall semester students: January 20

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.

Note: The judges of the Writing 150 Writing Contest reserve the right to withhold any of the category prizes if no entry merits a particular award.

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