Anecdotal Essay Definition

1(of an account) not necessarily true or reliable, because based on personal accounts rather than facts or research.

‘while there was much anecdotal evidence there was little hard fact’

  1. 1.1Characterized by or fond of telling anecdotes.

    ‘her book is anecdotal and chatty’

    • ‘She previews this approach to war in her short, anecdotal work Paris France, written just before Mrs. Reynolds and Wars I Have Seen.’
    • ‘Are we in for a pleasant, anecdotal account of Didion's family connections with a pioneering past, you wonder.’
    • ‘Other exceptional sherpas are given their place in the sun too in a narrative that has no great pretensions to literary skill or scholarship, but is enthusiastic and often wonderfully anecdotal.’
    • ‘He elicited and compared details and wrote up his findings almost immediately in a highly readable, anecdotal narrative style.’
    • ‘Unfortunately, most writings on Katchor emphasize literary and anecdotal content over artistry.’
    • ‘Many of them are anecdotal and the poem, ‘Making Sambar’ could well have been featured as a ‘middle’ on the editorial page of a newspaper.’
    • ‘In a witty, anecdotal and at times serious speech, Pierce said he was the eldest male member of a family of eight - seven boys and a girl.’
    • ‘What he writes about York corresponds uncannily with my memory of what actually happened and includes anecdotal material which I have not seen written down anywhere else.’
    • ‘In the late, anecdotal tradition he is credited with introducing suspension of judgment.’
    • ‘I have quoted part of the petition at length, because its anecdotal and tonal qualities are lost in summary.’
    • ‘The two tropes are geology and archaeology integrated into an anecdotal, memorialising narrative form that demands admiration for its adroitness.’
    • ‘As with most actor commentaries, the former is more light and fluffy and anecdotal, while the latter is more technically-oriented.’
    • ‘The narrative is tangential and anecdotal, a linear mosaic of small failures and smaller successes, interspersed with laugh out loud one-liners.’
    • ‘I suspect that The Edifice Complex is so readable because his scholarly theme, brilliantly researched, is well peppered with anecdotal insights.’
    • ‘I have tried to introduce personal anecdotal narrative into the book because I became very involved in my investigation into the naturopath.’
    • ‘The Trade Center attack will not alter the autobiographical, anecdotal, therapeutic poems of the workshops; it will merely add another subject.’
    • ‘Most of the articles have serious points to make, and only J. T. Bonner's amusing essay largely devoted to his social encounters with Haldane is purely anecdotal.’
    • ‘David Gordon Green and Jamie Bell deliver an amusing and anecdotal commentary, relaying the many misadventures that took place in the production.’
    • ‘Born to Buy would have benefited from more narrative, anecdotal sugar in the form of compelling characters to make the medicine go down.’
    • ‘While anecdotal, the narrative captures what is probably a common experience of those participating in discipline-based PFF programs.’
  2. 1.2(of a painting) depicting small narrative incidents.

    ‘nineteenth century French anecdotal paintings’

    • ‘From elegant trapeze artists to humorous anecdotal scenes of circus life on a shoestring budget, you can see why Camille is tempted to join Petra and run away with the circus.’
    • ‘It is their freedom from the traditional literary, anecdotal, or moralistic associations of painting that has caused him to be regarded as one of the pioneers of modern art.’
    • ‘Schad's graphic work, often anecdotal and illustrational, is evocative of George Grosz but without the muscle.’
    • ‘Over the next 20 years his anecdotal paintings of peasant life, based on a close study of Dutch 17th-century genre painters, were universally admired.’
    • ‘The impeccable and perceptive draughtsman Ingres is represented by one of the anecdotal pictures in which he delighted, The Betrothal of Raphael, and the last of his four versions of Oedipus and the Sphinx.’
    • ‘The film combines anecdotal minimalism with extremely careful attention to the image and the actors - with a single exception, all non-professional.’
    • ‘During the 1940s, Haley began writing short anecdotal sketches about the coastguard, some of which he published in Coronet magazine.’
    • ‘Critics blithely ignorant of its subject matter routinely dismiss western art as purely anecdotal.’

    narrative, full of stories, crammed with incident, packed with incident

    View synonyms
  • ‘Until recently, documentation of elevated cancer rates in the area was limited to such anecdotal accounts.’
  • ‘The evidence so far is anecdotal rather than statistical, but the trend can't be denied, he says.’
  • ‘Historic accounts of this era give no indication of any negative impact to fish populations and in fact, anecdotal accounts reflect quite the opposite.’
  • ‘Much of the information and government decisions concerning goldenseal are based on anecdotal rather than quantitative information on population status.’
  • ‘There is a reliable anecdotal account that, in my opinion, gives a partial answer to the question.’
  • ‘His team culled anecdotal accounts on videoconferencing and case studies of various applications of the technology.’
  • ‘Nursing literature is full of anecdotal accounts of the distant approach that doctors have towards patients and their carers.’
  • ‘Early accounts were mainly anecdotal, reported by clinicians and interpreted mainly as psychodynamic processes occurring during early development.’
  • ‘To date, the social science literature on New Age phenomena has been dominated by case studies and anecdotal accounts.’
  • ‘I have my own theories on this, but they are based purely on anecdotal evidence.’
  • ‘Instead of relying on anecdotal accounts, psychologists could provide better information to assist the resolution of such a case.’
  • ‘This paper therefore is based mainly on my own thoughtful experience and informal anecdotal research.’
  • ‘Theory is paraded as fact, anecdotal accounts as hard data.’
  • ‘Reviewers of manuscripts sometimes reject research because it is anecdotal, based on a case study, or founded on too small a sample and therefore not generalizable.’
  • ‘It is a fluent and largely anecdotal account, which captures the woman and her work most vividly.’
  • ‘Wisely, Shakeshaft does not base her conclusions on evidence that comes so close to anecdotal accounts.’
  • ‘Some effect measurements are based on anecdotal evidence.’
  • ‘In contrast to this scholarly account, the evocatively-entitled Tin Horns and Calico is a lively account, based on anecdotal information and data from private sources.’
  • ‘Having regard to both personal experience and anecdotal evidence, I suspect that the answers to these two questions are YES and NO respectively.’
  • ‘Insights, while not necessarily inaccurate, are frequently based on anecdotal evidence and hence impressionistic.’

College Application Essays

How to Write An Anecdote About Almost Anything


Before one of my college application essay writing workshops yesterday, I skimmed over some of the rough drafts the students had written last semester for their English classes.

The writing was solid, the ideas strong.

Yet the essays were all on the dull side.

If only someone had taught these kids how to use anecdotes, I thought.

They are the ultimate writing technique for Showing (an example) rather than Telling (explaining) about a point you want to make.

Nothing powers a college application essay like an engaging anecdote in the introduction.

Often, you can pull an anecdote ( a mini true story) out of what you’ve already written and instantly transform it into an engaging read. And it can be a very everyday, simple event or moment.

I tried to think if anything of interest happened during our workshop to use as an example.

In general, it was pretty uneventful, even (ahem) a bit boring.

Then I remembered: The cat fell off the bookcase while I was talking. It had fallen asleep and slipped off. We all had a good laugh. So something did happen.

Now, how would I write that as an anecdote?

Is it possible to take such a mundane event like that and turn it into a mini-story? Let’s see.

How to Write An Anecdote


The trick to anecdotes is to gather some details.

Start with the 5ws—Who, What, When, Where and Why:

Myself, five students and a cat.

A writing workshop.

One recent morning.

In a house.

On a bookshelf.

It fell off because it went to sleep and slid off.

Next, gather the sensory details to try to re-create the scene or setting.

What did we see, hear, smell, feel, touch or sense?

I didn’t see it fall since it was lying behind me.

I heard a soft thud.

I heard the students’ exclamation of surprise.

I felt surprised.

I didn’t touch or smell anything.

RELATED: My Video Tutorial on How to Write an Anecdote: Part One

Now put these together.

I find it helps to start with the “where,” and then put yourself into the picture as well.

Standing by the window? Sitting on the grass?

Where were you when the incident or event happened—for point of view.

Remember, I was sitting with my back to the sleeping cat.

My students watched it happen.

Here’s how I would write an anecdote about this moment.

It took me a couple attempts.

I wrote it out, then took out words I didn’t need or want, moved sentences around, shortened some sentences, added a phrase to another.

I read it aloud each time.

I tried to vary sentence lengths between short and long, sticking more with the shorter sentences.

I tried to think of this little moment visually—what it would have looked like as a piece of video.

I tried to start as close to the peak of the action as possible and still have the event make sense with some background.

Notice that I spend barely any time leading up to what happened.

I had been talking for nearly an hour straight. My five writing students, all seated around a large table in front of me, were starting to fidget. Suddenly, I heard a soft thump and a commotion behind me. The students also jumped up in unison. 

“What the heck?” I said as I craned my neck behind me.

Everyone started laughing. The 16-year-old black cat, Ace, had fallen asleep on the bookshelf behind us and gradually slipped over the edge until he abruptly dropped to the floor. As the students laughed, we all watched Ace shake his head a couple times, stunned from the impact, trying to brush off the rude awakening. Then he padded into the next room as though nothing had happened.

I couldn’t help but think later how it took a sleeping cat to wake everyone up.

I know this isn’t great writing or the most compelling anecdote you’ve ever read.

But notice how it’s easy to read and keeps you moving forward.

Why? Because something happened, and you want to know why and what happens next.

I also want you to see how to take the most simple event or moment and turn it into an engaging anecdote, simply by relating the details of what happened in a direct manner.

There were countless other ways to describe this same moment, and that’s the beauty of an anecdote. It’s all in the telling, what details you share and what you want to emphasize.

RELATED POST: Writing Anecdotes: A Crash Course

If you want to practice your narrative writing skills, try crafting a couple anecdotes out of everyday incidents in your life.

They don’t need to be super exciting or impressive.

Just think of something that happened, say, when you were at the beach, or at a bookstore, or at the yogurt shop.

Describe a brief interaction you had with someone in line with you, or an exchange between a mother and child.

These take a little practice.

Remember, anecdotes are one of the most powerful writing techniques you can learn.

And they are solid gold when it comes to writing your college admissions essay!

RELATED: My Video Tutorial on How to Write an Anecdote: Part One



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