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OASIS Writing Skills

Undergraduate Writing:
Drafting a Narrative

Undergraduate resources in the Writing Center

Drafting a Narrative

Your narrative is different from other papers because it is highly personal—remember, it is the story of you. In academic writing, the focus is less on you and more on your ideas, analysis, or reflection on course readings. However, these two types of writing are also similar. Both in traditional academic writing and in your learning narrative, you must establish a perspective and then persuade others of that perspective’s appropriateness.

In this context, your perspective is "I learned X and Y. I deserve to earn credit for these learning experiences." Readers ask, "Oh yeah? Why?" It is your job to convince them through the evidence you provide in your portfolio, as well as through the narrative itself. The narrative is where you make sense of the evidence to prove your learning.

Writing to Know

If the prewriting tools did not work for you, try to just start writing. You might use a prompt from this list, for example:

  • My learning began when…
  • From a young age, I knew…
  • My career has taught me…
  • The most significant point in my life was…
  • I have learned a lot about…

Do not think too much about what you are writing. Do not worry about grammar, spelling, or punctuation yet either. The point of this exercise, often called freewriting, is simply to start writing and get words on the page. You might set a time limit for yourself (such as 15 minutes) and then, after the time limit is up, read what you have written and highlight areas that you could develop further in your narrative. Because this is a freewrite, you might have a lot of filler material that will not be useful to you. The goal is to have at least a glimmer of an idea or two that you can then explore.

Another goal of freewriting is writing to learn or writing to know. Sometimes it is hard to simply sit and think about the past. By engaging your fingers at the keyboard or your pen on the paper, you can think more automatically and perhaps look at an event differently than you would otherwise. 

Formatting and the Template

It is important for your narrative to appear professional, polished, and consistently formatted. This allows the assessor to easily navigate your writing and not get distracted by odd spacing, text, or margins. Download the Prior Learning Narrative template below to ensure appropriate formatting.

How to use the template: Download and save the document to your computer. Replace the current text with your own by (a) directly typing into the document or (b) copying and pasting into the document. The formatting, including the title page, page numbers, and spacing, is already set for you.


As with academic writing, your narrative should have an introduction, body, and conclusion as the general structure. An introduction guides the reader into your story, and the conclusion reflects on the overall significance or aim of your story, offering closure for the reader. The body of the narrative is where you make your argument about how you have met the learning outcomes.

The template indicates that you should emphasize each learning outcome in the form of a heading. This is so the assessor can clearly see how you have reflected on each one.

Within the heading, though, you can choose to organize your narrative in a few ways. You can organize chronologically, explaining how you have exemplified the specific skill in your life over time. On the other hand, you can organize thematically, where you discuss each idea or component of the objective with no regard for chronology. Either of these methods can be effective; it is your decision which you choose. The organization should be established and clear for the assessor, though. Otherwise, he or she might get lost in your work.

Just as in academic papers, you should focus each paragraph on one central idea. This is so that the reader can easily follow the story that you are telling. Paragraphs that are overly long or unfocused can feel overwhelming and tiresome for the reader.

Creating the Right Tone

Because this is a story about you, you will use the first-person point of view. That means using "I" and "me" to describe your own actions, experiences, thoughts, and feelings. In other academic work, you might have been discouraged from using the first-person point of view or even from stating your own opinions, but in this narrative it is appropriate.

Additionally, this is highly personal material, so you can take a more conversational or relaxed tone in your writing. Be sure to still explain each learning experience, though; the assessor will not know your particular circumstances. You also may be tempted to engage in the jargon of your field. However, do not rely on overly technical wording, abbreviations, or acronyms because these can confuse readers who are unfamiliar.

Setting the Scene

Any compelling story includes scenes and specific details to create a vivid world in the reader’s mind. Consider the difference between these two explanations:

Explanation 1: At work, I had to create a PowerPoint presentation about homelessness.
Explanation 2: Driving to work each day, I noticed one particular homeless man asking for money beside the highway on-ramp. I occasionally gave him money through my car window but did not see any change in his circumstances over several months. After a while, I started to notice more and more similar individuals in other areas of the city. I decided that I wanted to research homelessness in Atlanta and present to my company on how we could help as a unit. The presentation took the form of PowerPoint slides listing statistics but also the stories of several people affected by homelessness (whom I interviewed).

The second example provides a lot more context, story, and even scene details. The reader can imagine someone driving to work and beginning to realize the amount of people asking for assistance in the city. To make sure you are providing these details and clear context, avoid vague words such as "thing," "stuff," "people," "everyone," and "no one."

Using Evidence

In your portfolio, you must provide supporting documentation for your learning. This is the Evidence portion of the portfolio. Of course, in your narrative, you will also want to reference this evidence directly, so that the narrative and the evidence can form an integrated argument. Here are some examples of how you can reference that evidence within your narrative:

  • See the letter of support from my manager for…
  • As shown in the submitted photograph, …
  • The PowerPoint presentation I developed is included as evidence.

The assessor should be able to directly pinpoint the documentation you are referencing.

Citing Sources

Your Prior Learning Narrative is primarily about you and your growth experiences. If you do use information from another source, such as the Internet, a book, or an article, you should give credit to that source through citation. Walden students follow the APA style of crediting sources.

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