Essay: The Presentation of Self

The Assignment. We will write a short (~750 to ~1250 word) essay on the "presentation of self" (PoS) In it you will follow Goffman's exposition of some aspect of PoS using an example of your own observation. Ideally this will grow out of observations and explorations in your journal, but that is not a requirement.

You should honor the idea of "one paper, one idea"; depth and sustained examination will be rewarded more highly than breadth and cataloging.

The instructions below walk you through seven "drafts" or "stages." These are only suggestions; one can easily imagine more than one of the steps described here being done in a single sitting, but spreading the task out over multiple days/weeks reduces the stress and improves the results. As does sharing with colleagues. In my experience, multiple drafts along these lines lead to finished products that are orders of magnitude better than one-off, last minute efforts.

Preliminary Evaluation Standard

Draft 1 : Brainstorming a Topic

Consider a role/performance/situation with which you are familiar. If you need some mental prodding, you might ponder these examples:

  • A student meeting with her advisor
  • A stickup
  • A swim lesson
  • A blind date
  • A job interview
  • A visit from a friend to one’s dorm room.

I recommend doing a little bit of journal work with two or three options so you can comparatively assess which one is most promising and captivating (to you) as you.

Start with some narration. Describe scene and setting. Stay at the ideal typical level where necessary or helpful. In other words, don’t aim at perfectly accurate description of one specific occasion of the situation in question. Stay realistic, but don’t get bogged down in the particularities of one time and place. Speculate about mindsets, orientations, perspectives.

Draft 2 : Generating Data

Review the following concepts from Goffman's Presentation of Self in Everyday Life1. For each one, jot down what it is (ideally, one might locate a passage in PSEDL and quote it (noting the page, of course) and then paraphrase). Then describe in words how it is manifest or exemplified in the example you are writing about.

Concept Goffman Paraphrase My Example Concept Goffman Paraphrase My Example
Dramatic Realization
Expressive Control
Intra-Team communication
Regions : Front/Back Stage
Movements between front and backstage
Backstage banter
Intrusion of the “outside”
Audience segregation
Dark Secrets
Strategic Secrets
Inside Secrets
Entrusted Secrets
Free Secrets
Latent Secrets
Discrepant roles
Service specialists
Training specialists
Treatment of the Absent ()
Staging Talk (175-6)
Team Collusion (176-190)
Realigning Actions (190-207)
IncidentsDefensive Attributes and Practices
Dramaturgical Loyalties
Dramaturgical Discipline
Dramaturgical Circumspection
Protective Practices
Tact Regarding Tact

Draft 3 : Selecting Text I Will Model My Essay On

Assess which chapter of PSEDL you have the most material on. Start to get your head around the idea of writing an essay modeled loosely on one of Goffman's chapters. The chapters of PSEDL and some of the topics in each are as follows:

  1. Performances — belief in part one plays, fronts, dramatic realization, idealization, expressive control,
  2. misrepresentation, mystification
  3. Teams — performer and audience, collusion, presentation as joint accomplishment
  4. Regions and Region Behavior — front stage and back stage
  5. Discrepant Roles — my roles can contradict one another, flexibility and rigidity
  6. Communication Out of Character — role leakage, cracks in armor, “honesty”
  7. The Arts of Impression Management — pulling it all together in a theory of everyday interaction

Review your material and type/write out your essay title: "Goffman-Chapter-Name in My-Selected-Performance-Area"

Draft two introductory paragraphs — one that introduces your example/topic and one that introduces the overall main idea of the chapter in PSEDL that you will focus on.

Free write a bit on this material.

Draft 4: A Sketch of the Essay

Review the structure of Goffman's chapter (in some cases you can just look at the section headings) and the material you have noted in your "data grid" and sketch an outline that brings these together. NOTE: I've just jotted down a few words after each title here — if I'd filled in the above grid I'd probably have a few bullet points under each one.

Example. Suppose I modeling my essay on being a step-father at a school play on the "Performances" chapter

Belief in the part one is playing

  • two premises
    • if I present myself as "parent" other parents will treat me as parent
    • as long as I act like one


  • how to look the part?
  • setting
  • personal, equipment

Dramatic realization

  • what do I do that's "euphemistically" parent-like?


  • don't say step, make it look like I've been here since birth, anything I deliberately hide?

Maintenance of expressive control

  • what communication slipups do I need to be on the guard for? How do I fix them?


  • To what degree am I merely playing "dad"?


  • Do I play with the audience to inspire "awe"?

Reality and Contrivance

  • This is Goffman's theoretical wrap up and what next. Can I use my example to illustrate the points he makes?

Draft 5 : Quotes, paraphrases, examples

Fill in outline with actual quotes that explain concepts I'm using, my "in other words" sentences, and my examples

Draft 6 : The Story Line

At this point we have probably generated more material than we can use. Remember the admonition: "one paper, one idea!" What is the really strong idea that unites the material you've written so far? What material fits with this and what does not. Don't hesitate to exclude material. A better paper will result when you throw some stuff away.

What is the story line? You might try boiling the essay down to a few sentences. They should SAY SOMETHING (make a claim, assert something that might be true or not). Now look at your intro and the body paragraphs and try to impose a story-line logic on them.

Draft a summary/conclusion.

Draft 7 : Polishing up

Edit, rewrite. What's the topic sentence in each paragraph? Do all the other sentences "work for" it? If not, either cut them or change them or revise the topic sentence. Finally, re-write the introduction so that it introduces THIS essay.