How to Write a Reflective Essay
You’re probably used to responding to different sources in essays. For example, in an academic essay, you might compare two books’ themes, argue for or against a position, analyze a piece of literature, or persuade the reader with facts and statistics.
In one way, a reflective essay is similar to an academic essay. Like an academic essay, a reflective essay can discuss ideas and concepts from books, literature, essays, or articles. However, unlike an academic essay, it focuses on how your personal experience relates to these things.
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What is a reflective essay?
Reflective essays are a type of personal essay in which the writer examines a topic through the lens of their unique perspective. Reflective essays are more subjective about their subjects than an academic essay, use figurative language, and don’t require academic sources. The purpose of a reflective essay is to explore and share the author’s thoughts, perspectives, and experiences.
Reflective essays are often written for college applications and cover letters as a way for the writer to discuss their background and demonstrate how these experiences shaped them into an ideal candidate. For example, a college applicant might write a reflective essay about how moving every few years because of their parent’s military service impacted their concept of home.
Sometimes, reflective essays are academic assignments. For example, a student may be assigned to watch a film or visit a museum exhibition and write a reflective essay about the film or exhibition’s themes. Reflective essays can also be pieces of personal writing, such as blog posts or journal entries.
Reflective essay vs. narrative essay
There are a few similarities between reflective essays and narrative essays. Both are personal pieces of writing in which the author explores their thoughts about their experiences. But here’s the main difference: While a narrative essay focuses on a story about events in the author’s life, a reflective essay focuses on the changes the author underwent because of those events. A narrative essay has many of the same elements as a fictional story: setting, characters, plot, and conflict. A reflective essay gets granular about the circumstances and changes driven by the conflict and doesn’t necessarily aim to tell a full story.
Reflective essays based on academic material
You might be assigned to write a reflective essay on an academic text, such as an essay, a book, or an article. Unlike a reflective essay about your own personal experiences, this type of reflective essay involves analysis and interpretation of the material. However, unlike in an analytical essay , the position you support is informed by your own opinion and perspective rather than solely by the text.
How to choose a topic
A reflective essay can be about any topic. By definition, a reflective essay is an essay where the writer describes an event or experience (or series of events or experiences) and then discusses and analyzes the lessons they derived from their experience. This experience can be about anything , whether big life events like moving to a new country or smaller experiences like trying sushi for the first time. The topic can be serious, lighthearted, poignant, or simply entertaining.
If your reflective essay is for an assignment or an application, you might be given a topic. In some cases, you might be given a broad area or keyword and then have to develop your own topic related to those things. In other cases, you might not be given anything. No matter which is the case for your essay, there are a few ways to explore reflective essay ideas and develop your topic.
Freewriting is a writing exercise where you simply write whatever comes to mind for a fixed period of time without worrying about grammar or structure or even writing something coherent. The goal is to get your ideas onto paper and explore them creatively, and by removing the pressure to write something submittable, you’re giving yourself more room to play with these ideas.
Make a mind map
A mind map is a diagram that shows the relationships between ideas, events, and other words related to one central concept. For example, a mind map for the word book might branch into the following words: fiction , nonfiction , digital , hardcover . Each of these words then branches to subtopics. These subtopics further branch to subtopics of their own, demonstrating just how deep you can explore a subject.
Creating a mind map can be a helpful way to explore your thoughts and feelings about the experience you discuss in your essay.
You can find inspiration for a reflective essay from any part of your life. Think about an experience that shifted your worldview or dramatically changed your daily routine. Or you can focus on the smaller, even mundane, parts of life like your weekly cleaning routine or trips to the grocery store. In a reflective essay, you don’t just describe experiences; you explore how they shape you and your feelings.
Reflective essay outline
A reflective essay’s introduction paragraph needs to include:
- A thesis statement
The hook is the sentence that catches the reader’s attention and makes them want to read more. This can be an unexpected fact, an intriguing statistic, a left-field observation, or a question that gets the reader’s mind thinking about the essay’s topic.
The thesis statement is a concise statement that introduces the reader to the essay’s topic . A thesis statement clearly spells out the topic and gives the reader context for the rest of the essay they’re about to read.
These aren’t all the things that a reflective essay’s introduction needs, however. This paragraph needs to effectively introduce the topic, which often means introducing a few of the ideas discussed in the essay’s body paragraphs alongside the hook and thesis statement.
Your essay’s body paragraphs are where you actually explore the experience you’re reflecting on. You might compare experiences, describe scenes and your emotions following them, recount interactions, and contrast it with any expectations you had beforehand.
Unless you’re writing for a specific assignment, there’s no required number of body paragraphs for your reflective essay. Generally, authors write three body paragraphs, but if your essay needs only two—or it needs four or five—to fully communicate your experience and reflection, that’s perfectly fine.
In the final section, tie up any loose ends from the essay’s body paragraphs. Mention your thesis statement in the conclusion, either by restating it or paraphrasing it. Give the reader a sense of completion by including a final thought or two. However, these thoughts should reflect statements you made in the body paragraphs rather than introduce anything new to the essay. Your conclusion should also clearly share how the experience or events you discussed affected you (and, if applicable, continue to do so).
6 tips for writing a reflective essay
1 choose a tone.
Before you begin to write your reflective essay, choose a tone . Because a reflective essay is more personal than an academic essay, you don’t need to use a strict, formal tone. You can also use personal pronouns like I and me in your essay because this essay is about your personal experiences.
2 Be mindful of length
Generally, five hundred to one thousand words is an appropriate length for a reflective essay. If it’s a personal piece, it may be longer.
You might be required to keep your essay within a general word count if it’s an assignment or part of an application. When this is the case, be mindful to stick to the word count—writing too little or too much can have a negative impact on your grade or your candidacy.
3 Stay on topic
A reflective essay reflects on a single topic. Whether that topic is a one-off event or a recurring experience in your life, it’s important to keep your writing focused on that topic.
4 Be clear and concise
In a reflective essay, introspection and vivid imagery are assets. However, the essay’s language should remain concise , and its structure should follow a logical narrative.
5 Stay professional
Although you aren’t bound to a formal tone, it’s generally best to use a professional tone in your reflective writing. Avoid using slang or overly familiar language, especially if your reflective essay is part of a college or job application .
Before you hit “send” or “submit,” be sure to proofread your work. For this last read-through, you should be focused on catching any spelling or grammatical mistakes you might have missed.
Reflective essay FAQs
Reflective essays are a type of personal essay that examines a topic through the lens of thewriter’s unique perspective. They are more subjective about their subjects than an academic essay, use figurative language, and don’t require academic sources.
What’s the difference between a reflective essay and a narrative essay?
While a reflective essay focuses on its author’s feelings and perspectives surrounding events they’ve experienced or texts they’ve read, a narrative essay tells a story. A narrative essay might show changes the author underwent through the same conventions a fictional story uses to show character growth; a reflective essay discusses this growth more explicitly and explores it in depth.
What are example topics for a reflective essay?
- Moving abroad and adapting to the local culture
- Recovering from an athletic injury
- Weekly phone conversations with your grandmother
- The funniest joke you ever heard (and what made it so funny)
Guide on How to Write a Reflection Paper with Free Tips and Example
A reflection paper is a very common type of paper among college students. Almost any subject you enroll in requires you to express your opinion on certain matters. In this article, we will explain how to write a reflection paper and provide examples and useful tips to make the essay writing process easier.
Reflection papers should have an academic tone yet be personal and subjective. In this paper, you should analyze and reflect upon how an experience, academic task, article, or lecture shaped your perception and thoughts on a subject.
Here is what you need to know about writing an effective critical reflection paper. Stick around until the end of our guide to get some useful writing tips from the writing team at EssayPro — a research paper writing service
What Is a Reflection Paper
A reflection paper is a type of paper that requires you to write your opinion on a topic, supporting it with your observations and personal experiences. As opposed to presenting your reader with the views of other academics and writers, in this essay, you get an opportunity to write your point of view—and the best part is that there is no wrong answer. It is YOUR opinion, and it is your job to express your thoughts in a manner that will be understandable and clear for all readers that will read your paper. The topic range is endless. Here are some examples: whether or not you think aliens exist, your favorite TV show, or your opinion on the outcome of WWII. You can write about pretty much anything.
There are three types of reflection paper; depending on which one you end up with, the tone you write with can be slightly different. The first type is the educational reflective paper. Here your job is to write feedback about a book, movie, or seminar you attended—in a manner that teaches the reader about it. The second is the professional paper. Usually, it is written by people who study or work in education or psychology. For example, it can be a reflection of someone’s behavior. And the last is the personal type, which explores your thoughts and feelings about an individual subject.
However, reflection paper writing will stop eventually with one very important final paper to write - your resume. This is where you will need to reflect on your entire life leading up to that moment. To learn how to list education on resume perfectly, follow the link on our dissertation writing services .
Unlock the potential of your thoughts with EssayPro . Order a reflection paper and explore a range of other academic services tailored to your needs. Dive deep into your experiences, analyze them with expert guidance, and turn your insights into an impactful reflection paper.
Free Reflection Paper Example
Now that we went over all of the essentials about a reflection paper and how to approach it, we would like to show you some examples that will definitely help you with getting started on your paper.
Reflection Paper Format
Reflection papers typically do not follow any specific format. Since it is your opinion, professors usually let you handle them in any comfortable way. It is best to write your thoughts freely, without guideline constraints. If a personal reflection paper was assigned to you, the format of your paper might depend on the criteria set by your professor. College reflection papers (also known as reflection essays) can typically range from about 400-800 words in length.
Here’s how we can suggest you format your reflection paper:
How to Start a Reflection Paper
The first thing to do when beginning to work on a reflection essay is to read your article thoroughly while taking notes. Whether you are reflecting on, for example, an activity, book/newspaper, or academic essay, you want to highlight key ideas and concepts.
You can start writing your reflection paper by summarizing the main concept of your notes to see if your essay includes all the information needed for your readers. It is helpful to add charts, diagrams, and lists to deliver your ideas to the audience in a better fashion.
After you have finished reading your article, it’s time to brainstorm. We’ve got a simple brainstorming technique for writing reflection papers. Just answer some of the basic questions below:
- How did the article affect you?
- How does this article catch the reader’s attention (or does it all)?
- Has the article changed your mind about something? If so, explain how.
- Has the article left you with any questions?
- Were there any unaddressed critical issues that didn’t appear in the article?
- Does the article relate to anything from your past reading experiences?
- Does the article agree with any of your past reading experiences?
Here are some reflection paper topic examples for you to keep in mind before preparing to write your own:
- How my views on rap music have changed over time
- My reflection and interpretation of Moby Dick by Herman Melville
- Why my theory about the size of the universe has changed over time
- How my observations for clinical psychological studies have developed in the last year
The result of your brainstorming should be a written outline of the contents of your future paper. Do not skip this step, as it will ensure that your essay will have a proper flow and appropriate organization.
Another good way to organize your ideas is to write them down in a 3-column chart or table.
Do you want your task look awesome?
If you would like your reflection paper to look professional, feel free to check out one of our articles on how to format MLA, APA or Chicago style
Writing a Reflection Paper Outline
Reflection paper should contain few key elements:
Your introduction should specify what you’re reflecting upon. Make sure that your thesis informs your reader about your general position, or opinion, toward your subject.
- State what you are analyzing: a passage, a lecture, an academic article, an experience, etc...)
- Briefly summarize the work.
- Write a thesis statement stating how your subject has affected you.
One way you can start your thesis is to write:
Example: “After reading/experiencing (your chosen topic), I gained the knowledge of…”
The body paragraphs should examine your ideas and experiences in context to your topic. Make sure each new body paragraph starts with a topic sentence.
Your reflection may include quotes and passages if you are writing about a book or an academic paper. They give your reader a point of reference to fully understand your feedback. Feel free to describe what you saw, what you heard, and how you felt.
Example: “I saw many people participating in our weight experiment. The atmosphere felt nervous yet inspiring. I was amazed by the excitement of the event.”
As with any conclusion, you should summarize what you’ve learned from the experience. Next, tell the reader how your newfound knowledge has affected your understanding of the subject in general. Finally, describe the feeling and overall lesson you had from the reading or experience.
There are a few good ways to conclude a reflection paper:
- Tie all the ideas from your body paragraphs together, and generalize the major insights you’ve experienced.
- Restate your thesis and summarize the content of your paper.
We have a separate blog post dedicated to writing a great conclusion. Be sure to check it out for an in-depth look at how to make a good final impression on your reader.
Need a hand? Get help from our writers. Edit, proofread or buy essay .
How to Write a Reflection Paper: Step-by-Step Guide
Step 1: create a main theme.
After you choose your topic, write a short summary about what you have learned about your experience with that topic. Then, let readers know how you feel about your case — and be honest. Chances are that your readers will likely be able to relate to your opinion or at least the way you form your perspective, which will help them better understand your reflection.
For example: After watching a TEDx episode on Wim Hof, I was able to reevaluate my preconceived notions about the negative effects of cold exposure.
Step 2: Brainstorm Ideas and Experiences You’ve Had Related to Your Topic
You can write down specific quotes, predispositions you have, things that influenced you, or anything memorable. Be personal and explain, in simple words, how you felt.
For example: • A lot of people think that even a small amount of carbohydrates will make people gain weight • A specific moment when I struggled with an excess weight where I avoided carbohydrates entirely • The consequences of my actions that gave rise to my research • The evidence and studies of nutritional science that claim carbohydrates alone are to blame for making people obese • My new experience with having a healthy diet with a well-balanced intake of nutrients • The influence of other people’s perceptions on the harm of carbohydrates, and the role their influence has had on me • New ideas I’ve created as a result of my shift in perspective
Step 3: Analyze How and Why These Ideas and Experiences Have Affected Your Interpretation of Your Theme
Pick an idea or experience you had from the last step, and analyze it further. Then, write your reasoning for agreeing or disagreeing with it.
For example, Idea: I was raised to think that carbohydrates make people gain weight.
Analysis: Most people think that if they eat any carbohydrates, such as bread, cereal, and sugar, they will gain weight. I believe in this misconception to such a great extent that I avoided carbohydrates entirely. As a result, my blood glucose levels were very low. I needed to do a lot of research to overcome my beliefs finally. Afterward, I adopted the philosophy of “everything in moderation” as a key to a healthy lifestyle.
For example: Idea: I was brought up to think that carbohydrates make people gain weight. Analysis: Most people think that if they eat any carbohydrates, such as bread, cereal, and sugar, they will gain weight. I believe in this misconception to such a great extent that I avoided carbohydrates entirely. As a result, my blood glucose levels were very low. I needed to do a lot of my own research to finally overcome my beliefs. After, I adopted the philosophy of “everything in moderation” as a key for having a healthy lifestyle.
Step 4: Make Connections Between Your Observations, Experiences, and Opinions
Try to connect your ideas and insights to form a cohesive picture for your theme. You can also try to recognize and break down your assumptions, which you may challenge in the future.
There are some subjects for reflection papers that are most commonly written about. They include:
- Book – Start by writing some information about the author’s biography and summarize the plot—without revealing the ending to keep your readers interested. Make sure to include the names of the characters, the main themes, and any issues mentioned in the book. Finally, express your thoughts and reflect on the book itself.
- Course – Including the course name and description is a good place to start. Then, you can write about the course flow, explain why you took this course, and tell readers what you learned from it. Since it is a reflection paper, express your opinion, supporting it with examples from the course.
- Project – The structure for a reflection paper about a project has identical guidelines to that of a course. One of the things you might want to add would be the pros and cons of the course. Also, mention some changes you might want to see, and evaluate how relevant the skills you acquired are to real life.
- Interview – First, introduce the person and briefly mention the discussion. Touch on the main points, controversies, and your opinion of that person.
Everyone has their style of writing a reflective essay – and that's the beauty of it; you have plenty of leeway with this type of paper – but there are still a few tips everyone should incorporate.
Before you start your piece, read some examples of other papers; they will likely help you better understand what they are and how to approach yours. When picking your subject, try to write about something unusual and memorable — it is more likely to capture your readers' attention. Never write the whole essay at once. Space out the time slots when you work on your reflection paper to at least a day apart. This will allow your brain to generate new thoughts and reflections.
- Short and Sweet – Most reflection papers are between 250 and 750 words. Don't go off on tangents. Only include relevant information.
- Clear and Concise – Make your paper as clear and concise as possible. Use a strong thesis statement so your essay can follow it with the same strength.
- Maintain the Right Tone – Use a professional and academic tone—even though the writing is personal.
- Cite Your Sources – Try to cite authoritative sources and experts to back up your personal opinions.
- Proofreading – Not only should you proofread for spelling and grammatical errors, but you should proofread to focus on your organization as well. Answer the question presented in the introduction.
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Reflective Essay Examples
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Self-reflection might seem like a no-brainer when you start a reflective paper. But, delving into your thoughts and experiences is harder than you might think. Learn what a reflective essay is and how to write one through a few examples. Plus, explore several topics to get you started.
What Is Reflective Writing?
Reflective writing is a form of creative writing where you examine an experience or situation through self-reflection. Through the course of creating the reflective paper, you describe insights that you gained or express your views on some experience. Reflective essays are typically personal writings about an experience, but they can be made up as well.
Tone and Structure
Self-reflection is a personal experience. Therefore, the tone and voice of the writing are personal as well. Written typically from a first-person point of view , these types of essays take the reader through a journey of growth and discovery.
The structure and format follow a typical essay writing outline . Begin with a great hook and a strong introduction . Pull the reader in without giving too much away, then provide a quick overview of the reflective topic. Next, in the body of the essay, move into the meat of the paper by describing your experiences and growth. Round out your writing with a solid conclusion that concisely restates what you learned.
Examples of Reflective Essays
Now that you have an understanding of what it takes to write a reflective essay, check out a few examples for inspiration.
My Little Brother
This essay example is written at a middle or high school level, reflecting on the arrival of a younger sibling.
In my short life, there are many experiences that could qualify as life-changing. Every new experience was, at one time or another, the first experience. For good or bad, each instance changed the course that my life has taken. But, the most transformative experience was the birth of my youngest brother. Joel is someone my parents often call a happy accident. At the time that my mother became pregnant, I was 13, and my other brother, Jake, was 10. We were what you would call a well-rounded, perfect family of four. We neatly fit into the perfect classification in nearly every way. We didn't realize what we were missing until the moment that my youngest brother first opened his striking blue eyes. In truth, I resented the fact that I would be having another sibling. Nothing needed to be added to our family, and my mother, already 38 at the time, was considered high risk because of her age. The pregnancy itself was full of complications that sent the straight course of my life into rollercoaster-like loops that my 13-year-old mind had a hard time comprehending. But now, I can see how forging through those loops helped me to roll with the punches that life inevitably brings The day Joel was born, my mother took me with her to the hospital rather than my father. It wasn't a planned move, but Jake and my father were both feverish; I was the next best alternative. Sitting with her through every contraction, I gained a new respect for just how powerful and strong a woman could be in what might be considered their weakest moment. Holding her hand and feeding her ice chips, I gained a connection with my mother that I didn't realize we were lacking. The moment my new baby brother came into this world, I realized two things nearly simultaneously. First, you don't realize how much you need something until it's sitting in your lap. Second, my life after this moment would never be the same. The moment he curled his chubby little finger around mine, I understood the words "happy accident" completely. There are many different experiences in life that have changed a part of me as a person. But, nothing so profoundly changed my views and outlook on life like the birth of my youngest brother. Joel's arrival was a life-altering event that caused me to see the world through new eyes.
Reading My Favorite Book
This reflective essay example about a favorite book is something you might find at the middle or high school level.
When it comes to books, I didn’t understand the appeal. I’d read one after another for each assignment not understanding what all the fuss was about. However, the moment I read Pride and Prejudice , it was like my literary eyes opened for the first time. It stirred love within me for classics I didn’t realize could exist. When I was first given the assignment of reading Pride and Prejudice , like many of my friends, I scoffed. With an eye roll, I internally calculated how much time I would have to read the book and write a report. I sighed at the loss of time with my friends for a stupid classic. Cracking open the cover, I was determined to hate it before even reading the first words. By the time I reached page 3, I nearly called it quits. But there was something about Elizabeth Bennet that quietly piqued my interest. I can’t say where, but somewhere along the way, my eyes devoured the pages instead of trudging along. The moment I reached the end, I was ecstatic and disappointed at the same time. Their ending had been perfect, but I realized I would miss them. Not only them, but I would also miss being part of their world. It was the first time characters of a story had affected me this way, so I tried to shake it off. However, after several days, that sadness carried me to the classics section of the school library. The moment I cracked open my next classic, my soul instantly felt more at ease, and I’ve never looked back. I never thought I’d say a book changed me, but in this case, it’s true. The love I found in Pride and Prejudice introduced me to a beautiful world of classic literature I can’t imagine living without. Despite not reading Pride and Prejudice for a while, it will always be my favorite book.
Reflective Essay Book
This reflective essay example about the topic of creative writing is what you might expect to see at the college level.
I’ve always felt I excel in written communication. The skill of effectively communicating my thoughts and feelings through words and expressions seemed to come easily to me. However, I didn't realize how much my writing was lacking until my thoughts and feelings on writing were pushed nearly to their breaking point through my creative writing course. Learning the best way to manage time was a huge hurdle for me. I've always been a procrastinator. However, after the first day of class, I realized I would need to modify my thinking and approach to homework. I wasn't able to completely kill the procrastination habit I developed in high school, but I did learn some much-needed time management skills. I also learned how writing without the looming cloud of a deadline could open a creative door. A natural thinker and writer at heart, I thought I understood creative expression and wordplay... until my professor handed me my first grade. Upon looking at that striking "D" on the paper, I realized I would have to push myself harder and explore the depths my writing could reach. Not only did I learn to sharpen my technical writing chops, but I have found out how to dig into my creative soul to view my emotions and experiences in a whole new way. Going beyond the five-paragraph essay and fully exploring my feelings about a situation or action was challenging. This creative writing class pushed me to realize there isn't a limit on words when it comes to expressing something. I can convey a simple action a million different ways, and I mastered how to explore each one to find perfection in my written words. I also picked up new flexibility in my writing by opening my mind to different scopes of expression. Expressing all the changes that this class wrought in my writing is truly difficult. But, over the course of the eight weeks we spent together, I became a more competent writer. Not only do my words contain more depth and soul, but my writing itself has entered a whole new arena I didn't realize was possible. By studying new techniques and researching other approaches, I now have a sturdy foundation and a robust writing arsenal for future endeavors.
Reflective Essay Communication
Finding the perfect topic.
Half the battle in creating a great reflective paper is finding the perfect topic to write about. Your topic should be something that you experienced, learned, or grew from. It could also be a topic that requires you to think more deeply about a place or book.
Some fun, creative topics for self-reflection include:
- A fight with a family member - Why did it impact you? What did it change about you?
- The moment you feel in love - Explore the feelings and emotions that come with love and how it changes you.
- A sunset - What is it about the beauty of a sunset that impacts you?
- Your secret spot in your house - What about that spot is so important?
- Your first job - What was the experience like? Why was it meaningful?
- Your first date - Examine your emotions on the first date. Did it live up to the hype or fall short?
- Getting engaged - Discuss your feelings and the meaning of the experience.
- Experience in a college class - Class experiences are designed to change or mold you in some way. Discuss how you grew and fell short.
- Your first year in college - This is another larger-than-life event full of self-reflection.
- Is college important? - People feel strongly one way or another about college. What are your experiences?
- What college has taught you - How has attending college changed you and your thinking? Has it helped you grow as a person?
- A vacation you'll never forget - What about the vacation was so memorable?
- An incident you can't forget - Why can't you forget it? Explore your thoughts and emotions.
- Your most embarrassing moment - Everyone's most embarrassing moment is different, but there is always a lot of growth.
- Birth or death of a loved one - This can have a very profound effect on a person.
- Public speaking - People are either good or bad at public speaking. How did you feel?
- First fight with a friend - Were you able to get past the fight? How old were you? How did it change your relationship?
- Big win or loss of a sports team - This could be a sports team you were on or a sports team you love.
- Moving - This could be moving to college or moving away. Explore the way that the move affected you.
- Helping someone - Did you ever help a family or someone in need? What was the experience like? How did it make you feel as a person?
The Art of Self-Reflection
Reflecting on a personal experience might seem like an easy essay to write. However, to ace your reflection paper, dive deeply into your feelings and choose a topic that triggers a strong emotional response.
If a reflective essay doesn't fit you, try exploring more about argumentative essays , including tips for making a compelling argument.
Reflective essays are academic essays; what makes an essay "good" will work for a reflective essay. What is different about a reflective essay is that the essay is about you and your thinking. However, you will need evidence from your course to back up your reflections.
You should structure a reflective essay as an essay, that is write to persuade your reader of your key reflections (or argument). The diagram above, details how to stucture your reflections through the essay. To find out more see the section on essay writing .
The following example comes from business. Thanks to Dr Colleen Hayes for the three samples.
Students were asked to write a reflective essay on their learning in the course by responding to the following question:
What key thing have you learned about corporate social responsibility in the course?
Example 1: Retelling
This writing is (1) descriptive/listing of content, not reflective and (2) not properly referenced (the definition of stakeholders is directly copied from Freeman in the lecture slides.
Example 2: Relating
This writing involves relating to personal experience and has some integration of course concepts (stakeholders).
Example 3: Reflecting
More reflective (forward-looking), better citation and integration of multiple course concepts, and reflection that links with personal experience.
An anthropology marking rubric
For this assessment, students were required to write a 1500-1800 word essay building on the themes of the course to address the question "We are all pirates". Attached under reference documents is the rubric used to mark the essay (thanks to Dr Caroline Schuster). Notice that it requires both the reflection (reflect, relate and retell) as well as the poor traditional requirements of an essay (Writing and organisation, Supporting claims with scholarly sources).
- Sample rubric from Anthropology (PDF, 243.24 KB)
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24+ Reflective Essay Examples & Samples in PDF
Sometimes, it is our experiences that startled and challenged our own voyage that strengthens and improves us to be the best versions of ourselves. If your life experience greatly moved you, there is a certain essay that allows you to compose your own endeavor. In this article, read through because we will be discussing the fundamentals of writing a reflective essay.
They say that being wise is better than being knowledgeable. Wisdom is acquired through reflection of one’s experience as well as of the environment. The more we reflect the more we become aware of ourselves. We become mindful of our existence as well as the meaning of life and all the things that surround us. Here we present different formats of essays like essays in doc .
Reflective Essay Outline Template
- Google Docs
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Reflective Essay About Life Experience
- Apple Pages
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Reflective Essay Template
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Self Reflective Essay Template
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Personal Reflective Essay Template
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Personal Reflective Sample
High School Essay
- PDFReflective Essay Example Reflective Essay Example Reflective Essay Example
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Reflective Essay Outline
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Student Reflective Example
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What Is a Reflective Essay?
A reflective essay is a written piece of literature that focuses on presenting and narrating a person’s experience and how it becomes an instrument towards a change of perception in life.
It is a way for a writer to share an important event in his/her life and how it affected him/her so that others may learn something from it. Reflective writing root on life-changing events. The writer shares a specific experience, provides a narration of the incident including the material elements. It offers a realization so that others who may have had the same experience can draw out a shared mutual lesson from it.
How to Write a Reflective Essay
To write a reflective short essay , you need to have the right disposition as well as the momentum. Remember that you are not just writing to say something but to share an important lesson in life.
1. Think of an important event. What you will be writing on your reflective essay is something that is rooted in your own personal experience or encounter of something. Think deep and concentrate. You may also see personal essay examples & samples.
2. Introduce your topic. In your introduction, write the concrete event or experience that you want to share. Pattern it in a story form.
3. Develop your point. Write the main content of your essay with at least three to five paragraphs supporting your main topic.
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Tips on Writing a Reflective Essay
Writing a reflective essay is not persuasive writing where you have to convince your readers to accept your opinion. You simply have to share an experience.
1. Write a draft. Do not jump hastily onto formal writing . Write a draft where you can create a bulleted list of the things that you want to share.
2. Think logically. When presenting a story, do it in a chronological manner so that your readers can understand the plot. Do this as well when presenting your ideas.
3. Create a summary. Use a summary writing to briefly state your insights and to give your final thoughts of the topic.
Importance of a Reflective Essay
In this era that we currently live in, personal reflection can be considered a thing of the past. Because of the gradual change and development of the things around us, we find it difficult to pause and reflect on the things that happen to our lives. You may also see academic essay examples .
The importance of writing an essay is to present to us the things that we rarely encounter in our day-to-day activities. In this time when material things are all that mattered, we have become unappreciative of the abstract things like love, compassion, and mercy. We cannot learn these things from those electronic gadgets that keep us busy.
How to Start a Reflective Essay Correctly
As mentioned above, a reflective essay presents and narrates the experience of a writer and how it changes the way he/she perceives life. In a simpler sense, it talks about how the author reflected on a certain adventure. As an essayist, since it’s you who bears the story and lessons, you are the one who is responsible for expressing it.
Just like any other composition, it’s your introduction that catches the attention of the reader. Thus, in order for your essay to be fully read, it is important to start your essay remarkably. If you find writing an introduction for your reflective essay challenging, don’t worry, you’re not alone. In this section, we are going to slowly tackle the ways to compose a compelling introduction.
1. Being catchy is the key.
In writing your reflective essay, you must start with something that would captivate the readers right away. Since the purpose of the introduction is to grab some attention, you may include some unique and interesting facts or beliefs. In this part, showcase your creativity by adding an introduction that is written in a bizarre manner and not those that depict cliché experience. You may also utilize a highly moving quotation or a dialogue that would also be appropriate for your reader.
2. Write the thesis statement in one sentence.
A thesis statement refers to the sentence that carries the topic being discussed in the whole essay. Therefore, it bears the central idea in which your essay revolves around. In writing your own essay, construct this statement in a clear and concise sentence. In this way, the reader will have a better grasp of your topic and would be clearly oriented on what you want to convey. In most cases, thesis statements are written at the end of the introduction.
3. Stick to the first person POV.
Remembering that this essay is subjective and depends on the author’s interpretation, it is important to use the first person point of view. By using this POV, it would be easier for you to convey your thoughts and opinions, and it would engage you to the readers like you’re telling a story in person. The first person involves the pronouns I , me , my , and mine .
4. Keep it brief.
When it comes to writing your own essay, you must perceive what your readers feel or see in reading your composition. Always put into mind that readers also have their own time to spend, and without a mark in the writing industry, people won’t invest much time on reading your essay. Thus, it is important to keep your composition concise. You can utilize a paragraph of five to ten sentences in your introduction. Using this number of sentences, you must already express a complete and clear thought of an essay that is worth reading.
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Reflective writing is a process of identifying, questioning, and critically evaluating course-based learning opportunities, integrated with your own observations, experiences, impressions, beliefs, assumptions, or biases, and which describes how this process stimulated new or creative understanding about the content of the course.
A reflective paper describes and explains in an introspective, first person narrative, your reactions and feelings about either a specific element of the class [e.g., a required reading; a film shown in class] or more generally how you experienced learning throughout the course. Reflective writing assignments can be in the form of a single paper, essays, portfolios, journals, diaries, or blogs. In some cases, your professor may include a reflective writing assignment as a way to obtain student feedback that helps improve the course, either in the moment or for when the class is taught again.
How to Write a Reflection Paper . Academic Skills, Trent University; Writing a Reflection Paper . Writing Center, Lewis University; Critical Reflection . Writing and Communication Centre, University of Waterloo; Tsingos-Lucas et al. "Using Reflective Writing as a Predictor of Academic Success in Different Assessment Formats." American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education 81 (2017): Article 8.
Benefits of Reflective Writing Assignments
As the term implies, a reflective paper involves looking inward at oneself in contemplating and bringing meaning to the relationship between course content and the acquisition of new knowledge . Educational research [Bolton, 2010; Ryan, 2011; Tsingos-Lucas et al., 2017] demonstrates that assigning reflective writing tasks enhances learning because it challenges students to confront their own assumptions, biases, and belief systems around what is being taught in class and, in so doing, stimulate student’s decisions, actions, attitudes, and understanding about themselves as learners and in relation to having mastery over their learning. Reflection assignments are also an opportunity to write in a first person narrative about elements of the course, such as the required readings, separate from the exegetic and analytical prose of academic research papers.
Reflection writing often serves multiple purposes simultaneously. In no particular order, here are some of reasons why professors assign reflection papers:
- Enhances learning from previous knowledge and experience in order to improve future decision-making and reasoning in practice . Reflective writing in the applied social sciences enhances decision-making skills and academic performance in ways that can inform professional practice. The act of reflective writing creates self-awareness and understanding of others. This is particularly important in clinical and service-oriented professional settings.
- Allows students to make sense of classroom content and overall learning experiences in relation to oneself, others, and the conditions that shaped the content and classroom experiences . Reflective writing places you within the course content in ways that can deepen your understanding of the material. Because reflective thinking can help reveal hidden biases, it can help you critically interrogate moments when you do not like or agree with discussions, readings, or other aspects of the course.
- Increases awareness of one’s cognitive abilities and the evidence for these attributes . Reflective writing can break down personal doubts about yourself as a learner and highlight specific abilities that may have been hidden or suppressed due to prior assumptions about the strength of your academic abilities [e.g., reading comprehension; problem-solving skills]. Reflective writing, therefore, can have a positive affective [i.e., emotional] impact on your sense of self-worth.
- Applying theoretical knowledge and frameworks to real experiences . Reflective writing can help build a bridge of relevancy between theoretical knowledge and the real world. In so doing, this form of writing can lead to a better understanding of underlying theories and their analytical properties applied to professional practice.
- Reveals shortcomings that the reader will identify . Evidence suggests that reflective writing can uncover your own shortcomings as a learner, thereby, creating opportunities to anticipate the responses of your professor may have about the quality of your coursework. This can be particularly productive if the reflective paper is written before final submission of an assignment.
- Helps students identify their tacit [a.k.a., implicit] knowledge and possible gaps in that knowledge . Tacit knowledge refers to ways of knowing rooted in lived experience, insight, and intuition rather than formal, codified, categorical, or explicit knowledge. In so doing, reflective writing can stimulate students to question their beliefs about a research problem or an element of the course content beyond positivist modes of understanding and representation.
- Encourages students to actively monitor their learning processes over a period of time . On-going reflective writing in journals or blogs, for example, can help you maintain or adapt learning strategies in other contexts. The regular, purposeful act of reflection can facilitate continuous deep thinking about the course content as it evolves and changes throughout the term. This, in turn, can increase your overall confidence as a learner.
- Relates a student’s personal experience to a wider perspective . Reflection papers can help you see the big picture associated with the content of a course by forcing you to think about the connections between scholarly content and your lived experiences outside of school. It can provide a macro-level understanding of one’s own experiences in relation to the specifics of what is being taught.
- If reflective writing is shared, students can exchange stories about their learning experiences, thereby, creating an opportunity to reevaluate their original assumptions or perspectives . In most cases, reflective writing is only viewed by your professor in order to ensure candid feedback from students. However, occasionally, reflective writing is shared and openly discussed in class. During these discussions, new or different perspectives and alternative approaches to solving problems can be generated that would otherwise be hidden. Sharing student's reflections can also reveal collective patterns of thought and emotions about a particular element of the course.
Bolton, Gillie. Reflective Practice: Writing and Professional Development . London: Sage, 2010; Chang, Bo. "Reflection in Learning." Online Learning 23 (2019), 95-110; Cavilla, Derek. "The Effects of Student Reflection on Academic Performance and Motivation." Sage Open 7 (July-September 2017): 1–13; Culbert, Patrick. “Better Teaching? You Can Write On It “ Liberal Education (February 2022); McCabe, Gavin and Tobias Thejll-Madsen. The Reflection Toolkit . University of Edinburgh; The Purpose of Reflection . Introductory Composition at Purdue University; Practice-based and Reflective Learning . Study Advice Study Guides, University of Reading; Ryan, Mary. "Improving Reflective Writing in Higher Education: A Social Semiotic Perspective." Teaching in Higher Education 16 (2011): 99-111; Tsingos-Lucas et al. "Using Reflective Writing as a Predictor of Academic Success in Different Assessment Formats." American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education 81 (2017): Article 8; What Benefits Might Reflective Writing Have for My Students? Writing Across the Curriculum Clearinghouse; Rykkje, Linda. "The Tacit Care Knowledge in Reflective Writing: A Practical Wisdom." International Practice Development Journal 7 (September 2017): Article 5; Using Reflective Writing to Deepen Student Learning . Center for Writing, University of Minnesota.
How to Approach Writing a Reflection Paper
Thinking About Reflective Thinking
Educational theorists have developed numerous models of reflective thinking that your professor may use to frame a reflective writing assignment. These models can help you systematically interpret your learning experiences, thereby ensuring that you ask the right questions and have a clear understanding of what should be covered. A model can also represent the overall structure of a reflective paper. Each model establishes a different approach to reflection and will require you to think about your writing differently. If you are unclear how to fit your writing within a particular reflective model, seek clarification from your professor. There are generally two types of reflective writing assignments, each approached in slightly different ways.
1. Reflective Thinking about Course Readings
This type of reflective writing focuses on thoughtfully thinking about the course readings that underpin how most students acquire new knowledge and understanding about the subject of a course. Reflecting on course readings is often assigned in freshmen-level, interdisciplinary courses where the required readings examine topics viewed from multiple perspectives and, as such, provide different ways of analyzing a topic, issue, event, or phenomenon. The purpose of reflective thinking about course readings in the social and behavioral sciences is to elicit your opinions, beliefs, and feelings about the research and its significance. This type of writing can provide an opportunity to break down key assumptions you may have and, in so doing, reveal potential biases in how you interpret the scholarship.
If you are assigned to reflect on course readings, consider the following methods of analysis as prompts that can help you get started :
- Examine carefully the main introductory elements of the reading, including the purpose of the study, the theoretical framework being used to test assumptions, and the research questions being addressed. Think about what ideas stood out to you. Why did they? Were these ideas new to you or familiar in some way based on your own lived experiences or prior knowledge?
- Develop your ideas around the readings by asking yourself, what do I know about this topic? Where does my existing knowledge about this topic come from? What are the observations or experiences in my life that influence my understanding of the topic? Do I agree or disagree with the main arguments, recommended course of actions, or conclusions made by the author(s)? Why do I feel this way and what is the basis of these feelings?
- Make connections between the text and your own beliefs, opinions, or feelings by considering questions like, how do the readings reinforce my existing ideas or assumptions? How the readings challenge these ideas or assumptions? How does this text help me to better understand this topic or research in ways that motivate me to learn more about this area of study?
2. Reflective Thinking about Course Experiences
This type of reflective writing asks you to critically reflect on locating yourself at the conceptual intersection of theory and practice. The purpose of experiential reflection is to evaluate theories or disciplinary-based analytical models based on your introspective assessment of the relationship between hypothetical thinking and practical reality; it offers a way to consider how your own knowledge and skills fit within professional practice. This type of writing also provides an opportunity to evaluate your decisions and actions, as well as how you managed your subsequent successes and failures, within a specific theoretical framework. As a result, abstract concepts can crystallize and become more relevant to you when considered within your own experiences. This can help you formulate plans for self-improvement as you learn.
If you are assigned to reflect on your experiences, consider the following questions as prompts to help you get started :
- Contextualize your reflection in relation to the overarching purpose of the course by asking yourself, what did you hope to learn from this course? What were the learning objectives for the course and how did I fit within each of them? How did these goals relate to the main themes or concepts of the course?
- Analyze how you experienced the course by asking yourself, what did I learn from this experience? What did I learn about myself? About working in this area of research and study? About how the course relates to my place in society? What assumptions about the course were supported or refuted?
- Think introspectively about the ways you experienced learning during the course by asking yourself, did your learning experiences align with the goals or concepts of the course? Why or why do you not feel this way? What was successful and why do you believe this? What would you do differently and why is this important? How will you prepare for a future experience in this area of study?
NOTE: If you are assigned to write a journal or other type of on-going reflection exercise, a helpful approach is to reflect on your reflections by re-reading what you have already written. In other words, review your previous entries as a way to contextualize your feelings, opinions, or beliefs regarding your overall learning experiences. Over time, this can also help reveal hidden patterns or themes related to how you processed your learning experiences. Consider concluding your reflective journal with a summary of how you felt about your learning experiences at critical junctures throughout the course, then use these to write about how you grew as a student learner and how the act of reflecting helped you gain new understanding about the subject of the course and its content.
ANOTHER NOTE: Regardless of whether you write a reflection paper or a journal, do not focus your writing on the past. The act of reflection is intended to think introspectively about previous learning experiences. However, reflective thinking should document the ways in which you progressed in obtaining new insights and understandings about your growth as a learner that can be carried forward in subsequent coursework or in future professional practice. Your writing should reflect a furtherance of increasing personal autonomy and confidence gained from understanding more about yourself as a learner.
Structure and Writing Style
There are no strict academic rules for writing a reflective paper. Reflective writing may be assigned in any class taught in the social and behavioral sciences and, therefore, requirements for the assignment can vary depending on disciplinary-based models of inquiry and learning. The organization of content can also depend on what your professor wants you to write about or based on the type of reflective model used to frame the writing assignment. Despite these possible variations, below is a basic approach to organizing and writing a good reflective paper, followed by a list of problems to avoid.
In most cases, it's helpful to begin by thinking about your learning experiences and outline what you want to focus on before you begin to write the paper. This can help you organize your thoughts around what was most important to you and what experiences [good or bad] had the most impact on your learning. As described by the University of Waterloo Writing and Communication Centre, preparing to write a reflective paper involves a process of self-analysis that can help organize your thoughts around significant moments of in-class knowledge discovery.
- Using a thesis statement as a guide, note what experiences or course content stood out to you , then place these within the context of your observations, reactions, feelings, and opinions. This will help you develop a rough outline of key moments during the course that reflect your growth as a learner. To identify these moments, pose these questions to yourself: What happened? What was my reaction? What were my expectations and how were they different from what transpired? What did I learn?
- Critically think about your learning experiences and the course content . This will help you develop a deeper, more nuanced understanding about why these moments were significant or relevant to you. Use the ideas you formulated during the first stage of reflecting to help you think through these moments from both an academic and personal perspective. From an academic perspective, contemplate how the experience enhanced your understanding of a concept, theory, or skill. Ask yourself, did the experience confirm my previous understanding or challenge it in some way. As a result, did this highlight strengths or gaps in your current knowledge? From a personal perspective, think introspectively about why these experiences mattered, if previous expectations or assumptions were confirmed or refuted, and if this surprised, confused, or unnerved you in some way.
- Analyze how these experiences and your reactions to them will shape your future thinking and behavior . Reflection implies looking back, but the most important act of reflective writing is considering how beliefs, assumptions, opinions, and feelings were transformed in ways that better prepare you as a learner in the future. Note how this reflective analysis can lead to actions you will take as a result of your experiences, what you will do differently, and how you will apply what you learned in other courses or in professional practice.
Basic Structure and Writing Style
Reflective Background and Context
The first part of your reflection paper should briefly provide background and context in relation to the content or experiences that stood out to you. Highlight the settings, summarize the key readings, or narrate the experiences in relation to the course objectives. Provide background that sets the stage for your reflection. You do not need to go into great detail, but you should provide enough information for the reader to understand what sources of learning you are writing about [e.g., course readings, field experience, guest lecture, class discussions] and why they were important. This section should end with an explanatory thesis statement that expresses the central ideas of your paper and what you want the readers to know, believe, or understand after they finish reading your paper.
Drawing from your reflective analysis, this is where you can be personal, critical, and creative in expressing how you felt about the course content and learning experiences and how they influenced or altered your feelings, beliefs, assumptions, or biases about the subject of the course. This section is also where you explore the meaning of these experiences in the context of the course and how you gained an awareness of the connections between these moments and your own prior knowledge.
Guided by your thesis statement, a helpful approach is to interpret your learning throughout the course with a series of specific examples drawn from the course content and your learning experiences. These examples should be arranged in sequential order that illustrate your growth as a learner. Reflecting on each example can be done by: 1) introducing a theme or moment that was meaningful to you, 2) describing your previous position about the learning moment and what you thought about it, 3) explaining how your perspective was challenged and/or changed and why, and 4) introspectively stating your current or new feelings, opinions, or beliefs about that experience in class.
It is important to include specific examples drawn from the course and placed within the context of your assumptions, thoughts, opinions, and feelings. A reflective narrative without specific examples does not provide an effective way for the reader to understand the relationship between the course content and how you grew as a learner.
The conclusion of your reflective paper should provide a summary of your thoughts, feelings, or opinions regarding what you learned about yourself as a result of taking the course. Here are several ways you can frame your conclusions based on the examples you interpreted and reflected on what they meant to you. Each example would need to be tied to the basic theme [thesis statement] of your reflective background section.
- Your reflective conclusions can be described in relation to any expectations you had before taking the class [e.g., “I expected the readings to not be relevant to my own experiences growing up in a rural community, but the research actually helped me see that the challenges of developing my identity as a child of immigrants was not that unusual...”].
- Your reflective conclusions can explain how what you learned about yourself will change your actions in the future [e.g., “During a discussion in class about the challenges of helping homeless people, I realized that many of these people hate living on the street but lack the ability to see a way out. This made me realize that I wanted to take more classes in psychology...”].
- Your reflective conclusions can describe major insights you experienced a critical junctures during the course and how these moments enhanced how you see yourself as a student learner [e.g., "The guest speaker from the Head Start program made me realize why I wanted to pursue a career in elementary education..."].
- Your reflective conclusions can reconfigure or reframe how you will approach professional practice and your understanding of your future career aspirations [e.g.,, "The course changed my perceptions about seeking a career in business finance because it made me realize I want to be more engaged in customer service..."]
- Your reflective conclusions can explore any learning you derived from the act of reflecting itself [e.g., “Reflecting on the course readings that described how minority students perceive campus activities helped me identify my own biases about the benefits of those activities in acclimating to campus life...”].
NOTE: The length of a reflective paper in the social sciences is usually less than a traditional research paper. However, don’t assume that writing a reflective paper is easier than writing a research paper. A well-conceived critical reflection paper often requires as much time and effort as a research paper because you must purposeful engage in thinking about your learning in ways that you may not be comfortable with or used to. This is particular true while preparing to write because reflective papers are not as structured as a traditional research paper and, therefore, you have to think deliberately about how you want to organize the paper and what elements of the course you want to reflect upon.
ANOTHER NOTE: Do not limit yourself to using only text in reflecting on your learning. If you believe it would be helpful, consider using creative modes of thought or expression such as, illustrations, photographs, or material objects that reflects an experience related to the subject of the course that was important to you [e.g., like a ticket stub to a renowned speaker on campus]. Whatever non-textual element you include, be sure to describe the object's relevance to your personal relationship to the course content.
Problems to Avoid
A reflective paper is not a “mind dump” . Reflective papers document your personal and emotional experiences and, therefore, they do not conform to rigid structures, or schema, to organize information. However, the paper should not be a disjointed, stream-of-consciousness narrative. Reflective papers are still academic pieces of writing that require organized thought, that use academic language and tone , and that apply intellectually-driven critical thinking to the course content and your learning experiences and their significance.
A reflective paper is not a research paper . If you are asked to reflect on a course reading, the reflection will obviously include some description of the research. However, the goal of reflective writing is not to present extraneous ideas to the reader or to "educate" them about the course. The goal is to share a story about your relationship with the learning objectives of the course. Therefore, unlike research papers, you are expected to write from a first person point of view which includes an introspective examination of your own opinions, feelings, and personal assumptions.
A reflection paper is not a book review . Descriptions of the course readings using your own words is not a reflective paper. Reflective writing should focus on how you understood the implications of and were challenged by the course in relation to your own lived experiences or personal assumptions, combined with explanations of how you grew as a student learner based on this internal dialogue. Remember that you are the central object of the paper, not the research materials.
A reflective paper is not an all-inclusive meditation. Do not try to cover everything. The scope of your paper should be well-defined and limited to your specific opinions, feelings, and beliefs about what you determine to be the most significant content of the course and in relation to the learning that took place. Reflections should be detailed enough to covey what you think is important, but your thoughts should be expressed concisely and coherently [as is true for any academic writing assignment].
Critical Reflection . Writing and Communication Centre, University of Waterloo; Critical Reflection: Journals, Opinions, & Reactions . University Writing Center, Texas A&M University; Connor-Greene, Patricia A. “Making Connections: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Journal Writing in Enhancing Student Learning.” Teaching of Psychology 27 (2000): 44-46; Good vs. Bad Reflection Papers , Franklin University; Dyment, Janet E. and Timothy S. O’Connell. "The Quality of Reflection in Student Journals: A Review of Limiting and Enabling Factors." Innovative Higher Education 35 (2010): 233-244: How to Write a Reflection Paper . Academic Skills, Trent University; Amelia TaraJane House. Reflection Paper . Cordia Harrington Center for Excellence, University of Arkansas; Ramlal, Alana, and Désirée S. Augustin. “Engaging Students in Reflective Writing: An Action Research Project.” Educational Action Research 28 (2020): 518-533; Writing a Reflection Paper . Writing Center, Lewis University; McGuire, Lisa, Kathy Lay, and Jon Peters. “Pedagogy of Reflective Writing in Professional Education.” Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (2009): 93-107; Critical Reflection . Writing and Communication Centre, University of Waterloo; How Do I Write Reflectively? Academic Skills Toolkit, University of New South Wales Sydney; Reflective Writing . Skills@Library. University of Leeds; Walling, Anne, Johanna Shapiro, and Terry Ast. “What Makes a Good Reflective Paper?” Family Medicine 45 (2013): 7-12; Williams, Kate, Mary Woolliams, and Jane Spiro. Reflective Writing . 2nd edition. London: Red Globe Press, 2020; Yeh, Hui-Chin, Shih-hsien Yang, Jo Shan Fu, and Yen-Chen Shih. “Developing College Students’ Critical Thinking through Reflective Writing.” Higher Education Research and Development (2022): 1-16.
Focus on Reflecting, Not on Describing
Minimal time and effort should be spent describing the course content you are asked to reflect upon. The purpose of a reflection assignment is to introspectively contemplate your reactions to and feeling about an element of the course. D eflecting the focus away from your own feelings by concentrating on describing the course content can happen particularly if "talking about yourself" [i.e., reflecting] makes you uncomfortable or it is intimidating. However, the intent of reflective writing is to overcome these inhibitions so as to maximize the benefits of introspectively assessing your learning experiences. Keep in mind that, if it is relevant, your feelings of discomfort could be a part of how you critically reflect on any challenges you had during the course [e.g., you realize this discomfort inhibited your willingness to ask questions during class, it fed into your propensity to procrastinate, or it made it difficult participating in groups].
Writing a Reflection Paper . Writing Center, Lewis University; Reflection Paper . Cordia Harrington Center for Excellence, University of Arkansas.
Another Writing Tip
Helpful Videos about Reflective Writing
These two short videos succinctly describe how to approach a reflective writing assignment. They are produced by the Academic Skills department at the University of Melbourne and the Skills Team of the University of Hull, respectively.
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How to Write a Reflection Paper in 5 Steps (plus Template and Sample Essay)
by Kaelyn Barron | 15 comments
If you’ve been assigned the task of writing a reflection paper on a book you’ve read, film you’ve seen, or an event you’ve attended, you may be wondering where to start.
After all, there are few rules when it comes to writing a reflection, since it’s basically just your reaction and thoughts on the material—and all that creative freedom can be intimidating at first! But even with this lack of structure, there are steps you can take to write a reflection paper that adds value to the discussion.
What Is a Reflection Paper?
A reflection paper is a type of essay that requires you to reflect, or give your thoughts and opinions, on a certain subject or material. This type of essay is often assigned to students after they’ve read a book or watched a film.
However, it can also be written in a professional setting, often by those who study education or psychology, to reflect on an individual’s behavior. Or, you can write a reflection paper for your own purposes, to work out your thoughts and feelings on a personal subject.
If you’re a student, in most cases, you’ll be given a prompt or question to guide your reflection. Often, these assignments are completed in class, so the reflections are generally under 1,000 words. The good news is that there are on wrong answers!
However, there are things you can do to write more effective reflections that will give you (and your teachers, if applicable) more insight to your views and thought processes.
How to Write a Reflection Paper
Use these 5 tips to write a thoughtful and insightful reflection paper.
1. Answer key questions.
To write a reflection paper, you need to be able to observe your own thoughts and reactions to the material you’ve been given. A good way to start is by answering a series of key questions.
- What was your first reaction to the material? Was it positive, negative, or neutral?
- Do you find the writer (or director, presenter, etc.) to be credible?
- Has the material changed your mind in some way?
- Which issues or questions does the material fail to address?
- What new or remaining questions do you have after reading/viewing the material?
- What have you learned from this material?
- Does it remind you of any personal experiences, or anything else you’ve seen or read?
Answering these questions will help you formulate your own opinions, draw conclusions, and write an insightful reflection.
2. Identify a theme.
Once you’ve answered a few basic questions, look at your responses and see if you can identify any common themes .
What’s the main takeaway? If you could summarize your thoughts on this piece in one sentence, what would you say?
Think about what you’ve learned, or how the material has affected you. Be honest about how you feel, especially if the material incites any strong opinions or reactions from you.
Your reflection paper should not be just a mere summary of the material you’ve read or studied. However, you should give a recap of the most important aspects, and offer specific examples when necessary to back up any assertions you make.
Include information about the author (if you’re writing about a book or article). If you’re writing about a work of fiction, very briefly and concisely summarize the plot. If writing about nonfiction, share the author’s thesis, or the main argument they’re trying to make.
Just be careful to not overdo the summary—you don’t want to reproduce or offer a play-by-play of the original work, but rather offer enough context so readers can appreciate your reflection and analysis.
Your reflection paper is a great place to practice your critical thinking skills , which include analysis. The questions in Step 1 will offer you a good start when it comes to thinking more analytically.
Once you’ve offered enough context for your readers by including a brief summary, analyze the
- the overall tone of the work
- the credibility of the writer (or producer of the content)
- potential biases
- the intended purpose of the material
If you’re writing a reflection paper on a work of fiction, be sure to check out our guide to writing a literary analysis.
5. Make connections.
Does the material remind you of any personal experiences you’ve had, or other books or films you’ve encountered? Can you connect it to any current events or real-world examples?
Then, zoom out and try to see the bigger picture. What do these connections have in common? Can you point out a larger, more universal theme?
The more of these connections you can tie in to your reflection to create a cohesive picture, the better.
Reflection Paper Template
Reflection papers don’t really require a rigid structure—the most important thing is that you communicate your ideas clearly and effectively. (Of course, if you received specific guidelines from your instructor, you should stick to those.)
The following is a loose outline that you can use to guide you through your reflection paper:
- Include: Title, Author Name (or Director, Photographer, etc.).
- Briefly summarize the work and its main themes.
- Write a thesis that states the work’s overall impact on you.
- When relevant, include specific quotes or examples to support your claims.
- Explore your main reactions and thoughts after reviewing the material.
- Build connections to personal experiences and other works you’ve encountered.
- Show how the ideas from your body paragraphs tie together to support your thesis.
- Summarize the overall effect the material had on you.
Reflection Paper Example
The following is an example of a reflection paper I wrote for a university course in response to an academic article on conflict resolution, found in the book Managing Conflict in a World Adrift :
In “Understanding the Gendered Nature of Power,” Oudraat and Kuehnast explain how peace theorists have fallen short in their analyses of the role of gender (and of women especially). Because gender roles are a reflection of power dynamics within societies, they can also serve as valuable indicators of dynamics within conflicts and post-conflict processes.
The authors emphasize the importance of using international intervention wisely. Although postconflict reconstruction might seem like an opportunity to rethink gender norms and roles, it seems that postconflict programs tend more often to reproduce gender norms that “no longer contribute productive approaches to society and escalate social tensions.” While I think we should always strive to bring more opportunities to women and eradicate gender biases, I agree with the authors that international actors must “be attentive to the gendered nature of the societies in which they intervene.” We have seen many cases where international intervention, although well-meaning, can end up hurting a community even more by meddling without truly knowing the conditions of a local situation.
One example of such misguided help is the campaign for “clean stoves” in African villages, based on the idea that women are assaulted when they look for fuel and water outside their camps. Providing clean stoves does nothing to address the root of the problem (sexual violence), and in fact further confines women to their homes, while many studies show that times of collecting water or other supplies are often critical opportunities for women to communicate, socialize, exchange ideas, and so on. In many cases it is the only time they will leave the home or village that day. The solution proposed by the clean stoves campaign reminds me of the culture surrounding sexual violence in the United States, where rather than working to attack the root causes of such crimes, we instead teach women that it is unsafe to go out late, or to dress in a certain way.
In order to make any progress, I agree with the authors when they suggest we need qualitative data that capture the changing nature of societies coming out of war. We must first identify the information we lack in order to move forward wisely and effectively.
Writing a Reflective Essay
Whether you’ve been assigned a reflection paper for school or simply want to write one for your own exercise, these tips will help you get the most from the experience.
Remember that when you’re consuming any type of media, it’s good practice to reflect on what you’ve absorbed and ask critical questions so you can draw your own conclusions.
Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments below!
If you enjoyed this post, then you might also like:
- 19 Books That Make You Think: A List of Thought-Provoking Reads
- Why You Should Keep a Reading Journal: Tips for More Reflective Reading
- How to Write a Literary Analysis: 6 Tips for the Perfect Essay
- How to Summarize a Novel: 4 Steps to Writing a Great Summary
As a blog writer for TCK Publishing, Kaelyn loves crafting fun and helpful content for writers, readers, and creative minds alike. She has a degree in International Affairs with a minor in Italian Studies, but her true passion has always been writing. Working remotely allows her to do even more of the things she loves, like traveling, cooking, and spending time with her family.
Very helpful, thanks a lot!
Thankful for this! Thanks to you!
we’re glad you found the post helpful! :)
In my understanding, this post helped me to guide my students while I was teaching them how to write effective reflection paper. In addition to this, I had time to correct my past through this post. Thanks a lot!!!
I’m so glad you found this post helpful for your students! :)
I believe I understood the steps and instructions on how to write a reflection paper and it makes lots of sense to me now than before . What I was really hoping for was that you could give us an example of a text or an article written followed by a reflection that was done on that article . Maybe I`m asking too much. Thank you though!!!!
Hi Larry, I’m glad the article was helpful for your reflection paper! I tried to provide an example of one of my own papers, but I couldn’t find the full text of the article I wrote on (it was from a textbook). I’ll try to find another example though :)
am very empress with this information. it really helps me to write an effective reflection papers
thanks Benjamin, we’re so glad you found it helpful! :)
This is very helpful as I am preparing for my portfolio defense. Many thanks Mark
I’m so glad you found it helpful, Mark!
Thanks Sara, I’m glad you found the post helpful! :)
Many thanks for this information,,very needed today for my final exam.
You’re very welcome Lyn, I hope it helped for your exam! :)
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- Compare your experience to the literature
Critical Reflective Writing
- Questions to ask about your analysis
- Reflective writing books
- ⬅ Back to Skills Centre This link opens in a new window
Questioning your analysis of the experience is an important element of reflective writing, and is a good way to include critical writing in your essay.
In our writing, we need to to evidence that we have questioned our analysis .
Questions to ask
Here are more examples of how you can be critical of your analysis.
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Examples of Reflective Writing
Types of reflective writing assignments.
A journal requires you to write weekly entries throughout a semester. May require you to base your reflection on course content.
A learning diary is similar to a journal, but may require group participation. The diary then becomes a place for you to communicate in writing with other group members.
A logbook is often used in disciplines based on experimental work, such as science. You note down or 'log' what you have done. A log gives you an accurate record of a process and helps you reflect on past actions and make better decisions for future actions.
A reflective note is often used in law. A reflective note encourages you to think about your personal reaction to a legal issue raised in a course.
An essay diary can take the form of an annotated bibliography (where you examine sources of evidence you might include in your essay) and a critique (where you reflect on your own writing and research processes).
a peer review usually involves students showing their work to their peers for feedback.
A self-assessment task requires you to comment on your own work.
Some examples of reflective writing
Social science fieldwork report (methods section), engineering design report, learning journal (weekly reflection).
Brookfield, S 1987, Developing critical thinkers: challenging adults to explore alternative ways of thinking and acting , Open University Press, Milton Keynes.
Mezirow, J 1990, Fostering critical reflection in adulthood: a guide to transformative and emancipatory learning , Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
Schön, DA 1987, Educating the reflective practitioner , Jossey-Bass. San Francisco.
We thank the students who permitted us to feature examples of their writing.
Prepared by Academic Skills, UNSW. This guide may be distributed or adapted for educational purposes. Full and proper acknowledgement is required.
Essay and assignment writing guide
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- Essay and assignment planning
- Answering assignment questions
- Editing checklist
- Writing a critical review
- Annotated bibliography
- How do I write reflectively?
- Examples of reflective writing
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Gibbs' Reflective Cycle
One of the most famous cyclical models of reflection leading you through six stages exploring an experience: description, feelings, evaluation, analysis, conclusion and action plan.
Gibbs' Reflective Cycle was developed by Graham Gibbs in 1988 to give structure to learning from experiences. It offers a framework for examining experiences, and given its cyclic nature lends itself particularly well to repeated experiences, allowing you to learn and plan from things that either went well or didn’t go well. It covers 6 stages:
- Description of the experience
- Feelings and thoughts about the experience
- Evaluation of the experience, both good and bad
- Analysis to make sense of the situation
- Conclusion about what you learned and what you could have done differently
- Action plan for how you would deal with similar situations in the future, or general changes you might find appropriate.
Below is further information on:
- The model – each stage is given a fuller description, guiding questions to ask yourself and an example of how this might look in a reflection
- Different depths of reflection – an example of reflecting more briefly using this model
This is just one model of reflection. Test it out and see how it works for you. If you find that only a few of the questions are helpful for you, focus on those. However, by thinking about each stage you are more likely to engage critically with your learning experience.
This model is a good way to work through an experience. This can be either a stand-alone experience or a situation you go through frequently, for example meetings with a team you have to collaborate with. Gibbs originally advocated its use in repeated situations, but the stages and principles apply equally well for single experiences too. If done with a stand-alone experience, the action plan may become more general and look at how you can apply your conclusions in the future.
For each of the stages of the model a number of helpful questions are outlined below. You don’t have to answer all of them but they can guide you about what sort of things make sense to include in that stage. You might have other prompts that work better for you.
Here you have a chance to describe the situation in detail. The main points to include here concern what happened. Your feelings and conclusions will come later.
- What happened?
- When and where did it happen?
- Who was present?
- What did you and the other people do?
- What was the outcome of the situation?
- Why were you there?
- What did you want to happen?
Example of 'Description'
Here you can explore any feelings or thoughts that you had during the experience and how they may have impacted the experience.
- What were you feeling during the situation?
- What were you feeling before and after the situation?
- What do you think other people were feeling about the situation?
- What do you think other people feel about the situation now?
- What were you thinking during the situation?
- What do you think about the situation now?
Example of 'Feelings'
Here you have a chance to evaluate what worked and what didn’t work in the situation. Try to be as objective and honest as possible. To get the most out of your reflection focus on both the positive and the negative aspects of the situation, even if it was primarily one or the other.
- What was good and bad about the experience?
- What went well?
- What didn’t go so well?
- What did you and other people contribute to the situation (positively or negatively)?
Example of 'Evaluation'
The analysis step is where you have a chance to make sense of what happened. Up until now you have focused on details around what happened in the situation. Now you have a chance to extract meaning from it. You want to target the different aspects that went well or poorly and ask yourself why. If you are looking to include academic literature, this is the natural place to include it.
- Why did things go well?
- Why didn’t it go well?
- What sense can I make of the situation?
- What knowledge – my own or others (for example academic literature) can help me understand the situation?
Example of 'Analysis'
In this section you can make conclusions about what happened. This is where you summarise your learning and highlight what changes to your actions could improve the outcome in the future. It should be a natural response to the previous sections.
- What did I learn from this situation?
- How could this have been a more positive situation for everyone involved?
- What skills do I need to develop for me to handle a situation like this better?
- What else could I have done?
Example of a 'Conclusion'
At this step you plan for what you would do differently in a similar or related situation in the future. It can also be extremely helpful to think about how you will help yourself to act differently – such that you don’t only plan what you will do differently, but also how you will make sure it happens. Sometimes just the realisation is enough, but other times reminders might be helpful.
- If I had to do the same thing again, what would I do differently?
- How will I develop the required skills I need?
- How can I make sure that I can act differently next time?
Example of 'Action Plan'
Different depths of reflection.
Depending on the context you are doing the reflection in, you might want use different levels of details. Here is the same scenario, which was used in the example above, however it is presented much more briefly.
Gibbs G (1988). Learning by Doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. Further Education Unit. Oxford Polytechnic: Oxford.
Home — Essay Samples — Philosophy — Critical Reflection — Reflection and Reflective Practice
Reflection and Reflective Practice
- Categories: Critical Reflection
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Published: Mar 28, 2019
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