How to Write a Reflective Essay: Easy Guide with Pro Tips 2023
Defining What is a Reflective Essay: Purpose + Importance
Being present is a cornerstone of mindfulness and meditation. You must have often heard that staying in the moment helps you appreciate your surroundings, connects you with people and nature, and allows you to feel whatever emotions you must feel without anxiety. While this is helpful advice as you become more focused and avoid getting lost in thought, how can you truly appreciate the present without reflecting on your past experiences that have led you to the current moment?
We don't say that you should dwell on the past and get carried away with a constant thought process, but hey, hear us out - practice reflective thinking! Think back on your previous life events, paint a true picture of history, and make connections to your present self. This requires you to get a bit analytical and creative. So you might as well document your critical reflection on a piece of paper and give direction to your personal observations. That's when the need for reflective essays steps in!
In a reflective essay, you open up about your thoughts and emotions to uncover your mindset, personality, traits of character, and background. Your reflective essay should include a description of the experience/literature piece as well as explanations of your thoughts, feelings, and reactions. In this article, our essay writer service will share our ultimate guide on how to write a reflective essay with a clear format and reflective essay examples that will inspire you.
How to Write a Reflective Essay with a Proper Reflective Essay Outline
To give you a clear idea of structuring a reflective essay template, we broke down the essential steps below. Primarily, the organization of a reflective essay is very similar to other types of papers. However, our custom writers got more specific with the reflective essay outline to ease your writing process.
Reflective Essay Introduction
When wondering how to start a reflective essay, it is no surprise that you should begin writing your paper with an introductory paragraph. So, what's new and different with the reflection essay introduction? Let's dissect:
- Open your intro with an attention-seizing hook that engages your audience into reflective thinking with you. It can be something like: 'As I was sitting on my bed with my notebook placed on my shaky lap waiting for the letter of acceptance, I could not help but reflect, was enrolling in college the path I wanted to take in the future?'
- Provide context with a quick overview of the reflective essay topic. Don't reveal too much information at the start to prevent your audience from becoming discouraged to continue reading.
- Make a claim with a strong reflective essay thesis statement. It should be a simple explanation of the essay's main point, in this example, a specific event that had a big impact on you.
Reflective Essay Body Paragraphs
The next step is to develop the body of your essay. This section of the paper may be the most challenging because it's simple to ramble and replicate yourself both in the outline and the actual writing. Planning the body properly requires a lot of time and work, and the following advice can assist you in doing this effectively:
- Consider using a sequential strategy. This entails reviewing everything you wish to discuss in the order it occurred. This method ensures that your work is structured and cohesive.
- Make sure the body paragraph is well-rounded and employs the right amount of analysis. The body should go into the effects of the event on your life and the insights you've gained as a consequence.
- Prioritize reflecting rather than summarizing your points. In addition to giving readers insight into your personal experience, a reflective stance will also show off your personality and demonstrate your ability to handle certain challenges.
Reflective Essay Conclusion
The goal of your reflective essay conclusion should be to tie everything together by summarizing the key ideas raised throughout, as well as the lessons you were able to take away from experience.
- Don't forget to include the reasons for and the methods used to improve your beliefs and actions. Think about how your personality and skills have changed as well.
- What conclusions can you draw about your behavior in particular circumstances? What could you do differently if the conditions were the same in the future?
Remember that your instructor will be searching for clear signs of reflection.
Understanding a Reflection Paper Format
The format of reflective essay greatly differs from an argumentative or research paper. A reflective essay is more of a well-structured story or a diary entry rife with insight and reflection. You might be required to arrange your essay using the APA style or the MLA format.
And the typical reflection paper length varies between 300 and 700 words, but ask your instructor about the word length if it was assigned to you. Even though this essay is about you, try to avoid too much informal language.
If your instructor asks you to use an APA or MLA style format for reflective essay, here are a few shortcuts:
Reflective Essay in MLA Format
- Times New Roman 12pt font double spaced;
- 1" margins;
- The top right includes the last name and page number on every page;
- Titles are centered;
- The header should include your name, your professor's name, course number, and the date (dd/mm/yy);
- The last page includes a Works Cited.
Reflective Essay in APA Style
- Include a page header on the top of every page;
- Insert page number on the right;
- Your reflective essay should be divided into four parts: Title Page, Abstract, Main Body, and References.
Reflective Essay Writing Tips
You may think we've armed you with enough tips and pointers for reflective writing, but it doesn't stop here. Below we gathered some expert-approved tips for constructing uncontested reflection papers.
- Be as detailed as possible while writing. To make your reflective essay writing come to life, you should employ several tactics such as symbolism, sentence patterns, etc.
- Keep your audience in mind. The reader will become frustrated if you continue writing in the first person without taking a moment to convey something more important, even though you will likely speak about something from your own perspective.
- Put forth the effort to allow the reader to feel the situation or emotion you are attempting to explain.
- Don't preach; demonstrate. Instead of just reporting what happened, use description appropriately to paint a clear picture of the event or sensation.
- Plan the wording and structure of your reflective essay around a central emotion or subject, such as joy, pleasure, fear, or grief.
- Avoid adding dull elements that can lessen the effect of your work. Why include it if it won't enhance the emotion or understanding you wish to convey?
- There must be a constant sense of progression. Consider whether the event has transformed you or others around you.
- Remember to double-check your grammar, syntax, and spelling.
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Reflective Essay Topic Ideas
As a reflective essay should be about your own views and experiences, you generally can't use someone else's ideas. But to help you get started, here are some suggestions for writing topics:
- An experience you will never forget.
- The moment you overcame a fear.
- The most difficult choice you had to make.
- A time your beliefs were challenged.
- A time something changed your life.
- The happiest or most frightening moment of your life so far.
- Ways you think you or people can make the world a better place.
- A time you felt lost.
- An introspective look at your choices or a time you made the wrong choice.
- A moment in your life you would like to relive.
You may find it convenient to create a chart or table to keep track of your ideas. Split your chart into three parts:
- In the first column, write key experiences or your main points. You can arrange them from most important to least important.
- In the second column, list your response to the points you stated in the first column.
- In the third column, write what, from your response, you would like to share in the essay.
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Reflective Essay Sample
Referring to reflective essay examples can help you a lot. A reflective essay sample can provide you with useful insight into how your essay should look like. You can also buy an essay online if you need one customized to your specific requirements.
How to Conclude a Reflective Essay
As we come to an end, it's only logical to reflect on the main points discussed above in the article. By now, you should clearly understand what is a reflective essay and that the key to writing a reflective essay is demonstrating what lessons you have taken away from your experiences and why and how these lessons have shaped you. It should also have a clear reflective essay format, with an opening, development of ideas, and resolution.
Now that you have the tools to create a thorough and accurate reflective paper, you might want to hand over other tasks like writing definition essay examples to our experienced writers. In this case, feel free to buy an essay online on our platform and reflect on your past events without worrying about future assignments!
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Structure of academic reflections
Guidance on the structure of academic reflections.
Academic reflections or reflective writing completed for assessment often require a clear structure. Contrary to some people’s belief, reflection is not just a personal diary talking about your day and your feelings.
Both the language and the structure are important for academic reflective writing. For the structure you want to mirror an academic essay closely. You want an introduction, a main body, and a conclusion.
Academic reflection will require you to both describe the context, analyse it, and make conclusions. However, there is not one set of rules for the proportion of your reflection that should be spent describing the context, and what proportion should be spent on analysing and concluding. That being said, as learning tends to happen when analysing and synthesising rather than describing, a good rule of thumb is to describe just enough such that the reader understands your context.
Example structure for academic reflections
Below is an example of how you might structure an academic reflection if you were given no other guidance and what each section might contain. Remember this is only a suggestion and you must consider what is appropriate for the task at hand and for you yourself.
Identifies and introduces your experience or learning
- This can be a critical incident
- This can be the reflective prompt you were given
- A particular learning you have gained
When structuring your academic reflections it might make sense to start with what you have learned and then use the main body to evidence that learning, using specific experiences and events. Alternatively, start with the event and build up your argument. This is a question of personal preference – if you aren’t given explicit guidance you can ask the assessor if they have a preference, however both can work.
Highlights why it was important
- This can be suggesting why this event was important for the learning you gained
- This can be why the learning you gained will benefit you or why you appreciate it in your context
You might find that it is not natural to highlight the importance of an event before you have developed your argument for what you gained from it. It can be okay not to explicitly state the importance in the introduction, but leave it to develop throughout your reflection.
Outline key themes that will appear in the reflection (optional – but particularly relevant when answering a reflective prompt or essay)
- This can be an introduction to your argument, introducing the elements that you will explore, or that builds to the learning you have already gained.
This might not make sense if you are reflecting on a particular experience, but is extremely valuable if you are answering a reflective prompt or writing an essay that includes multiple learning points. A type of prompt or question that could particularly benefit from this would be ‘Reflect on how the skills and theory within this course have helped you meet the benchmark statements of your degree’
It can be helpful to explore one theme/learning per paragraph.
- You should highlight and explore the experience you introduced in the introduction
- If you are building toward answering a reflective prompt, explore each relevant experience.
As reflection is centred around an individual’s personal experience, it is very important to make experiences a main component of reflection. This does not mean that the majority of the reflective piece should be on describing an event – in fact you should only describe enough such that the reader can follow your analysis.
Analyse and synthesise
- You should analyse each of your experiences and from them synthesise new learning
Depending on the requirements of the assessment, you may need to use theoretical literature in your analysis. Theoretical literature is a part of perspective taking which is relevant for reflection, and will happen as a part of your analysis.
Restate or state your learning
- Make a conclusion based on your analysis and synthesis.
- If you have many themes in your reflection, it can be helpful to restate them here.
Plan for the future
- Highlight and discuss how your new-found learnings will influence your future practice
Answer the question or prompt (if applicable)
- If you are answering an essay question or reflective prompt, make sure that your conclusion provides a succinct response using your main body as evidence.
Using a reflective model to structure academic reflections
You might recognise that most reflective models mirror this structure; that is why a lot of the reflective models can be really useful to structure reflective assignments. Models are naturally structured to focus on a single experience – if the assignment requires you to focus on multiple experiences, it can be helpful to simply repeat each step of a model for each experience.
One difference between the structure of reflective writing and the structure of models is that sometimes you may choose to present your learning in the introduction of a piece of writing, whereas models (given that they support working through the reflective process) will have learning appearing at later stages.
However, generally structuring a piece of academic writing around a reflective model will ensure that it involves the correct components, reads coherently and logically, as well as having an appropriate structure.
Reflective journals/diaries/blogs and other pieces of assessed reflection
The example structure above works particularly well for formal assignments such as reflective essays and reports. Reflective journal/blogs and other pieces of assessed reflections tend to be less formal both in language and structure, however you can easily adapt the structure for journals and other reflective assignments if you find that helpful.
That is, if you are asked to produce a reflective journal with multiple entries it will most often (always check with the person who issued the assignment) be a successful journal if each entry mirrors the structure above and the language highlighted in the section on academic language. However, often you can be less concerned with form when producing reflective journals/diaries.
When producing reflective journals, it is often okay to include your original reflection as long as you are comfortable with sharing the content with others, and that the information included is not too personal for an assessor to read.
Ryan, M., 2011. Improving reflective writing in higher education: a social semiotic perspective. Teaching in Higher Education, 16(1), 99-111.
University of Portsmouth, Department for Curriculum and Quality Enhancement (date unavailable). Reflective Writing: a basic introduction [online]. Portsmouth: University of Portsmouth.
Queen Margaret University, Effective Learning Service (date unavailable). Reflection. [online]. Edinburgh: Queen Margaret University.
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Reflective Essay Outline
Reflective Essay Outline - Samples & Template
Published on: Oct 3, 2020
Last updated on: Jul 18, 2023
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The best essay starts with the perfect essay outline. An essay outline helps to get everything in order. It is the layout of oneâs thoughts and ideas related to the specific topic. With an outline, you can easily structure it properly.
Here is a guide that helps you in creating the perfect reflective essay outline.
Creating the essay outline for a reflective essay is like getting your thoughts in order. It works as an essay bone structure. An essay outline is a way of organizing thoughts and ideas in one place.
Writing the outline is the first step of a well-written essay. An outline helps in your entire essay, and you donât forget the essayâs main points.
An outline gives you a clear roadmap and saves your writing time. With the outlineâs help, you wonât struggle to remember the important points of the essay.
An outline helps from the start to the end of the essay, and you can easily finish the essay before the deadline. Collect all information and create a well-structured essay outline. Without a perfect outline, you would never create a good college essay and make it difficult for you.
The structure of the college essay depends on the topic and purpose of the essay. A properly structured outline will help you to present the necessary information in the essay easily. When writing the reflective essay outline, keep some key points in mind, and create the perfect essay.
- Describe the significance of the essay
- Identify personal intentions and link them with previous experiences.
- Think about future options
- Recognize your own beliefs
- Organize information in a sensible manner.
- Categorize the main points
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How to Write a Reflective Essay Outline?
Writing a reflective essay is a way of describing your personal experience and explain how those life experiences influenced and how they changed your lives.
When writing the outline, one thing to keep in mind is the chronological order. Explain all the events in logical order. Creating a good outline will make your essay writing phase easy and quicker.
When you start creating the college essay outline, make sure you include three sections i.e., introduction, body, and conclusion.
- Attention-grabbing hook
- Overview of the topic
- Thesis statement
- Paragraph 1 with a detailed description of the event, person, or place
- Paragraph 2 with a description of thoughts and feelings
- Paragraph 3 with analysis and evaluation of the experience
- Summary of the essay
- Restate the thesis statement
Letâs discuss them in detail.
The essay introduction is based on your experiences, feelings, and situations. When you start writing the reflective paper introduction, focus on the main parts that make your introduction a good one.
The introduction part of the essay should start with an attention-grabbing hook statement. It is a statement that grabs the readerâs attention. A great hook statement makes the readers want to read more.
It is the first statement that the reader read and decide to read the entire essay or not. The hook statement should start with a quote or an interesting question.
The introduction is a small overview of the reflection essay topic. Briefly mention the main points related to the topic. In this section, you need to communicate directly with the purpose of the essay. The first few sentences give a glimpse of the big picture that you reveal in the body paragraphs.
The thesis statement describes what the essay is all about. It is your entire essayâs core statement, and it is called âreflective essay thesis.â The thesis statement is all about places, events, experiences, and thoughts described further in the essay.
The body paragraph is the next section after the introduction. Writing the body paragraphs is sometimes time-consuming if you have not prepared the perfect outline.
Start the body paragraph with a topic sentence and explain the main idea. The reflective essay body paragraph is categorized into three paragraphs, like other essays.
In the first body paragraph, describe the event, person, or place. But describe all the events in chronological order so the reader easily understands. Not define the events in the body paragraphs without any order.
Describe the main issues related to the topic. Use quotations and cite sources related to the literature. Include precise examples of the events that occurred during this period.
The third part will be related to your personal reflections about the event. You need to add supporting details about the event and make a successful essay. In this paragraph, you describe what lessons you have learned after experiencing the event.
The essayâs conclusion paragraph should be the finishing touch that brings the complete piece of the writing together. It contains two parts that make the essay successful.
The conclusion wraps the entire essay but does not add irrelevant details. Only add important points in the essay. It is the final part that the reader reads, so make it strong and powerful. In this part, encourage the reader to do further research.
In conclusion, restate the thesis statement and rewrite the main points. It is the closing part of the essay, and it must be concise. Inform the reader of your final opinion about the topic.
Reflective Essay Outline Format
The reflective essay format is different from other essays. It is a type of writing in which an essay writer uses the MLA format or APA style.
In APA style, you should consider a few points:
- Use Time New Roman
- The font size is 12, and all text should be double-spaced.
- The page number is located at the top right corner of the page.
- The title page, abstract, main body, and references are the main parts of the essay.
Similarly APA format, you should consider a few points in MLA format:
- The font size is 12.
- All the titles of the essay should be centered.
- Your paperâs header should have your name, course number, professor's name, and date.
- On the last page of the essay, include the cited work.
Reflective Essay Outline Template
Creating a good outline is necessary for all essays. Without an outline, you will not complete your essay on time. Here is a template that will help you in creating a good reflective essay.
Reflective Essay Outline Examples
If you write the reflective essay for the first time, get help from these examples and craft a good essay. These examples will help in your writing the perfect reflective essay.
Example of Reflective Essay
Personal Reflective Essay
Reflective Essay Example About Travel
Tips on Writing the Reflective Essay
The outline is the backbone of the essay. For writing the perfect essay, you have to create the outline. Here are some tips that you should follow when writing a reflective essay.
- Use the outline for your daily entries.
- Avoid repetitive sentences in the essay.
- State your own opinion in the essay.
- Make sure that you have supported every moment that seemed unclear to you before.
- Use transition words between paragraphs.
- Include all the key points in the outline.
- Donât use complex words in the essay and present your point of view.
- Know the strong points that you need to showcase in the essay.
- Proofread and edit the essay before submitting or publishing it.
Reflective essay writing might be tough, but you can easily write the essay with the right outline. Some students have too little time, and they are overloaded with essay writing tasks. They cannot give appropriate time to essay writing.
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Reflective writing: Reflective essays
- What is reflection? Why do it?
- What does reflection involve?
- Reflective questioning
- Reflective writing for academic assessment
- Types of reflective assignments
- Differences between discursive and reflective writing
- Sources of evidence for reflective writing assignments
- Linking theory to experience
- Reflective essays
- Portfolios and learning journals, logs and diaries
- Examples of reflective writing
- Video summary
On this page:
“Try making the conscious effort to reflect on the link between your experience and the theory, policies or studies you are reading” Williams et al., Reflective Writing
Writing a reflective essay
When you are asked to write a reflective essay, you should closely examine both the question and the marking criteria. This will help you to understand what you are being asked to do. Once you have examined the question you should start to plan and develop your essay by considering the following:
- What experience(s) and/or event(s) are you going to reflect on?
- How can you present these experience(s) to ensure anonymity (particularly important for anyone in medical professions)?
- How can you present the experience(s) with enough context for readers to understand?
- What learning can you identify from the experience(s)?
- What theories, models, strategies and academic literature can be used in your reflection?
- How this experience will inform your future practice
When structuring your reflection, you can present it in chronological order (start to finish) or in reverse order (finish to start). In some cases, it may be more appropriate for you to structure it around a series of flashbacks or themes, relating to relevant parts of the experience.
Example Essay Structure
This is an example structure for a reflective essay focusing on a single experience or event:
When you are writing a reflective assessment, it is important you keep your description to a minimum. This is because the description is not actually reflection and it often counts for only a small number of marks. This is not to suggest the description is not important. You must provide enough description and background for your readers to understand the context.
You need to ensure you discuss your feelings, reflections, responses, reactions, conclusions, and future learning. You should also look at positives and negatives across each aspect of your reflection and ensure you summarise any learning points for the future.
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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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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)
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Guide to Writing a Reflective Essay or Report
Reflective report writing is often perceived as easy. You do not need to locate and reference dozens of sources or discuss complex theories in this kind of assignment like you do in traditional essay writing . However, many students get low marks for a reflective portfolio essay or report just because they do not follow the main principles of reflective writing. These principles are not always explained in the assignment guidelines; professors may assume that you already know them. We have created this guide to answer any questions you may have on how to write a reflective assignment.
What Are Markers Looking For in Your Reflective Paper?
A reflective assignment is given to see how you can learn from your experiences. The experience itself is not actually as important as the lessons you extract from it. Show your tutor that you can evaluate your actions critically – what you did right and what you did wrong, why it was successful or not.
When the reflective report is about your learning experiences on the module, be as specific as possible. Simply stating that you learned a lot throughout the course is not enough. Name one or two of the most important things that you learned and how you are going to use them in the future. For example, in learning about the five conflict resolution styles, you may become willing to apply the collaborating style in your future workplace to get on better with your colleagues.
Where Do I Start?
Like with any other essay, you need to grab the reader’s attention from the start. To remain focused and relevant, read the assignment guidelines carefully. They are likely to outline the most important of your tutor’s expectations. You may even be given a particular experience to write about.
Although the concept of reflective writing has been around for over a century, it is still understood by different people in different ways. Do not expect the structure and style you used in one course to do just as well for another instructor. Reading the guidelines is the key to understanding their specific expectations and demands.
The next step is choosing the experience to write about. Generally (if the guidelines do not state otherwise), you will need one experience for an essay and three for a report.
Write down what kind of experience it was and the main thing you learned from it. For example:
Watching the video from Two Sisters
Even large and reputable companies can have gross safety violations. As a manager, I will always insist on learning as much about our suppliers as possible.
This is the starting point for your reflective assignment.
Which Experiences Should You Write About?
It is best to select experiences that affected you strongly. In this case, you will find it easier to explain why it was important. However, there is a danger of getting too emotional or carried away when describing it.
A good technique to get over this problem is to write ‘as it is’, whatever you want to say about this experience, then lay the paper aside for a few days, then proofread carefully, removing the unnecessary details. A break may be needed for any emotions to cool down a bit, and for you to be able to look at your paper through the reader’s eyes. With this in mind, it is best not to leave reflective writing for the last day before your deadline. Allow yourself several days to edit and proofread the paper with fresh eyes.
The experience you write about does not have to be a victory or success. You may also reflect on a failure that taught you an important lesson. However, avoid any experiences that show you in a negative light.
Remember that your paper will probably be read by different people. It may even get published on your university website or elsewhere. Although your name will be removed, the people who know you personally may still be able to identify you as the author – by any particular details or situations you describe. Thus, it is in your best interest not to disclose any aspects that may harm you or other people involved in the situation.
Minimising the possible damage to yourself and other people is an important consideration when deciding which experiences and details to include in your account. Ask yourself a question: Will I be fine if the whole world knows about that? Go ahead only when the answer is a confident ‘yes’.
How Do I Write a Reflective Essay?
A student reflection essay follows the conventional essay structure. In short, it must have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Do not use sub-headings unless specifically requested by the guidelines.
In the introduction, you explain what kind of experience it was and why it was important. Do not go in too much detail; keep it to one or two most important features.
In the body, describe how the experience unfolded and how you felt during and after it. Focus on your own actions rather than those of other people.
Be analytical: explain why you received this outcome and how you could have done better.
Mention relevant academic theories and concepts where appropriate. Explain how they helped you make sense of the situation and choose the right course of action.
In the conclusion section, state one or two things that you have learned from this experience and why they are important to you. Outline your plan for handling or preventing similar situations in the future.
The introduction is often the most difficult part to write. You may find it easier, to start with the body of the writing and write the introduction last.
How Do I Write a Reflective Report?
Reflective reports are more structured than essays. Generally, you will include more than one experience and use section headings and sub-headings. If a specific structure is prescribed by the assignment guidelines, always follow it.
- In this part, you explain your purpose for writing this report and substantiate your choice of experiences. For example, when the purpose is to reflect on your group project work experience, you may want to write about the main conflicts and challenges you faced as a group.
- Write about each experience in a separate section with an appropriate heading. If no specific requirements for the structure are set, treat each section as a small essay. However, reports are more practical than essays. Focus on the lessons you learned for practice. The description of the situation and your feelings need to be concise – just enough for your reader to get the point.
- State the main lessons you have learned and how you are going to apply this knowledge in your future professional and academic life. There needs to be at least one lesson learned from each experience you included.
What Are Reflection Models and Why Do I Need Them?
Even if your assignment does not give a specific reflection model to follow, you may still want to use one. A reflection model is a sequence of steps to follow, or a sequence of questions to answer when writing down your account of an experience. When you are new to reflective writing, reflection models can provide a much-needed step-by-step guide.
One of the most popular and handy models is Gibbs reflection cycle (presented in the figure below).
Gibbs Reflection Cycle Example
A learning experience reported using Gibbs cycle can look like this:
I failed to get the interview I absolutely needed for my dissertation.
What were you thinking and feeling?
For a moment, I felt helpless and frustrated. But then I started thinking who else could give me that information. Fortunately, two of my senior colleagues had it and responded gladly to my request.
What was good and bad about the experience?
The good thing was that I managed to get information despite the obstacle that seemed overwhelming at the first moment. However, this incident highlighted the gaps in my preparation. I had no Plan B in case if my department manager refused to be interviewed.
What sense can you make of the situation?
I should have made a list of several interviewees representing each functional area. If one of them refused to participate, I could talk to the next one on my list. That would have increased my chances of collecting comprehensive data about the department performance.
What else could you have done?
Besides, I could have worded my invitation better and choose the time to approach the manager more carefully. In this case, I could have obtained the manager’s agreement and interview.
If it arose again, what would you do?
Facing a similar problem again, I would not be that stressed. I would accept the refusal calmly and immediately approach the next potential interviewee on my list.
Following a reflection model, you can produce a piece of writing that is coherent, persuasive and has a strong internal structure, like in the example above. To put it short, a reflection model maximises your chances of achieving a high mark.
However, Gibb’s reflection cycle is not the only model suitable for writing a great reflective report. If you are looking for an alternative, Kolb’s reflective cycle is a much more concise framework for cases in which you have a strict word count limit.
Kolb's Framework Example
To follow Kolb’s framework, you can always use the following example.
Try to focus on one-two very specific events that you have encountered in your personal or professional life. For example, if you have internship experiences, it would be great to describe how you first completed your work responsibilities or how you chose to communicate with your manager. Try to add as much detail as possible. If you’re struggling, the following questions can be helpful.
- When exactly did the experience occur?
- What were my thoughts and feelings at the time?
- Why did I choose to proceed with a particular choice of action?
- What were the results of my decisions?
For example, your experience can look like this.
While I was the president of this student society, I prepared student project fairs and organised community gatherings. For one of these events, the attendance figures were much lower than predicted; I understood that I failed to motivate my followers. To address this, I conducted a joint meeting to change the format of student fairs.
This is the stage in which you begin to transform your experience into more of an abstract idea. You should definitely compare your experience with some relevant theories to impress your tutor and stay critical and evaluative. To keep track of your reflective observation, answer the following questions.
- What are the theories and models most relevant to my experience?
- What is the gap between these frameworks and my own actions?
- What methods or strategies did I fail to implement?
- What were the immediate and long-term effects of my actions?
If you need guidance, you can refer to the next example.
I failed to understand that I followed the paradigm of servant leadership. I addressed the needs of my followers by extending deadlines for submitting student projects at the expense of my own project planning needs. However, I did not sufficiently motivate other students to participate in meetings or offer ideas for improvement. I did not establish a specific vision or praised the achievements of my followers.
To complete this section of your reflective report, you should focus on what you have learned as a result of your chosen experience. This should definitely refer back to the theories you chose when conducting your reflective observations. You should clearly highlight how your new idea changes your approach to practice. The following questions should be helpful.
- What did I learn as a result of the event?
- How would I change my approach in the future?
- How can I summarise my learning into one specific idea?
- How would I evaluate the feasibility of my future strategy?
The following example showcases how a good abstract conceptualisation part should be written.
I learnt that a transformational leadership style is better suited for leading a student society. In the future, I will conduct regular monthly meetings with my followers to prepare for new fairs and other events. This should increase their motivation and engagement with such projects. While this would add a week to the timeframe for student fairs, I do not see any other barriers to the feasibility of this leadership strategy.
Active experimentation focuses on applying the results of abstract conceptualisation in practice. If you cannot experiment with your learning, you should definitely outline a plan of action and how you would ensure your commitment to improving your practice. To guide your active experimentation, you should answer the next questions.
- What are the key steps required to implement the previously outlined recommendations?
- What instruments should I use to ensure my commitment to professional and personal improvement?
The following is an example of an active experimentation paragraph answering the above questions.
To monitor my results, I will keep a personal leadership journal after each student meeting; I will evaluate my progress in becoming a better leader. In my opinion, keeping a journal for two-three months should be sufficient to achieve this aim. I will also request monthly feedback from other students on how I should improve my leadership style.
What Constitutes a Good Writing Style in Reflective Assignments?
Although reflective assignments are less scholarly in their content and style than most other papers, they are still academic assignments. Thus, you must stick to conventional English. Use contractions, colloquial expressions, or slang only when directly citing a person’s words.
If your mastery of English is far from perfect, do not try to produce ‘fine’ or ‘literary’ writing. Instead, keep it short and clear.
Reflective essays and reports are written in the first person (‘I’) unless the opposite is explicitly stated in your assignment guidelines.
When describing your feelings, name them without getting overly dramatic. “I was anxious when starting on the test” is appropriate. “My heart pounded, and I was shaking all over” is better saved for a personal diary.
Keep your paragraphs within reasonable length (3 to 8 sentences). Shorter paragraphs are better for reflective reports and longer ones for essays.
When describing a setting or event, add in some details to help your readers imagine it. The details can be about visual appearance, sounds, smells, or general ambiance. However, do not try to convey the whole picture with words. One or two features that struck you most about the place will do the job.
Do not overload your reader with the information that does not add to your core argument. Keep your main purpose – talk about the lesson you learned from this situation – in focus.
Using References when Writing a Reflective Report
Academic writing usually requires using references such as books, journal articles or online sources. However, the case is not so clear for reflective reports which are often based on your personal experiences and, therefore, are very difficult to link to academic theories and models. If your tutor explicitly allows to not use any references without incurring a penalty on your final mark, you should definitely take advantage of such an opportunity. If not, a general rule of thumb is that your references for a reflective report should not be radically different from your references for any other types of work. Do not reference books on writing reflective reports as these sources contain no information relevant to your actual development. Instead, try to find books or journal articles discussing the same problems that you had encountered before such as a lack of motivation, or a shortage of creativity exhibited by your colleagues.
How to be Critical and Analytical when Writing a Reflective Report?
Being critical and analytical is probably the most frequent requirement for writing a good reflective report; nonetheless, there is a surprising lack of knowledge on what this actually entails. The trick is to focus on the things you did not do as much as on the things you did do. For example, when discussing your leadership, you could always mention leadership styles that you ignored in the past. This, however, is not enough to meet the criteria for good academic criticism. You should also clearly indicate the negative consequences of your choice. Continuing the above example on leadership, one’s failure to use transformational or servant leadership typically leads to reduced follower motivation and one’s peers’ unwillingness to complete specific tasks. Do not be shy to be as unambiguous as possible and avoid using words such as “may” or “could”.
Best Books on Reflective Writing
You may want to read these to get a better idea of what is expected of you in reflective writing.
- Research Methods for Business Students by Saunders, Lewis, and Thornhill. Look for the 2016 edition. Sections 1.5 and 14.8 provide handy instructions on how to craft reflective diary entries. These can be used for reflective report sections as well.
- Reflective Writing by Williams, Woolliams, and Spiro. This book was written by professors who found reflective assignments to be extremely confusing to many of their students. The book is packed with actionable tips; relevant concepts are explained very simply. Chapter 2 highlights the differences between common types of reflective assignments, including diaries, learning logs, and portfolios.
- Writing at University: A Guide for Students by Creme and Lea. Reflective writing is covered in Chapter 13. Section 13.1 contains plenty of ideas on how you can benefit from reflective writing. Use these to answer the question about how reflective writing assisted your learning.
In short, a recipe for a good reflective piece can be written down as follows:
- Study the assignment guidelines and marking scheme thoroughly to understand what is expected of you. Do not assume the requirements of reflective writing to be the same across courses and schools.
- If still unsure where to start, consult the books on reflective writing.
- Select an experience that taught you something important.
- Start with a description, proceed with analysis and evaluation, and conclude with an action plan for the future.
- Follow the introduction-body-conclusion structure.
- Include only relevant information.
- Be honest about your feelings.
- Use details to make your description vivid, but not too many.
Good luck with crafting a reflection that will win the hearts of your readers! You can check our successful reflection sample to see how these tips are applied in practice. Try our professional reflective report writing service to avoid the mistakes most students make in reflections.
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