A reflective essay is not so much a conventional college essay as it is. A piece of writing that allows you to explore a particular experience in your life and then come up with meaningful conclusions based on that experience. The main point here is that this writing assignment is designed to make you think and analyze what you think about something.
What Is a Reflective Essay?
A reflective essay is a unique form that aims to observe, examine, and describe an individual or personal experience that the author has had. When writing such an essay, you must remember that the focus is on your deeper inner emotions rather than the event. The key is to make your essay reflective, and the key to achieving that is to put your personality into it.
Below we will explain how to write reflective essays, various formats, the purposes, and the importance of a reflective essay, and provide useful tips to make the writing process easier.
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What Is the Purpose of Reflective Writing
- Unlike essays you’ve been writing for class, this essay is meant to reflect yourself. It’s meant to reveal something about you that isn’t already obvious.
- Reflective writing also helps you learn from a particular practical experience. It will help you connect what you are taught in theory and what you must do in practice.
- Reflective writing encourages you to observe your life experiences and beliefs – for instance, your own experiences as a learner or your observations from teaching rounds – and link these with the theoretical learning in your subject. This can help you develop and reinforce knowledge about theories, better understand particular concepts, and reflect critically on the practical realities of specific situations and the theoretical knowledge that informs your understanding of them.
- To improve your critical thinking skills,
- To think about past events more objectively,
- To gain new knowledge about an event or similar situation,
- To learn from your past experiences,
- To become aware of your strengths and weaknesses.
What Do I Write About?
It is the question that every student must ask before writing a reflective article. Here is a list of reflection questions and ideas to help you get started:
- A time you felt lost.
- A time your beliefs were challenged.
- The moment you overcame a fear.
- A moment in your life you would like to relive.
- Ways you think you or people can make the world a better place.
- The most difficult choice you had to make.
- An introspective look at your choices or a time you made the wrong choice.
- The happiest or most frightening moment of your life so far.
- An experience you will never forget.
- A time something changed your life.
Reflective Essays Format
A reflective essay format is not very different from other essays, such as argumentative or expository essays. The basic difference between them is that it is written about personal experiences.
Here is the format:
- Identify the focus
- Outline scope
- State thesis statement
Main Body Paragraphs
- Supporting details
- Background information
- Summarize the main essay
- Restate the thesis statement
You might also be required to arrange your essay using the APA style or the MLA format. If asked to format your paper in MLA or APA styles, apply these shortcuts:
Reflective Essay in APA Style
- Insert page number on the right;
- Times New Roman 12 pt font double spaced;
- Your reflective essay should be divided into four parts: Title Page, Abstract, Main Body paragraphs, and References.
- Include a page header on the top of every page;
- 1” margins;
Reflective Essay in MLA Format
- The header should include your name, your professor’s name, course number, and the date (dd/mm/yy);
- 1” margins;
- Titles are centered;
- The top right includes the last name and page number on every page;
- Times New Roman 12 pt font double spaced;
- The last page includes Works Cited.
How to Write a Reflective Essay?
Writing a reflective essay is not persuasive; you have to convince your readers to accept your opinion. You have to share an experience. However, writing such essays can be challenging for students as it requires them to use high-level thinking skills. To make it easier for you, here is a guide on how to write a reflective essay:
Choose a Good Topic
The first step is to choose a topic that is meaningful or important to you. Think about things that have happened recently in your life or experiences. Consider situations or events that inspired you made you emotional or changed your outlook on life. You could even think about something that happened to someone else and how it somehow impacted them (or even yourself). For example, if your friend could not physically exercise for several weeks due to a broken leg, you might reflect on how this impacted them emotionally, socially, and academically.
Research your Topic
After choosing your topic, start by doing some research on it. If you chose a moment, determine what caused the event or memory and the outcome. If conflict or issue arose because of this event, try to see why it happened and what lessons you learned. Take notes while conducting your research so that you don’t forget any details or facts when writing the body paragraphs of your essay.
Create a chart or table to keep track of all your information
To ensure you haven’t missed anything, we recommend creating a chart or table to keep track of all your information. This will help you organize your thoughts and keep them on the right track for an effective essay.
Recognize your Experience
It would help if you considered writing a reflective essay as an opportunity to reflect on what you’ve done and how it affected you. Take some time to think about your experiences and how they impacted you before jumping into the writing process.
This can be done by thinking about what happened on that particular day, what it was like when it happened, how you felt, and anything else that may have occurred.
Ask Yourself Some Questions
The next important thing you need to do is ask yourself some reflection questions. For example, did something happen that day? What made you feel the way you did? If it was something that didn’t make you feel good, what did you do about it? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? How could someone else benefit from what you learned in this difficult situation?
Organize the Essay
Like many other essays, a great reflective essay should be between 300 and 700 words long. If you find yourself exceeding that number of words, look at your reflection paper outline and see if there are any areas where you can cut down on words or omit them entirely. This can often mean removing some of the less important facts about your experience or the experience of others. Following this guideline will help ensure that your paper does not feel too short or wordy.
Follow the Best Reflective Essay Structure
First, write an introductory paragraph that grabs your reader’s attention and lets them know what they’re getting into. Then comes the essay’s body: three or four paragraphs discussing the main arguments or position (depending on whether or not you’re writing an argumentative paper). Each paragraph should have one central point, written clearly in a topic sentence at the end, so your reader knows where you’re headed next. Then wrap up everything you’ve said by writing a conclusion.
Revise your Reflective Paper
One of the critical points of your reflection paper is revising it. The first step to a well-written reflective essay is to read through your essay more than once. This might be time-consuming, but it is worth it. That’s because you will have a chance to review the ideas you’ve expressed in the paper and ensure they are relevant and logical. Also, revising your paper allows you to correct grammatical or spelling mistakes and add some new information you might have missed while writing the first draft.
Steps for Writing a Reflective Essay
1. Make a mind map.
Before you begin writing, make a mind map of your experience. A mind map is a diagram that helps writers organize their thoughts. It’s easy to create, and it can be done by hand or on a computer. The goal of the mind map is to identify key points, then branch out into relevant subtopics.
A mind map will help you structure your essay and organize your thoughts and experiences. It’s also a good way to see where there are gaps in your recollection so that you can fill them in later on.
For example, if you want to write about your first day of school (a common topic), start with a central point: “I didn’t make any friends.” From there, branch out into subtopics like “it was hard for me because I was shy and didn’t know anyone” or “I was scared because I didn’t know where my classroom was.
2. Make an outline
Although reflective essays aren’t fictional and don’t require a plot, you should still outline them. In our previous post, ‘How to Write an Informative Essay Outline – Full Guide,’ we mentioned the importance of listing relevant talking points before writing. This helps organize your thoughts so that your discussion is more organic. This applies to the experiences you want to feature in your reflective essay.
In an interview on her writing process, Samantha Irby explained to EW that her ideas and memories are usually outlined. That much was evident in her essay “Lesbian Bed Death,” which chronicled moments in a relationship and how her perceptions of love changed. Likewise, “Body Negativity” cataloged how women maintain their appearance to satisfy societal expectations. Ultimately, outlining helps you structure your essay so that your story or message is better conveyed to readers.
3. Entertain different perspectives in the piece
Reflective essays usually require a bit of meandering. This lets you explore different topics in your piece, like events, people, or places. In Leslie Jamison’s essay “Since I Became Symptomatic,” she ponders when she and her daughter were both sick and in quarantine. Her experiences became the stepping stone to discussing parenthood and the American healthcare system.
Reflective essays aren’t only limited to your memories and can revolve around your perceptions about culture. The Scribd document “Why Art Involves Experience” meditates on the intersection between art and experience. In it, Full Diane Siño doesn’t touch on any one specific memory and instead gravitates more towards weaving different ideas by philosophers like John Dewey. It can be a fascinating read if you don’t confine your reflective essay to one subject alone.
4. Open with a powerful paragraph
A strong paragraph (solid first sentence) will interest your reader. Virginia Woolf’s essay “Death of a Moth” is an excellent example of a powerful opening. She began by imbuing moths with humanistic traits, stating they aren’t excited over autumn nights or content with life.
As the essay progressed, it became clear that the moth was a way for Woolf to talk about life and death. This revelation stood out more upon recalling the first paragraph.
Similarly, Reshma Memon Yaqub started “The Washing” with, “I hadn’t planned to wash the corpse. But sometimes you just get caught up in the moment….” The line naturally evoked curiosity but was about the traditional Muslim ritual of washing a relative’s body before death. All those considered, ensure your opening paragraph contains vivid details about an experience. This way, it’s packed with an emotional punch.
5. End by posing a question to your readers
It would be best to conclude reflective essays with a summary of your thoughts. For one, look back on the experiences you’ve covered. What have you learned from them? More importantly, it would be best to encourage your readers to do the same. What can they yield from the moments and ideas you presented?
Interestingly, Hanif Abdurraqib is a compelling essayist who offers his readers one last thought to chew on. He ended “Carly Rae Jepsen and the Kingdom of Desire” by asking if love and everything in between were genuinely fleeting. And in his essay “They Will Speak Loudest of You After You’ve Gone,” Abdurraqib left readers wondering about the value of black people’s lives within the media. Those endings can ensure that your essay will leave a lasting impression on your readers.
Reflective Essay Topics
- What is the best thing that happened to you this year?
- Name a time when you felt like an outsider at school. How did it make you feel?
- Do you have any regrets from high school? If so, what are they, and why do they bother you?
- A time when you made a mistake but learned from it
- The most challenging situation you’ve faced in life and how you overcame it
- A positive change you would like to see in the world
- How You’ve Changed as a Person Over Time
- Your Views on Love and Relationships
- What You Want to Accomplish in Life
- The Things That Make You Feel Happy and Satisfied With Yourself
- The Reasons Why You Make Certain Decisions in Life
- List three movies that changed your life, and describe how they did so.
- Describe an experience that made you appreciate the value of silence in a noisy world.
- Share a story about how your parents’ strict rules helped you mature.
- How do you think people will remember your time on this earth?
- What is one thing that has been weighing on your mind lately?
Reflective Essay Outline
Don’t know how to write a great reflective essay outline? Here’s how:
The introduction is where you introduce your topic, state the purpose of your paper, and give any background information that the reader needs to understand the rest of the essay. This is where you tell the reader why they should care about what you’re writing about, so make it count! You can also use this space to provide context for your topic—you might want to give a short history lesson here or explain why it’s important to understand this topic. There should also be a thesis statement, which is one sentence that describes the overall point of your essay.
The introduction of your reflective essay should start with a hook statement — an attention-grabbing statement that sets the tone for your entire piece. You can do this in a variety of ways, such as:
- Sharing an anecdote that relates to the topic at hand
- Asking a question for readers to answer
- Giving a fact about the subject you will be discussing in your essay
You can move on to give a little background and context on the topic, leading up to the thesis statement, which is what you want readers to walk away thinking about.
You will build each body paragraph around an idea or event related to the topic of your reflective essay. Under each idea or event, you will want to write about how it impacted you and somehow changed your life (or at least thinking). This is where you may need to reexamine and reflect upon instances in your life that have led to changes in how you think about your subject.
Include three main points in your body paragraphs—these will become the topic sentences for each that relates to the thesis statement, followed by evidence supporting that idea. Each body paragraph should have three sentences: one stating what the paragraph is about, one explaining why this is important in your larger thesis statement, and a final sentence that sums up what you said in this paragraph.
Write a concluding paragraph that wraps up what you’ve said in the body paragraphs and leaves the reader with something new to
In the last paragraph of your essay, tell the reader why they should care about what you’ve written. What is its purpose? Hopefully, this will make them think more deeply about their lives and how they interact with other people around them.
Reflective Essay Examples
Referring to reflective essay examples can help you a lot. A sample paper can provide you with useful insight into how a reflection essay should look like.
Reflective Essay Example for High Schoolreflective-essay-example-for-high-school
Reflective Essay Examplereflective-essay-example
Reflective Essay Outlinereflective-essay-outline
Tips for Writing a Reflective Essay
Reflective essays are a fun way to allow yourself to reflect on your experiences. They can be a great way to get to know yourself better and allow you to dig deep and explore your emotions. The following tips can help you write an excellent reflective essay:
- Start by identifying what you’d like to reflect on. Maybe it’s your first time driving long-distance solo, or maybe it’s a book that impacted you. Whatever it is, make sure it’s something significant in your life or that has been significant in the lives of others.
- Pick a topic that interests you. You’ll have to think about and reflect on this topic, so you should pick something engaging or important to you.
- Map out how you want your essay to flow for clarity. Planning helps ensure you don’t waste time wondering what comes next in your essay.
- Explain the significance of each event or new experience you describe in your essay. This will help show how the experience fits your life and why it’s important.
- Write about specific events or experiences in depth rather than covering too many topics simultaneously. This will help ensure that it is easier for readers to follow along and understand what’s going on in your essay.
- Write in the first person without using “I.” For example: “my teacher,” not “I.”
- Don’t worry about using formal language—the main goal is for the reader to feel like they’re getting a glimpse into the inner workings of your mind. Because of this, try to use language that is natural and easy to read.
- Try starting with a personal anecdote or powerful quote, then follow it up with some analysis of its significance to you or the topic.
- Support your thesis statement with strong arguments
- Keep it short and to the point
- Provide your point of view about the related topic
- Do not add irrelevant details
- Write the essay with an overall emotion or theme in mind
- Try to make the essay credible and informative
- Don’t make any grammatical errors
Get Help from the Experts with your Reflective Essay
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Frequently Asked Questions
How do you start a reflective essay?
As with all essays, your reflective essay must begin with an introduction that contains both a hook and a thesis statement. The point of having a ‘hook’ is to grab the attention of your audience or reader from the very beginning.
Can you say I in a reflective essay?
In your reflective essay, use the first person with terms like I, me, my, and mine. The essay accounts for something that happened to you and your thoughts on the event.
What makes a good reflective essay?
Academic reflective writing requires critical and analytic thought, a clear line of argument, and the use of evidence through examples of personal experiences and thoughts and often also theoretical literature. It would help if you aimed to balance personal experience, tone, academic practice, and rigor.