How to Write a Reflective Essay
So what's the first step of writing a reflective essay, and what format should one use? The first and most critical step is finding a personal experience general enough to capture your audience and make them really interested in your reflections on it. Talking about the time you didn't have enough money at the car wash isn't really going to be as captivating as using the main emotions you felt that day (embarrassment, panic, humiliation) as your main focus. You can always use the car wash story as an example, but the key is to use general themes, like emotions, major life experiences or broad cultural and social elements, like holidays as your fodder.
Reflecting onto Paper
Once you've identified your main theme, be it Love, Christmas, Going to College, or anything relevant and broad enough to engage the majority of your intended audience, it's time to start sketching out your ideas. Since the ideal theme for a reflective essay is broad, your idea range will be just that as well. It's smart to draft a useful outline to rein these ideas and broad notions in. Unlike outlines you may have used while pre-writing for other essay styles, this outline will not be as standard and sequential. Since you're reflecting on a personal experience, events may not follow any certain order or reasoning, and lines can become blurred. Keep the basic format of an outline with headings and sub-headings, but do not try to fit your ideas and reactions to your theme to the sequence of it. Your outline should be based on an interpretation of the example below.
I. Main Theme (get your reader involved here with some broad emotion, life experience, etc.)
A. Bolster this theme and why you are writing about it with some descriptors and details. For example, if you're writing about love, some mysterious and cryptic statements might really draw the reader in.
II. General Bulk of Text
A. This part of your essay should reveal the main gist of the reflection, and the varied ideas you, the author, have surrounding this reflection. Limit your supporting evidence to one major train of thought though, so as not to confuse the reader or seem wishy washy. For example, a statement like "I always thought I knew what love was, but it wasn't until my best friend saved my life that I truly understood." From there, you can expound upon the varied experiences before the main punch, and how your perceptions changed thereafter.
A. Summarize the main ideas of your essay, and while doing so, ask yourself if your essay encapsulated everything you wished it to. Also put yourself in the shoes of your reader: could they have learned something, taken solace or comfort in the words you wrote, or maybe enjoyed a laugh or two? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, you've written a successful essay that has explored a major theme, shared personal reflections to that theme, and engaged the reader.
This article is about how to properly prepare and write a reflective essay using all tactical and literary writing techniques. A reflective essay always has the goal to introduce the reader to some interesting moments from the writer’s life and fix attention on feelings about a certain issue.
Reflective essays are frequently written in college during nursing courses, business, sociology, and law classes. Also this type of paper will be helpful in technical fields like engineering, as well as for technical and pharmacology specialists.
How to Write a Reflective Essay?
Modern society requires different skills from a person, including describing personal thoughts and reflecting on certain ideas or events. Do not be shy to share your thoughts. Do not think that they will look stupid. Imagine that you are talking to a friend and proving your point of view.
Reflection is a person’s thinking aimed at analyzing oneself (self-analysis) – personal states, actions, and past events. At the same depth of reflection, self-analysis depends on the degree of human education, the development of moral feeling, and the level of self-control. Reflection, in a simplified definition, is “a conversation with oneself.” The word reflection comes from the Latin reflectio – to bend back. Both Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries define reflection as serious thinking and consideration about something.
A reflective essay is a paper written from a personal point of view, but still keeping the formal tone and academic essay structure. In this article you will find well-thought guidelines to creating a great reflective essay. But before proceeding to the step-by-step guide, let’s find out what a reflective essay is about.
What Is a Reflective Essay?
A reflective essay is a written work about something that happened to you, or an experience in which you were part of the event that occurred (pursuing an exhaustive or defining description of the topic). You might have already written several essays about how you spent your summer during your school years. In college, topics for reflective writing may sound more complex and require a deeper reflection, but still the basis will be around your first essays about summer. Simply, you will need to share the story in sufficient detail about what you did and how you felt about it. Your opinion and conclusions should be directly related to what you told at the beginning of your essay.
A reflective essay is a kind of creative work and involves more personal thoughts and expressions than research of known facts. You can be assigned this type of paper to reflect on your experience in practical fields and share your observations of professional activity at a certain place.
Note: Unlike academic writing, reflective essays are more informal, as they ask to show your viewpoint, which is something that is usually not shared in other academic papers. Self-awareness is the key to writing a good reflective essay.
Maybe you think that you have understood what reflective writing is about, but don’t jump the gun just yet! Good writing appears only after good planning. Let’s read the step-by-step guide.
Steps to Writing a Reflective Essay
Before writing a reflective essay:
Step 1. Analyze the assignment. This means that you need not only read the assignment, but also analyze it to get a better understanding of what the tutor asks you to do. Note function words and keywords like “use critical thinking,” “discuss,” and “analyze.”
Step 2. Identify the experience or event. Topics that can be used for reflective writing can be connected to speeches, music, films, books, and graphic portrayal. Reflection is not about what happens in your head, but about depicting the process within the chosen angle. If a topic was assigned by your tutor, just skip this step. Take a piece of paper and a pen, set the alarm for an extra ten minutes, and brainstorm around the subject or topic.
Step 3. Take notes. No matter if you are reading a book that you need to reflect on, or sitting in the lecture: take a notebook and write down important points to consider, your feeling and thoughts, and questions that need answers. This information will be a good basis for your future essay and help to summarize your experience. Don’t forget to write down some evidence that you can use further to support your thoughts: quotations (for lectures, articles, books, etc.) and specific parts of experience (for practice).
Step 4. Determine who your reader is. Answer a simple question: “Who will be reading your work?” Of course, the first thought will be about the tutor that has assigned you this paper. This person usually states his or her requirements and expectations about the work. But still keep in mind that your audience may be broader – like your classmates or parents. That means that you should use plain and easy to understand language and be sure that your text may interest the broader audience.
Step 5. Plan your time. Proper planning has already saved thousands of students’ lives. If you need to write a reflective essay about your practical field, this step will be doubly essential. List all activities that you should do to write your reflective essay. Create a timetable where you can insert the time for preparation, research, writing, and proofreading. Make sure that it looks realistic and you will be able to complete it on time.
If you need to reflect on a certain movie or book, make sure that you have time for reading or watching it. A good choice is to take notes about your emotions and thoughts while reading, as it will be a great help while writing your essay.
Step 6. Create an outline. Creating a reflective essay outline will allow you to structure all your thoughts in a certain order. With the help of an outline you won’t find yourself struggling to add important parts to a previously completed paper. An outline is like a map of your future essay. If you want to come to a certain destination and at a particular time, you need to plan your trip. The same thing is true with an essay outline: to be able to finish writing before the deadline, you need a plan of action. Collect all information that arises in your mind and determine the points that stand out.
The structure of a reflective essay will depend on the topic, the purpose of the essay, and the model you choose to use. A properly structured essay will help you clearly present the necessary moments and address certain points.
- Describe the significance of the experience that you have received during practice in the introduction.
- Pinpoint personal moments that have arisen after the experience.
- Identify personal intentions and link this experience with previous experiences.
- Recognize your own beliefs and values.
- Think about future options and ways to improve your everyday life or professional skills.
You can begin with creating a table with important points such as past experience, the description, and reflection. In the first row you can list the most important points that can be described in detail in the next rows. The second row will be about the experience and the third row will describe your personal response to the event. As soon as your table will be ready, you can create the following outline:
1.1. Attention grabber
1.2. Quick overview of the topic
1.3. Thesis statement
2. Body paragraph I
2.1. A detailed description of event, person, or place
3. Body paragraph II
3.1. Description of feelings and thoughts when it happened
4. Body paragraph III
4.1. Evaluation and analysis of your experience.
5.1. Overview of the event
5.2. Summary about lessons learned
Your outline may be different, as it depends whether you need to reflect on a book or something else. The only thing you should keep in mind is chronological structure.
While writing a reflective essay:
Step 1. Introduction. Every introduction to reflective essay writing should start with an attention grabber that will boost interest in your topic. The introduction is a small overview to the topic. It can be formulated as a question or contain a quote. The proposed thesis statement will be the starting point for subsequent reasoning. The reflective essay thesis statement will be about places, events, thoughts, experiences, or people that will be described further in the body paragraph. Read examples of reflective essays to get inspired and generate more ideas to start your essay.
The tutor is not required to read a boring text, especially if students are writing a paper on a similar topic. Be unique and start you essay in an extraordinary way.
Step 2. Body paragraph. Start each body paragraph with a topic sentence that deals with the final points made in the thesis statement. For your reflective writing it should focus on the event, your reflection about this event, and the description of lessons learned. If you were taking notes during the event, it’s time to use them!
The first body paragraph will be a description of the scene and the event. Make sure that you have answered questions like “Who?” “What?” “Where?” “When?” and “Why?” Include in your essay images, sounds, and other descriptions of your experience. If you are describing an event, follow the chronological sequence and try not to jump from one time to another.
Note: The final sentence of each paragraph summarizes and restates the idea introduced at the start of the paragraph.
In the second part you need to point out the main issues you have identified in relation to the experience. If these points can be related to literature (theory), insert quotations and cite sources.
The third part will be about your personal reflections about the event. This is the aim of your essay – to show the lessons that you have learned, as well as insights and ideas that have evolved after experiencing the event. Here you need to answer what this event means to you. For example, if you need to reflect on a certain project or class, answer these questions to ease the process of writing:
- How would you describe the project to someone else?
- What were your first reactions? How have other people reacted to it?
- Was the project easy? What aspects were easy and why? What aspect was the hardest and why?
- What are the key issues? What points were the most interesting to you?
- What would you like to explore after the event?
- How can skills that you have acquired during the project be compared to others
- How has this project changed your view on life/technology/etc.?
- What did you know about the topic related to the project before the start?
- Have you used additional sources of information to go deeper with understanding the topic?
- How will this project be useful in your college activities?
Step 3. Conclusion. The conclusion for reflective essay should complete your writing. It should be convincing, because it is the result of your reasoning. It almost duplicates the thesis, but it takes it to a new (deeper) level due to deductions and, possibly, forecasts. The conclusion reaffirms the points made in each paragraph. Together, these points support the thesis statement (the overall argument).
The conclusion will be a reference to the question and your thesis statement, a summary of key points, and a final comment on the topic. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t disclose new information in your conclusion. Try to add specific points about how your personal attitude has changed due to the particular event or experience. Also state how your new skills can be applied in your everyday life. Look for some examples of conclusions over the internet.
After writing a reflective essay:
Step 1. Revise your first draft. Make sure that the reader will easily understand the text and make any changes to improve text readability. Depending on your taste, print the text and take a pen to make remarks, or write comments in a text file on a computer. Make sure that you have followed academic style while keeping a personal voice.
Step 2. Check the text sentence by sentence. Look for wordiness, credibility, grammar, spelling, and accuracy. Tidy up the text paying attention to every detail. Proofread the text several times before submitting.
Reflective Essay Sample
Generally, the best practice for achieving good reflective writing skills is to see a sample that includes all qualities. Often students repeat the same mistakes from paper to paper. Identifying crucial moments can dramatically improve your writing. Here you can check out an excerpt of a reflective writing sample that was analyzed by our specialist. You can take these suggestions into consideration for developing your own work.
Click the images to see their full size.
Tips on Reflective Writing
- To improve your reflective writing skills you can keep keep a reflective diary or journal. Using such a tool will not only increase your abilities of reflective thinking, but also help to develop self-awareness.
- Avoid being repetitive in your conclusion. It should summarize the key aspects that you have described in your body paragraph.
- Your essay text may dither among the past, present, and future tenses, which may sound disturbing for the reader. Remember that your reflective writing is about a past event, so all of your text should always relate to the past tense. Only when you will be writing a conclusion and describing the implications of the gained knowledge in your everyday or professional life, use the future tense.
- Write in plain English. This means that you need not use complex words to sound academic. Plain English is about simple writing and avoiding complex structures. If you can’t understand whether your writing is readable, just read it aloud and mark sentences that should be rewritten or simplified. Make sure that every sentence makes sense and don’t write text only for reaching a certain word count.
- This kind of essay is about your own point of view. Don’t be shy to state your own opinion even if it goes against the general beliefs. But don’t forget to support your thoughts with evidence to make your writing more believable.
How to Write a Reflective Journal?
Unlike the essay, a journal is kept for a long period of time and allows the student to carry out a more personal and thoughtful reflection, monitoring both the immediate process and comparing actions in time (“postponed” reflection). The aim of a reflective journal is the following:
- Become a better writer.
- Gain better reflective thinking.
- Improve problem-solving abilities.
- Develop professional orientation and understanding of the educational program.
In some cases, a reflective journal is a real task that may be assigned by your tutor on your course. If you attend work placement for several weeks or pass a certain course you will need to write daily entries to your reflective journal. Such a journal will serve as a basis to your reflective essay about practice. Reflective writing is also a great practice for social and health workers. This tool helps identify problems in the working process and with finding solutions. Also, reflective writing helps to see the picture from the outside and recognize personal strengths and weaknesses.
So, how to write a reflective journal? You will need to create daily entries with descriptions of your tasks or procedures and your personal reflections on such.
You should be highly attentive during your classes and avoid skipping a day of writing. Consider these stages which may take more time than you think:
- Make research on literature to discover key information and theories that you are going to discover during lectures and practice.
- Put theory into practice.
- Compare your experience and theory and reflect back on it.
Reflective Essay Writing Tips
- Use an outline for your daily entries.
- Make sure that you have become familiarized with the assignment and consider correct academic style.
- Your writing shouldn’t be too formal; write as you are telling your friends a story.
- Include evidence and interesting facts that you have discovered during classes or practice.
- Make sure that you have supported every moment that seemed unclear to you before.
- Your arguments and conclusions should be believable. Support them with arguments and examples.
How to Write a Good Reflective Statement
A reflection statement is a kind of reflective writing. Usually reflective statements are assigned after interactive orals, lectures, or presentations, and are aimed to describe what was learned. This type of writing is intended to ensure that students can construct their own analysis of received information and are able to clarify confusions that they may encounter at the workplace. Students are expected to be able to determine the usefulness of information and how it will improve their practical skills.
It is not a reflective statement if you:
- Describe only the information that you have learned.
- Don’t link the content to your professional skills.
- Don’t explain the depth of new knowledge to your current skills.
- Don’t mention how new skills will help you in your future workplace.
It is a reflective statement if you:
- Describe how studying relates to your future profession.
- Outline the method for your studying activity.
- State how the learning activity increased and improved your skills, knowledge, and attributes.
- Describe further learning that you need to cover along with new skills.
- Identify how your practice will change (or has already changed) due to the new skills and knowledge.
The length of a reflective statement is usually dependent on the tutor’s requirements and the type of learning activity that took place. Start with describing what you expected to learn, what you have learned, and your next steps and conclusions. If you have already applied some new skills in practice, it is advisable to cover them in the reflective statement too. Check one of the examples:
I attended the Wilton Smith Presentation on May 11, 2017 in San Francisco, CA, and it was a great experience. The presentation had four wonderful speakers that day. Dr. Bob Marley’s presentation was on the influence of medications on human health, while Dr. Barbara Green presented on how to provide emergency assistance. The final speaker impressed me the most—Dr. Anna Goldberg, who is the author of our current anatomy textbook. She had some great tips for consulting patients that I have started using in my practice. The tips really helped with the development of correct actions and the use of certain instruments for various situations.
Dr. Bob Marley’s presentation was the most helpful when it comes to the basics of a doctor’s practice. A great number of doctors who sincerely respect their patients and care for them do not know how to convey the attitude to their patients. The tips that he gave helped to learn the correct tone and establish proper contact with patients. Now most of my conversations with patients are easy, which makes the diagnosis more accurate. Doctors need to know how to talk, listen, show interest, and make decisions together with the patient.
By creating a peaceful atmosphere from the beginning the patients and doctor are going to save a lot of time for treatment rather than talking. I also use this technique with complex patients that need additional attention and a specific approach.
Exercises to Develop Reflective Writing
The goal: Reflect on everyday events from your life.
Content: For example, you can summarize the lesson, and discuss what you have learned and how you worked. You need to assess your contribution to the achievement of goals set at the beginning of the lesson, activity during the class, fascination, and usefulness of the selected forms of work. You can begin the sentence with such phrases:
- Today I learned…
- It was interesting…
- It was difficult…
- I was performing tasks…
- I realized that…
- Now I can…
- I felt that…
- I purchased…
- I learned…
- I managed …
- I was able to…
- I’ll try…
- I was surprised…
- The lesson gave me for life…
- I wanted…
This is a method of creative reflection which allows the evaluation of the studied concept, process, or phenomenon in creative form. Cinquain is connected with the Japanese short poems called haiku and tanka. It is a poem of five lines, which is built according to these rules:
- 1st line – theme or subject (one noun)
- 2nd line – description of the subject (two adjectives)
- 3rd line – description of the action (three verbs)
- 4th line – the phrase expressing the attitude to the subject
- 5th line – a synonym, generalizing or expanding the meaning of the topic or
thing (single word)
Compiling the cinquain, a brief summary based on a large amount of information, is useful for developing the ability to analyze.
“Plus – minus – interesting”
A reflection can be conducted orally, where students selectively express their opinion.
The column “+” records all the facts that caused positive emotions.
The column “-” records everything that remains incomprehensible.
In the column “interesting” students write out everything that they would like to know in more detail, and what they are interested in.
Reception of reflection “choice”
- Receiving an unfinished proposal, thesis, or selection of aphorism.
- Reflection on the achievement of the goal using the goal tree, assessing the “increment” of knowledge and achieving the goals (“I did not know before the…” “Now I know…”).
- The reception of the cinquain, which helps to clarify the attitude to the problem under study, to connect the old knowledge and understanding of the new.
The desire to learn is formed in the process of successful work on the material, therefore it is important to organize individual assistance in such a way that the student constantly feels progress is moving ahead. Experience has shown that often even a slight advancement inspires students, stimulates them to work more intensively, and increases interest in studies, and this ensures their successful mastering of the material. Individual work with students is first of all constant attention to each of them in the course of the lesson: during the interview of students, in the process of exposition and fixing of the material, as well as in explaining the homework.
Rene Descartes said: “It’s not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well.”