A reflective essay is a type of writing in which you (the author) interact with an audience and describe some moment or experience from your life. This “experience’ explores personal ideas, feelings, and opinions about the event and how it affected you.
Reflective writing allows an author to:
- Analyze and draw conclusions about what they have read, heard, or seen;
- Make connections between the text and themselves, or other texts and the world;
- Think about what they have learned and how they can or will use the newly acquired information;
- Write subjectively (from their point of view); Identify areas for further reading.
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Writing A Reflective Essay
Reflection essays are usually requested by professors or teachers, as they allow you to share your experience about an article, lesson, or lecture. Reflections are very personal and subjective, but they must maintain a formal tone and should be well organized.
If you are reflecting on a certain text, annotate your initial emotions and thoughts while reading it. If you are writing about yourself or an event in your life, brainstorm by making a chart with three columns: past experiences, description, and reflection. This table should help you brainstorm and structure the introduction and the body of your essay.
Example: You are writing about your experience at an animal shelter.
Personal Reflective Essay
Personal reflective essays are papers that reflect your personality, your experiences, and your influences. Ultimately, they help the reader of your paper get to know you. Unlike other types essays that you’ve written before, they do not rely on facts or research. Instead, they are focused on you. Application essays or job resumes are, in a way, reflective essays too. One thing that separates a good essay from a bad one is organization; thus, start by building an outline.
The format of a reflective essay greatly differs from normal argumentative or research essays. A reflective essay is more of a well-structured story or a diary entry. An essay in APA format or MLA format is only applicable when it comes with an external text that you are reflecting upon. The typical reflection essay length will vary between 300 and 700 words
- Ask your instructor about word length to make sure you follow the instructions.
Here, it is important to avoid the academic style of writing. Stick to your feelings and original ideas. This essay is about you, not about the text. If your instructor asks you to format your paper in APA or MLA style, here are a few shorthands:
To start organizing your reflective essay, take a look at your brainstorming table. The ‘past experience’ and ‘description’ should constitute less than 10% of your essay. Limit listing events and tell events as little as possible. Instead, show the events in your reflection.
Your introduction should consist of:
- The hook: grab the reader's attention in a short preview of what you’ll be writing about.
- The reflective essay thesis statement should include that ‘past experience’ information; a brief statement of what your essay is going to be about.
- The structure of body paragraphs is best discussed in chronological events. Answer the bold questions in the ‘reflection’ section of the table; this should naturally create a linear storyline. No matter what you’re writing your essay about.
The body paragraph outline should look something like this:
- Expectation about the shelter
- First impression
- Expectations: "Thought it was going to be boring and mundane"
- Working experience
- Finding and rescuing Buffy
- Other experiences with rescuing animals
- Newly found passion and feelings toward the work
- A newly developed mindset about animal treatment
Must wrap your ideas up and demonstrate development. Feelings newly found discoveries, and most importantly, plans for the future are important factors of the conclusion.
Example: Buffy’s case inspired me to pursue a career as a veterinarian, hopefully, one day working in an animal shelter.
Ideas And Topics
The reflective essay is probably the one essay you can’t borrow a topic for, because the essay should be about your own experiences. However, here are some prompts to help you begin:
- An experience you can’t forget.
- Time you overcame a fear.
- The most difficult choice you had to make.
- A time your beliefs were challenged.
- Have you ever discovered something life-changing?
- The happiest moment or the most frightening moment of your life that far.
- What can people do to improve the quality of the world?
- Name a time you felt lost.
- Are you always making the right choice? Can you think of time you made a 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 3 parts.
- In the first column, write key experiences or the main points. You can grade them from most to least important.
- In the second column, list your personal response to the points you have stated in the first column.
- In the third column, write how much of your response to share in the essay.
How You Write
Watch what you are writing
A reflective paper is a very personal type of writing because it includes your feelings and opinions about something. Before including something in your paper, ask yourself is this information appropriate to include or not?
- If you feel uncomfortable about something personal, avoid including it in your essay, or write about this issue in more general terms.
Even though a reflection paper is personal, you should keep your mind organized.
AVOID SLANG: Use only correct spelling and grammar. Abbreviations like “LOL”, “OMG” or “ROFL” should be avoided in professional custom writing.
This is your story, so there is no need to drag someone else into your custom essay. Even if this person made the experience you are going to talk about, you must maintain professionalism and describe the actions, not the person. Additionally, you should frame those actions within the context of your writing.
Do Not Be Lazy
Review your paper sentence by sentence to eliminate all mistakes.
- Keep your sentences to the point. Avoid squeezing two thoughts into one sentence.
- Don’t leave sentences unfinished; make sure that all your sentences have a purpose.
Put The Cherry On Top Of Your cake
Use transitional phrases to shift between arguments and introduce specific details. The usage of transitions will make your paper look like it was written by essay writing service writers.
- The reflection provides the ‘big picture’ of the person’s experiences.
- The student interweaves information regarding specific artifacts and how these artifacts were beneficial. The student’s experience paints details that are unique.
- The reflection shows that the student has learned from their experience. Reflection reveals insight into personal goals
- Demonstrates an ability to reflect on own work and an adequate number of examples are provided.
- Reflection demonstrates personal perspective.
- The essay has no grammatical and spelling errors, is an overall organized paper.
- The reflection provides the pieces of the student’s experience. The essay is not written in a linear manner.
- The students essay consists of generalizations and is not unique or memorable.
- The reflection does not adequately demonstrate that the student has received knowledge from experience. The student does not state personal goals.
- The essay insufficiently reflects on own work.
- Reflection demonstrates universal perspective.
- The essay has many grammatical and spelling errors, the paper is incoherent.
Reflective Essay Example
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A reflective essay in middle school and earlier years of high school is typically not a serious type of essay. In your junior and senior years of high school, you will usually find that a more sophisticated format of the essay. The two most common places where you will be asked to write a reflective essay are college application papers and different kinds of reports (lab or otherwise) that require you to state your opinion, not just straight analysis. One thing that must be stressed is that an essay should demonstrate what the writer has learned. It also explains what things caused the author to change. A quick shortcut is to reflect on how you improved. In college application essays, you will want to know how to talk about what you learned from an event or experience.
A strong reflective writers will not only share the change but also give examples as supporting details. For example, if a writer discusses becoming more optimistic in life, then the writer would discuss how they took a positive approach and came out with a good outcome.
'We do not learn from experience...we learn from reflecting on experience.'
Reflective writing differs from other kinds of university writing that you may be more familiar with. Reflective writing is meant to encourage you to reveal your personal thoughts about your life experiences in relation to the content you are learning about in your units. Many assessment tasks at university ask for reflection. You may see instructions like:
- Write a reflective report on....
- Keep a reflective journal around.....
- Write a reflective essay on....
- Compile weekly reflective notes about...
What is reflective writing?
Reflection means taking some time to examine your own thoughts, beliefs, values, attitudes and assumptions about your understanding of a topic, a situation or a problem. When you reflect, think about your own experiences and knowledge and how you arrived at that understanding. Often our thinking has been shaped by the values of our family and culture, an embarrassing or uncomfortable situation, our religion, past teachers, newspapers, TV shows and so on. There is no absolute right or wrong way with reflective thinking. But the key questions in reflective thinking are how? and why? rather than what?
Reflective writing varies across disciplines which have particular ways of thinking about the world, and how to interpret the meanings of actions and things. In some disciplines, for example nursing and education, reflection is used to create knowledge and improve professional practice.
Lecturers may ask you to write reflectively for a range of reasons:
- To become an active learner by asking questions and thinking critically about your own ideas.
- To examine what you have learned and how you have learned it.
- To make connections, for example between what you already know and what you are learning, between theory and practice or between course content and personal experience.
- To indicate your understanding by identifying any questions you have, and what you have yet to learn.
- To learn from mistakes by identifying how you would do it differently next time and also to identify and accept what you could not change at the time.
- To encourage you to become a reflective practitioner in your future career. This is the key to life-long learning, growth and meaningful change.
How to write reflectively
It is important that you write reflectively according to your unit and discipline. Read your assessment carefully, and ask your lecturer for further guidance if you are not sure.
Writing reflectively can be assisted with some guiding questions:
- What happened during that event or experience? And why did it happen?
- What was my role in the event? And why did I adopt that particular role?
- What were my feelings during that experience? And why did I feel that way?
- What were my thoughts during that experience? And why did I think that way?
- How do I interpret what I experienced or observed?
- What might this experience mean in the context of my course?
- What other perspectives, theories or concepts could be applied to interpret the situation?
- How can I learn from this experience?
There are a number of reflection models you can use to help construct your writing. One useful reflection model is "The 4 Rs" which is outlined below. The 4Rs process is based on "Reflection-On-Action" - this means actions are analysed and re-framed after an event or observation, and potential solutions are developed. The process is designed to encourage you to address your ongoing learning from a number of standpoints, such as practical, cognitive and emotional, and from your own values, ethics and beliefs.
In the Report stage you describe, report or retell the key elements of what you have learnt, seen or experienced.
In the Relate stage you draw a relationship between your current personal or theoretical understandings and identify aspects of the observation that have a personal meaning or that connect with your experience.
In the Reason stage you explore the relationship between theory and practice and seek a deep understanding of why something has happened.
In the Reconstruct stage you discuss improvements that could be made or identify something you need or plan to do or change. You should be able to generalise and/or apply your learning to other contexts and your future professional practice. This might involve developing general principles, formulating personal theories of teaching or taking a stand or position on an issue.
Useful phrases for reflecting
When you write a reflection the reader will expect to learn about your personal experience, feelings, ideas and opinions. Use the first person (I, my, me).
Phrases below can be incorporated with your ideas to express:
- your experience of a situation
- personal reaction to an idea, opinion or person
- evaluation of an argument
- comparison with another idea
- comment on the worth of an idea
- identification of key issues
- how well you understood something
Try using these phrases:
- My experience of this leads me to believe/think/question…
- I think/feel/believe/hope/am convinced...
- I remember/recall...
- This was difficult/easy/frightening/exciting etc.
- I find this worrying/amusing/convenient etc.
- For me, this assertion is very difficult to agree with...
- I agree/do not agree with Smith (2013) when she argues that...
- Based on my personal beliefs and experiences…
- In my mind the key question/issue is…
- It had not occurred to me that …
Bain, JD, Ballantyne, R, Mills, C & Lester, NC 2002, Reflecting on practice: student teachers' perspectives, Post Pressed, Flaxton Qld.
Williams K, Woolliams, M, & Spiro, J 2012, Reflective writing, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.
University of N.S.W. - Reflective writing