How To Write a Reflective Essay

When writing a reflective essay, it’s important to look beyond surface-level thoughts and feelings. Reflective writing requires writers to examine relevant life experiences and how an event caused a personal change— involving a deeper level of analytical reflection that involves facts on a subject and a non-biased point of view. The University World News notes how students benefit from reflective assignments as they can move away from being task-oriented. Instead, they take a more holistic and creative view, driving them to think critically and empathize with the world around them.

Given the importance of reflective essay writing, writers should learn the best ways to communicate effectively with their readers. Below we visit the traditional structure of a reflective essay and some tips to help with writing.

Structure of a reflective essay

Compared to a research paper or argumentative essay, a reflective essay is more of a structured story with insights. Almost all reflective essays are written in the first-person perspective. As our previous post “How to Write in the First Person Effectively” highlights, this writing style has subjective opinions, emotions, and experiences, which is appropriate for a reflective essay.

While reflections can be personal, it’s important to keep a formal tone and ensure proper organization. Here is how you can organize your essay flow:

  • Introduction– First, you need your reader to understand what is your central focal point of reflection. Emphasize the key idea through a thesis statement and briefly mention what will be covered in the essay. Make sure to keep the intro interesting and engaging.
  • Body– It’s best to structure your reflection as a linear storyline— starting with expectations, then experience, and ending with discoveries and your newfound mindset. Including anecdotes is good practice, as even news outlets like New York Times find them a great way to catch attention and share deeper insights.
  • Conclusion– Wrap up your ideas by summarizing them. You can go into detail about how you’ve developed from the experience and your plans for the future.

Steps to writing a reflective essay

Narrow down your essay topic

While some reflective essays may offer a writing prompt, writers must narrow it down for a more personal reflective essay. An article on how to write a reflective essay by Studocu recommends that you consider examples from your personal life that connect to your prompt, as you can use these details to reflect on the experiences and their impact on your life or subject at hand. You can start with a brain dump of generated ideas before highlighting topics that work with your current line of thought. A mind map can improve the recall of relevant information about each life experience. From this thought process, you can generate reflection questions to help you outline your essay.

Write your first draft

As mentioned above, reflection questions guide your thinking in the writing process. Common questions can include “What details did I notice while reflecting on this event?” or “How can I use this experience to help someone in a similar situation?” You can use your answers to drive the main flow of the essay body.

When working on your first draft, Entrepreneur editor Jonathan Small stresses the importance of focusing on writing without editing as this enables you to generate ideas that you may not have thought of otherwise. If you get bogged down by the details, you can waste more time than you should have taken.

Revise and improve your draft

Revisions are a critical part of writing, as writers need to check for voice, ideas, organization, word choice, and sentence fluency. If you have the time, you can save your editing for the next day for a fresher perspective. Since this is a reflection paper, it’s more about the content than having a specific correct answer.

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