Intro Reflective Essay Format
“Tasked with the overwhelming burden of writing my first ever reflective essay, I sat as still as a mouse as my fingers shakily hovered over the lifeless buttons of my laptop keyboard. Where would I begin? Where would I end? Thoughts frantically spasmed their way through my mind as I envisaged the treacherous journey on which I was about to embark.”
Reflective essays are those sorts of essays that seem oh so easy, and yet oh so hard to write, all at the same time. To put it simply, reflective essays constitute a critical examination of a life experience and with the right guidance, they aren’t very difficult to put together. A reflective essay is akin to a diary entry, except that others will be reading it so it needs to have a great deal of coherence and a good structure. In that regard, a reflective essay is much like any other essay out there.
In this guide, we explore in detail how to write a great reflective essay, including what makes a good structure and some advice on the writing process. We’ve even thrown in an example reflective essay to inspire you too, making this the ultimate guide for anyone needing reflective essay help.
In a reflective essay, a writer primarily examines his or her life experiences, hence the term ‘reflective’. The purpose of writing a reflective essay is to provide a platform for the author to not only recount a particular life experience, but to also explore how he or she has changed or learned from those experiences. Reflective writing can be presented in various formats, but you’ll most often see it in a learning log format or diary entry. Diary entries in particular are used to convey how the author’s thoughts have developed and evolved over the course of a particular period.
The format of a reflective essay may change depending on the target audience. Reflective essays can be academic, or may feature more broadly as a part of a general piece of writing for a magazine, for instance. For class assignments, while the presentation format can vary, the purpose generally remains the same: tutors aim to inspire students to think deeply and critically about a particular learning experience or set of experiences. Here are some typical examples of reflective essay formats that you may have to write:
A focus on personal growth:
A type of reflective essay often used by tutors as a strategy for helping students to learn how to analyse their personal life experiences to promote emotional growth and development. The essay gives the student a better understanding of both themselves and their behaviours.
A focus on the literature:
This kind of essay requires students to provide a summary of the literature, after which it is applied to the student’s own life experiences.
While the format of a reflective piece of writing may change, there is one element that will mostly remain the same, and that is the structure. You may be relieved to know that, much like any essay, a reflective essay is typically comprised of an introduction, body and conclusion.
What do I write about?
As you go about deciding on the content of your essay, you need to keep in mind that a reflective essay is highly personal and aimed at engaging the reader or target audience. And there’s much more to a reflective essay than just recounting a story. You need to be able to reflect (more on this later) on your experience by showing how it influenced your subsequent behaviours and how your life has been particularly changed as a result.
As a starting point, you might want to think about some important experiences in your life that have really impacted you, either positively, negatively, or both. Some typical reflection essay topics include: a real-life experience, an imagined experience, a special object or place, a person who had an influence on you, or something you have watched or read. If you are writing a reflective essay as part of an academic exercise, chances are your tutor will ask you to focus on a particular episode – such as a time when you had to make an important decision – and reflect on what the outcomes were. Note also, that the aftermath of the experience is especially important in a reflective essay; miss this out and you will simply be storytelling.
It sounds obvious, but the reflective process forms the core of writing this type of essay, so it’s important you get it right from the outset. You need to really think about how the personal experience you have chosen to focus on impacted or changed you. Use your memories and feelings of the experience to determine the implications for you on a personal level.
Once you’ve chosen the topic of your essay, it’s really important you study it thoroughly and spend a lot of time trying to think about it vividly. Write down everything you can remember about it, describing it as clearly and fully as you can. Keep your five senses in mind as you do this, and be sure to use adjectives to describe your experience. At this stage, you can simply make notes using short phrases, but you need to ensure that you’re recording your responses, perceptions, and your experience of the event(s).
Once you’ve successfully emptied the contents of your memory, you need to start reflecting. A great way to do this is to pick out some reflection questions which will help you think deeper about the impact and lasting effects of your experience. Here are some useful questions that you can consider:
– What have you learned about yourself as a result of the experience?
– Have you developed because of it? How?
– Did it have any positive or negative bearing on your life?
– Looking back, what would you have done differently?
– Why do you think you made the particular choices that you did? Do you think these were the right choices?
– What are your thoughts on the experience in general? Was it a useful learning experience? What specific skills or perspectives did you acquire as a result?
These signpost questions should help kick-start your reflective process. Remember, asking yourself lots of questions is key to ensuring that you think deeply and critically about your experiences – a skill that is at the heart of writing a great reflective essay.
Consider using models of reflection before, during, and after the learning process to ensure that you maintain a high standard of analysis. For example, before you really get stuck into the process, consider questions such as: what might happen (regarding the experience)? Are there any possible challenges to keep in mind? What knowledge is needed to be best prepared to approach the experience? Then, as you’re planning and writing, these questions may be useful: what is happening within the learning process? Is the process working out as expected? Am I dealing with the accompanying challenges successfully? Is there anything that needs to be done additionally to ensure that the learning process is successful? What am I learning from this? By adopting such a framework, you’ll be ensuring that you are keeping tabs on the reflective process that should underpin your work.
Here’s a very useful tip: although you may feel well prepared with all that time spent reflecting in your arsenal, do not, do NOT start writing your essay until you have worked out a comprehensive, well-rounded plan! Your writing will be so much more coherent, your ideas conveyed with structure and clarity, and your essay will likely achieve higher marks. This is an especially important step when you’re tackling a reflective essay – there can be a tendency for people to get a little ‘lost’ or disorganised as they recount their life experiences in an erratic and often unsystematic manner. But if you develop a thorough outline (this is the same as a ‘plan’) and ensure you stick to it like Christopher Columbus to a map, you should do just fine as you embark on the ultimate step of writing your essay. If you need further convincing on how important planning is, we’ve summarised the key benefits of creating a detailed essay outline below:
An outline allows you to establish the basic details that you plan to incorporate into your paper – this is great for helping you pick out any superfluous information, which can be removed entirely to make your essay succinct and to the point.
Think of the outline as a map – you plan in advance the points you wish to navigate through and discuss in your writing. Your work will more likely have a clear through line of thought, making it easier for the reader to understand. It’ll also help you avoid missing out any key information, and having to go back at the end and try to fit it in.
It’s a real time-saver! Because the outline essentially serves as the essay’s ‘skeleton’, you’ll save a tremendous amount of time when writing as you’ll be really familiar with what you want to say. As such, you’ll be able to allocate more time to editing the paper and ensuring it’s of a high standard.
Now you’re familiar with the benefits of using an outline for your reflective essay, it is essential that you know how to craft one. It can be considerably different from other typical essay outlines, mostly because of the varying subjects. But what remains the same, is that you need to start your outline by drafting the introduction, body and conclusion. More on this below.
As is the case with all essays, your reflective essay must begin within 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. You must portray the exciting aspects of your story in the initial paragraph so that you stand the best chances of holding your reader’s interest. Refer back to the opening quote of this article – did it grab your attention and encourage you to read more? The thesis statement is a brief summary of the focus of the essay, which in this case is a particular experience that influenced you significantly. Remember to give a quick overview of your experience – don’t give too much information away or you risk your reader becoming disinterested.
Next up is planning the body of your essay. This can be the hardest part of the entire paper; it’s easy to waffle and repeat yourself both in the plan, and in the actual writing. Have you ever tried recounting a story to a friend only for them to tell you to ‘cut the long story short’? They key here is to put plenty of time and effort into planning the body, and you can draw on the following tips to help you do this well:
Try adopting a chronological approach. This means working through everything you want to touch upon as it happened in time. This kind of approach will ensure that your work is systematic and coherent. Keep in mind that a reflective essay doesn’t necessarily have to be linear, but working chronologically will prevent you from providing a haphazard recollection of your experience. Lay out the important elements of your experience in a timeline – this will then help you clearly see how to piece your narrative together.
Ensure the body of your reflective essay is well focused, and contains appropriate critique and reflection. The body should not only summarise your experience, it should explore the impact that the experience has had on your life, as well as the lessons that you have learned as a result. The emphasis should generally be on reflection as opposed to summation. A reflective posture will not only provide readers with insight on your experience, it’ll highlight your personality and your ability to deal with or adapt to particular situations.
In the conclusion of your reflective essay, you should focus on bringing your piece together by providing a summary of both the points made throughout, and what you have learned as a result. Try to include a few points on why and how your attitudes and behaviours have been changed. Consider also how your character and skills have been affected, for example: what conclusions can be drawn about your problem-solving skills? What can be concluded about your approach to specific situations? What might you do differently in similar situations in the future? What steps have you taken to consolidate everything that you have learned from your experience? Keep in mind that your tutor will be looking out for evidence of reflection at a very high standard.
Congratulations – you now have the tools to create a thorough and accurate plan which should put you in good stead for the ultimate phase indeed of any essay, the writing process.
Writing your essay
As with all written assignments, sitting down to put pen to paper (or more likely fingers to keyboard) can be daunting. But if you have put in the time and effort fleshing out a thorough plan, you should be well prepared, which will make the writing process as smooth as possible. The following points should also help ease the writing process:
– To get a feel for the tone and format in which your writing should be, read other typically reflective pieces in magazines and newspapers, for instance.
– Don’t think too much about how to start your first sentence or paragraph; just start writing and you can always come back later to edit anything you’re not keen on. Your first draft won’t necessarily be your best work but it’s important to remember that the earlier you start writing, the more time you will have to keep reworking your paper until it’s perfect. Don’t shy away from using a free-flow method, writing and recording your thoughts and feelings on your experiences as and when they come to mind. But make sure you stick to your plan. Your plan is your roadmap which will ensure your writing doesn’t meander too far off course.
– For every point you make about an experience or event, support it by describing how you were directly impacted, using specific as opposed to vague words to convey exactly how you felt.
– Write using the first-person narrative, ensuring that the tone of your essay is very personal and reflective of your character.
– If you need to, refer back to our notes earlier on creating an outline. As you work through your essay, present your thoughts systematically, remembering to focus on your key learning outcomes.
– Consider starting your introduction with a short anecdote or quote to grasp your readers’ attention, or other engaging techniques such as flashbacks.
– Choose your vocabulary carefully to properly convey your feelings and emotions. Remember that reflective writing has a descriptive component and so must have a wide range of adjectives to draw from. Avoid vague adjectives such as ‘okay’ or ‘nice’ as they don’t really offer much insight into your feelings and personality. Be more specific – this will make your writing more engaging.
– Be honest with your feelings and opinions. Remember that this is a reflective task, and is the one place you can freely admit – without any repercussions – that you failed at a particular task. When assessing your essay, your tutor will expect a deep level of reflection, not a simple review of your experiences and emotion. Showing deep reflection requires you to move beyond the descriptive. Be extremely critical about your experience and your response to it. In your evaluation and analysis, ensure that you make value judgements, incorporating ideas from outside the experience you had to guide your analysis. Remember that you can be honest about your feelings without writing in a direct way. Use words that work for you and are aligned with your personality.
– Once you’ve finished learning about and reflecting on your experience, consider asking yourself these questions: what did I particularly value from the experience and why? Looking back, how successful has the process been? Think about your opinions immediately after the experience and how they differ now, so that you can evaluate the difference between your immediate and current perceptions. Asking yourself such questions will help you achieve reflective writing effectively and efficiently.
– Don’t shy away from using a variety of punctuation. It helps keeps your writing dynamic! Doesn’t it?
– If you really want to awaken your reader’s imagination, you can use imagery to create a vivid picture of your experiences.
– Ensure that you highlight your turning point, or what we like to call your “Aha!” moment. Without this moment, your resulting feelings and thoughts aren’t as valid and your argument not as strong.
– Don’t forget to keep reiterating the lessons you have learned from your experience.
A further tip – using wider sources
Although a reflective piece of writing is focused on personal experience, it’s important you draw on other sources to demonstrate your understanding of your experience from a theoretical perspective. It’ll show a level of analysis – and a standard of reliability in what you’re claiming – if you’re also able to validate your work against other perspectives that you find. Think about possible sources, like newspapers, surveys, books and even journal articles. Generally, the additional sources you decide to include in your work are highly dependent on your field of study. Analysing a wide range of sources, will show that you have read widely on your subject area, that you have nuanced insight into the available literature on the subject of your essay, and that you have considered the broader implications of the literature for your essay. The incorporation of other sources into your essay also helps to show that you are aware of the multi-dimensional nature of both the learning and problem-solving process.
Example reflective essay
If you want some inspiration for writing, take a look at our example of a short reflective essay, which can serve as a useful starting point for you when you set out to write your own.
Some final notes to remember
To recap, the key to writing a reflective essay is demonstrating what lessons you have taken away from your experiences, and why and how you have been shaped by these lessons.
The reflective thinking process begins with you – you must consciously make an effort to identify and examine your own thoughts in relation to a particular experience. Don’t hesitate to explore any prior knowledge or experience of the topic, which will help you identify why you have formed certain opinions on the subject. Remember that central to reflective essay writing is the examination of your attitudes, assumptions and values, so be upfront about how you feel. Reflective writing can be quite therapeutic, helping you identify and clarify your strengths and weaknesses, particularly in terms of any knowledge gaps that you may have. It’s a pretty good way of improving your critical thinking skills, too. It enables you to adopt an introspective posture in analysing your experiences and how you learn/make sense of them.
If you are still having difficulties with starting the writing process, why not try mind-mapping which will help you to structure your thinking and ideas, enabling you to produce a coherent piece. Creating a mind map will ensure that your argument is written in a very systematic way that will be easy for your tutor to follow. Here’s a recap of the contents of this article, which also serves as a way to create a mind map:
1. Identify the topic you will be writing on.
2. Note down any ideas that are related to the topic and if you want to, try drawing a diagram to link together any topics, theories, and ideas.
3. Allow your ideas to flow freely, knowing that you will always have time to edit your work.
4. Consider how your ideas are connected to each other, then begin the writing process.
And finally, keep in mind that although there are descriptive elements in a reflective essay, we can’t emphasise enough how crucial it is that your work is critical, analytical, and adopts a reflective posture in terms of your experience and the lessons you have learned from it.
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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.
Table Of Contents
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
Essay Writing Advice From Our Professional Team
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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.