How to Write a Reflective Essay

Writing a Reflective Essay

Main features of a reflective essay

Reflective writing is used when you have to think more deeply about ourselves, an experience we had, or some event which has taken place. Reflective essays do follow the basic structure of having an introduction, a conclusion, and several body paragraphs in the middle (normally essays have three to five body paragraphs), but they can be a little more flexible. Normally, the writing is more informal, since most reflective papers involve personal stories and experiences, but this can vary according to the writers.

Reflective writing is judged on the merits of how well the writers can communicate through it, as well as the actual events which took place; so writing is of top priority. Generally speaking, reflective essays can be divided into two separate areas:

  1. Personal writing which is where most of the details of the event come from
  2. Reflection itself which is where the writer will reflect on what has happened, how it has changed them, and how it has affected them/will affect them in the future

Reflective essays are unusual in the realm of academic papers in that they do not need to adhere quite so strictly to the logical progression which other papers have to. The nature of reflective essays and their subjects means that a more easy-going approach can be taken to the way in which the story is told.

How to start a reflective essay

Starting a reflective paper requires being very clear about what it is that will be discussed. When writing, everything should be made clear about this event, to help people understand it – what happened? When did it happen? Why did it happen? And so on to explain what happened.

How to write an outline

An outline does not need to be taken as set in stone, but it is good to have one to keep you right. Use this to write down your thesis statement, any details which seem particularly important/you don’t want to forget, and the order of paragraphs.

How to write a thesis statement

A thesis statement is the main point of research for your essay, which all the reflection comes back to. To write one, it is important to know what your main point is. Once you know what the main point of your paper is, find the best way to write it to ensure that people understand the subject.

How to write an introduction

The introduction is the best way to draw people into your story, so make sure the introduction is written well and clearly, to keep them reading. The introduction should be written clearly so that everyone knows what is going on, and should contain the thesis statement prominently.

How to write body paragraphs

Reflective essays normally contain around three to five body paragraphs each, with each one containing a separate piece of reflection for the paper as a whole. These body paragraphs need to be clearly written, to show any readers exactly what they are talking about. Each paragraph should only be concerned with one particular aspect of the reflection so that things don’t become confused, and also to allow for the greatest amount of discussion to take place.

Body paragraphs in reflective essays do not need to be completely logical in their progression – unlike other essay types – but there should still be something which links them together in a coherent manner, and keeps people reading through the paper.

Tips on body writing

  • Body paragraphs need to contain a topic sentence at the beginning to show people what to expect within the paragraph as a whole.
  • Body paragraphs need to end with a concluding sentence which leads readers smoothly into the next paragraph and idea.
  • All the writing should be as clear as possible, to make sure that the ideas you are trying to convey as a writer are coming across.
  • Body paragraphs should only be concerned with one idea – this keeps any confusion to a minimum and allows for the maximum discussion of each point
  • While five paragraphs are generally acceptable, there is nothing to say that a writer can’t write more if they want or need to.

How to finish a reflective essay

The conclusion for a reflective paper is extremely important, as it has to gather all the reflective work of the essay together, and also give a coherent end result for how the subject being reflected on has changed the writer. Conclusions need to be clear enough to handle all of this information, as well as coherent enough to show how it all naturally led to the final conclusion.

Conclusions should feature the thesis statement from the introduction, to remind everybody of the main reflective points which the essay is concerned with. It should also make sure to reiterate the circumstances which have led to the reflection, to allow their reader to reacquaint themselves with it if needs be.

Tips on conclusion writing

  • Make sure to include the thesis statement from the beginning of the introduction.
  • Make sure that the writing is clear and concise, and that all the ideas which have been reflected on within the essay are represented.
  • The conclusion is where the reflection which has been done in all of the body paragraphs is married to the personal circumstances which prompted it in the first place – make sure that this is acknowledged.
  • Make sure that the conclusions you come to are stated clearly.
  • Make sure that the conclusions make sense with what has been shared about your own personal circumstances.
  • Communication skills are as important (if not more so) as the validity of your ideas in a reflective essay; make sure that you have written the conclusion well.

Tips on revision

Revision is particularly important for this type of essay, as how you communicate your ideas is seen as more important than the ideas themselves. This type of writing is a more personal one, so it makes sense that communication would be valued.

Spelling and grammar is, of course, an important thing, so check and recheck your work in this area. Try and see if someone will read over your written essay for you – a fresh pair of eyes will possibly see things that you have missed. Over and above that though, make sure that you are talking as clearly as you can throughout your writing, in order to show that you can present ideas coherently and in their best light.

  • Make sure you know which formatting rules you are following – this can catch everybody out.
  • Make sure that your writing follows a good progression – there may be more wiggle room allowed in a reflective essay than in other kinds, but there does have to be some connection between paragraphs.
  • Check that the thesis statement in each case it appears is clearly stated and noticeable.
  • Make sure that what you promise in your introduction appears in some form during the paper.
  • The conclusion and the introduction should both include some personal details which are required to understand the essay as a whole.

Reflective essay sample

When I was ten, I had a bad accident and ended up in a wheelchair briefly. Though I did get better, I feel like it changed the way I saw the world in certain ways, including how I viewed my own place in it. In this essay, I hope to explore how exactly I was changed, and how that made me the person I am today. At the time of my accident, I was more or less completely normal, and I was even more outgoing than some of the people I knew. Today, it is a struggle to socialise, even sometimes with my own friends.

My accident opened my eyes to the way I was being treated. While I could walk beforehand, many people still treated me differently, because I did not act like them. The accident only highlighted this divide which lay between us all, and showed me that it would never change.

The accident I had when I was ten was something which changed the way I saw things. Being in a wheelchair, however briefly, showed me the divide which many people saw between who they were, and who I was. This essay was an attempt to see how the accident changed me into the person I was. I believe that, ultimately, the accident shook my confidence that eventually I would manage to become equal to my peers, and was the start of a series of events which convinced me to stop trying.

This is obviously the bare bones of an essay, but hopefully, you will be able to see how the reflective essay could work.

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