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How to Write a Reflective Essay: What, How, and Why

Thinking is what makes us human. Our intellect and cognitive skills allow us not only to memorize everything that happens to us, but also to realize the effects and consequences of these events.

Only human beings have the opportunity to understand the concepts, create theories, and make suggestions built on previous experiences and accumulated knowledge. These amazing skills can be trained and improved when you write reflective essays.

What Is a Reflective Essay: Definition

A reflective essay is a piece of writing which is aimed at describing and analyzing personal experiences. When you compose a reflective essay, you should explain to your readers how a particular event or series of events has changed your personality or worldview.

You may analyze an event that has influenced your beliefs, helped you to look at some issue from a different perspective, or broadened your emotional and intellectual horizons.

We recommend you to pick one of the following topics for your reflective essay:

  • real-life event
  • imagined experience
  • interaction with a special place or object
  • person
  • literary work or movie

Remember that in your reflective essay, you shouldn’t simply describe the event or experience, but provide a deep analysis of how this experience has influenced your personality and worldview.

Why Write Reflective Essays?

No matter under what circumstances you write a reflective essay, the general goal will be the same: to dig deeper and to understand how your experience has influenced your life and inner world.

If you write a reflective essay for yourself, it may be considered a form of a diary. This kind of writing has a therapeutic effect and helps you to structure your thoughts and process your feelings.

If you’re assigned to write a reflective essay for college, your instructor wants you to think critically about a particular course or specific learning experience. You may also be assigned to write a reflective essay after you read a book or watch a movie. This type of essay allows your teacher to understand your perspective and perceive your point of view.

How to Start a Reflective Essay: Preparatory Work

As a rule, when you write a reflective essay, you don’t have to pick a topic. If you write it for yourself, you already know what event you’d like to perpetuate in written form. If you’re assigned to compose a reflective essay for academic purposes, your instructor will take care of your topic.

So, the first thing you should do is answer some questions that will help you look at your experience from various perspectives and see the whole picture. You may make a list by yourself or use our collection:

  • What do you feel when you think about this experience?
  • How can you use the acquired skills in your daily life, studies, or career?
  • What would you change in this experience if you had the opportunity to go back in time?
  • What was your motivation to behave in that particular way?
  • Was this experience positive or negative?
  • Are you satisfied with the result? Why or why not?
  • Has this experience contributed to your personal growth or not? How exactly?
  • Were you surprised/annoyed by the results?
  • Was this experience unique?
  • How is this event similar to something else that has happened to you?
  • If you told a story about this experience, what would you mention in the first place?
  • Was this event typical to your life?
  • Was this event emotionally difficult? Why?
  • Has this experience challenged your beliefs? In what way?
  • Would you like to repeat this experience?

The answers to these questions can serve as a basis for your reflective essay outline. You should pick the answers that you consider to be the most important for your writing and put them in a particular order.

Reflective Essay Format

The reflective essay format has no particular rules or structure to follow. However, we recommend you to stick to a classical essay structure, especially if you are writing a reflective essay for the first time.

We’ve made detailed instructions about each part of the reflective essay so you may learn how to write a reflective essay step by step.

How to Write a Reflective Essay: Introduction

The first paragraph of the reflective essay is aimed at drawing the readers into the story. Your purpose and the main idea might be blurry, but if you provide a reflective essay for an academic assignment, then your “directions” should be direct.

First of all, give your readers some background information that you consider to be crucial for the overall understanding. Then, define your purpose clearly – both for yourself and for your readers. Finally, provide a concise and clear thesis statement.

Your thesis statement establishes the entire structure of your essay and may serve as a compass for your writing process. It also gives the overall focus for your readers.

Although the introduction is an important part of your work, it shouldn’t be more than 15% of the whole text.

How to Write a Reflective Essay: Main Body

The next part of the reflective essay format is the body, where readers are made to understand the writer’s ideas on the essay topic. The main part of your text should be divided into paragraphs.

Each paragraph develops one idea so that your readers can simply follow your thoughts. It consists of three elements: topic sentences, examples and supporting details, and a sub-conclusion.

In the main body, you not only share the changes that have happened to you, but also tell how you feel about these changes.

How to Write a Reflective Essay: Conclusion

Your conclusion shouldn’t include any new facts or information. You should simply restate your thesis statement and your sub-conclusions. Summarize your ideas and give your readers the feeling of completeness.

The only new information you might include in your conclusion are predictions on how this experience will influence your life in the long run and flashbacks about your worldview or beliefs before this experience.

We’ve told you pretty much everything about the structure of the reflective essay. Now’s the right time to make your sample even better with our helpful tips!

Reflective Essay Format: Quick-Fire Tips

The devil is in the details, isn’t it? Small nuances and little things make your writing unique and exciting. We don’t insist on using ALL of these tips, but you should 100% take them into consideration for your future writing assignments.

1. The first-person narrative

Reflective essays are about YOUR experiences and YOUR feelings. Don’t be afraid of using the words “I,” “my,” and “mine.” Let your readers look at the world through your eyes.

2. Specific words

Abstract concepts are really hard to imagine, and each person has his or her own understanding of such words as “good,” “pleasant,” and “stressful.” Add specific words that can create understandable images in the minds of your readers to help them create a full picture of your experience.

3. Pick your wording carefully

Make sure that your expressions don’t confuse your readers if you are writing your reflective essay for the general public. Temper your artistic ambitions and try to make your essay understandable not only for you.

4. Be honest

Lying makes no sense when it comes to reflective essays. In fact, hiding your thoughts or emotions will only hurt. The main purpose of reflection is to process your feelings and structure your thoughts, so you should be honest both with yourself and with your readers.

5. Don’t copy

You have to provide reflection on your own thinking. In contrast with other essay types, a reflective essay is based exclusively on your feelings and ideas. Don’t use any secondary sources! However, you might read a few reflective essay examples to get a better understanding of this genre.

We hope that our guide on how to write a reflective essay has given you enough information, and now you can get to work.

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