If you’re not quite sure how to go about writing reflective essays, they can be a real stumbling block. Reflective essays are essentially a critical examination of a life experience, and with the right guidance, they don’t have to be too difficult to write. As with other essays, a reflective essay needs to be well structured and easily understood, but its content is more like a diary entry.
This guide discusses how to write a successful reflective essay, including what makes a great structure and some tips on the writing process. To make this guide the ultimate guide for anyone who needs help with reflective essays, we’ve included an example reflective essay as well.
Reflective essays require students to examine their life experiences, especially those which left an impact.
The purpose of writing a reflective essay is to challenge students to think deeply and to learn from their experiences. This is done by describing their thoughts and feelings regarding a certain experience and analyzing its impact.
During a reflective essay, the writer examines his or her own experiences, hence the term ‘reflection’. The purpose of a reflective essay is to allow the author to recount a particular life experience. However, it should also explore how he or she has changed or grown as a result of the experience.
The format of reflective writing can vary, but you’ll most likely see it in the form of a learning log or diary entry. The author’s diary entries demonstrate how the author’s thoughts have developed and evolved over the course of a particular period of time.
The format of a reflective essay can vary depending on the intended audience. A reflective essay might be academic or part of a broader piece of writing for a magazine, for example.
While the format for class assignments may vary, the purpose generally remains the same: tutors want students to think deeply and critically about a particular learning experience. Here are some examples of reflective essay formats you may need to write:
Focusing on personal growth:
Tutors often use this type of paper to help students develop their ability to analyze their personal life experiences so that they can grow and develop emotionally. As a result of the essay, the student gains a better understanding of themselves and their behaviors.
Taking a closer look at the literature:
The purpose of this type of essay is for students to summarize the literature, after which it is applied to their own experiences.
What am I supposed to write about?
When deciding on the content of your reflective essay, you need to keep in mind that it is highly personal and is intended to engage the reader. Reflective essays are much more than just recounting a story. As you reflect on your experience (more on this later), you will need to demonstrate how it influenced your subsequent behavior and how your life has consequently changed.
Start by thinking about some important experiences in your life that have had a profound impact on you, either positively or negatively. A reflection essay topic could be a real-life experience, an imagined experience, a special object or place, a person who influenced you, or something you’ve seen or read.
If you are asked to write a reflective essay for an academic assignment, it is likely that you will be asked to focus on a particular episode – such as a time when you had to make an influential decision – and explain the results. In a reflective essay, the aftermath of the experience is especially significant; miss this out and you will simply be telling a story.
In this type of essay, the reflective process is at the core, so it’s important that you get it right from the beginning. Think deeply about how the experience you have chosen to focus on impacted or changed you. Consider the implications for you on a personal level based on your memories and feelings.
Once you have chosen the topic of your essay, it is imperative that you spend a lot of time thinking about it and studying it thoroughly. Write down everything you remember about it, describing it as clearly and completely as you can. Use your five senses to describe your experience, and be sure to use adjectives. During this stage, you can simply take notes using short phrases, but make sure to record your reactions, perceptions, and experiences.
As soon as you’ve emptied your memory, you should begin reflecting. Choosing some reflection questions that will help you think deeply about the impact and lasting effects of your experience is a helpful way to do this. Here are some suggestions:
- As a result of the experience, what have you learned about yourself?
- What have you developed as a result? How?
- Has it had a positive or negative impact on your life?
- Looking back, what would you do differently?
- If you could go back, what would you do differently? Did you make the right decisions?
- How would you describe the experience in general? What did you learn from the experience? What skills or perspectives did you acquire?
You can use these signpost questions to kick-start your reflective process. Remember that asking yourself lots of questions is crucial to ensuring that you think deeply and critically about your experiences – a skill at the heart of a great reflective essay.
Use models of reflection (like the Gibbs or Kolb cycles) before, during, and after the learning process to ensure that you maintain a high standard of analysis. Before you get to the nitty-gritty of the process, consider questions such as: what might happen (in regards to the experience)?
Will there be any challenges? What knowledge will be needed to best prepare? When you are planning and writing, these questions may be helpful: what is happening within the learning process? Has everything worked according to plan? How am I handling the challenges that come with it?
Do you need to do anything else to ensure that the learning process is successful? Is there anything I can learn from this? Using a framework like this will enable you to keep track of the reflective process that should guide your work.
Here’s a useful tip: no matter how well prepared you feel with all that time spent reflecting in your arsenal, don’t start writing your essay until you have developed a comprehensive, well-rounded plan. There will be so much more coherence in what you write, your ideas will be expressed with structure and clarity, and your essay will probably receive higher marks as a result.
It’s especially important when writing a reflective essay as it’s possible for people to get a little ‘lost’ or disorganized as they recount their own experiences in an erratic and often unsystematic manner since it’s an incredibly personal topic. But if you outline thoroughly (this is the same thing as a ‘plan’) and adhere to it like Christopher Columbus adhered to a map, you should be fine as you embark on the ultimate step of writing your essay. We’ve summarized the benefits of creating a detailed essay outline below if you’re still not convinced of the value of planning:
An outline can help you identify all the details you plan to include in your essay, allowing you to remove all superfluous details so that your essay is concise and to the point.
Think of the outline as a map – you plan in advance which points you will navigate through and discuss in your writing. You will more likely have a clear line of thought, making your work easier to understand. You’ll be less likely to miss out on any pertinent details, and you won’t have to go back at the end and try to fit them in.
This is a real-time-saver! When you use the outline as an essay’s skeleton, you’ll save a tremendous amount of time when writing because you’ll know exactly what you want to say. Due to this, you will be able to devote more time to editing the paper and ensuring it meets high standards.
As you now know the advantages of using an outline for your reflective essay, it is important that you know how to create one. There can be significant differences between it and other typical essay outlines, mostly due to the varying topics. As always, you need to begin your outline by drafting the introduction, body, and conclusion. We will discuss this in more detail below.
Your reflective essay must begin with an introduction that contains both a hook and a thesis statement. The goal of a ‘hook’ is to capture the attention of your audience or reader from the very beginning. In the first paragraph of your story, you should convey the exciting aspects of your story so that you can succeed in
If you think about the opening quote of this article, did it grab your attention and make you want to read more? This thesis statement summarizes the essay’s focus, which in this case is a particular experience that left a lasting impression on you. Give a quick overview of your experience – don’t give too much information away or you’ll lose readers’ interest.
Reflection Essay Structure
A reflective essay differs greatly from an argumentative or research paper in its format. Reflective essays are more like well-structured stories or diary entries that are rife with insights and reflections. Your essay may need to be formatted according to the APA style or MLA style.
In general, the length of a reflection paper varies between 300 and 700 words, but it is a good idea to check with your instructor or employer about the word count. Even though this is an essay about you, you should try to avoid using too much informal language.
The following shortcuts can help you format your paper according to APA or MLA style if your instructor asks:
MLA Format for Reflective Essay
- Times New Roman 12 pt font double spaced;
- 1” margins;
- The top right includes the last name and page number on every page;
- Titles are centered;
- The header should include your name, your professor’s name, course number, and the date (dd/mm/yy);
- The last page contains a Works Cited list.
Reflective Essay in APA Style
- Times New Roman 12 pt font double spaced;
- 1” margins;
- Include a page header on the top of every page;
- Insert page number on the right;
- Your reflective essay should be divided into four parts: Title Page, Abstract, Main Body, and References.
Reflective Essay Outline
Look at your brainstorming table to start organizing your reflective essay. ‘Past experience’ and ‘description’ should make up less than 10% of your essay.
You should include the following in your introduction:
- Grab the reader’s attention with a short preview of what you’ll be writing about.
Example: We found Buffy head-to-toe covered in tar, starved and fur in patches, under an abandoned garbage truck.
- It is important to include ‘past experiences’ in a reflective essay thesis statement; a brief description of what the essay is about.
Example: My summer volunteering experience at the animal shelter inspired me to pursue this type of work in the future.
Chronological events are the best way to explain the structure of body paragraphs. Respond to the bold questions in the ‘reflection’ section of the table to create a linear storyline.
Here’s an example of what the body paragraph outline should look like:
- Explicit expectations about the shelter
Example: I thought it was going to be boring and mundane.
- The first impression
- Experience at the shelter
Example: Finding and rescuing Buffy.
- Other experiences with rescuing animals
Example: Newly found passion and feelings toward the work.
- A newly developed mindset
Example: How your thoughts about animal treatment have changed.
Here’s How You Can Submit a Well-Written Reflective Essay for University
Even though writing a reflective essay may seem difficult at first, once you have a clear idea of what you will write and more importantly, how to write, it often gets easier as you go along. Here are five key writing tips to keep in mind when writing a reflective essay.
Choosing a Topic for Reflection
As a busy student, when was the last time you drowned yourself in thoughts and reflected on past experiences? Here is an assignment that intentionally puts you in that position.
Think about all of the experiences which have shaped you – a life-changing event, an interaction with someone you admire, a movie character that appealed to you, a book that gave you perspective, or any other experience which contributed to your character or thought process.
You should choose a topic that will help you reflect on your growth as an individual. Start brainstorming and record every idea that comes to mind.
Organize your thoughts in a mind map
The next step is to create a mind map to help you organize your essay once you have a rough idea of what you want to write.
You can use your mind map to quiz yourself by asking questions of relevance and putting together perspectives for your essay.
The purpose of this exercise is to give you an idea of what you want your essay to be about. It is important to keep pushing yourself to think more deeply and find meaning in your experiences in order to create a successful reflective essay.
From becoming a Writer Today, here are some tips on using mind maps to write better and faster
Sometimes, all you have to do is start writing. Essentially, that’s what freewriting is all about.
After brainstorming, creating a mind map, and organizing your thoughts, open a blank document and start writing. Do not stop to think or to edit – just write as your thoughts come to you.
The best part of freewriting is that it results in a steady flow of ideas you may not have thought of otherwise.
In other words, whether or not you’re motivated to write or are constantly second-guessing your ideas, it helps to let your ideas guide you and put them down on paper.
Structure the Essay
It’s time to put your ideas and thoughts into words and give them a proper structure. A reflective essay should have the following parts:
You should begin your essay with a hook to grab the reader’s attention. While setting the tone for the rest of the essay, your thesis statement should introduce the past experience you will be reflecting on;
In this section, you will elaborate on the experience and its significance, as well as its impact on your life. Avoid rambling on and on about the experience for readers to want to read more of your essay, you need to use your storytelling skills. If you can, use examples to strengthen your narrative;
A summary of your reflections is provided in the concluding paragraph. In your essay, you should describe how the experience shaped your life and how you intend to take your learnings and apply them.
Proofread, Proofread and Proofread
Be sure to proofread your reflective essay before submitting it. Before finalizing it, you need to do thorough proofreading. You will be surprised to see how many silly mistakes are made in the first draft.
Be on the lookout for grammatical, spelling, and sentence formation mistakes. Make sure your essay flows well and avoids plagiarism. If you want a fresh set of eyes on your essay, have a family member or friend read it too.
Reflective Essay Topics
Many students find choosing the right topic for a reflective essay difficult. Writing a reflective essay requires creativity and strong writing skills to express your emotions.
Reflective essays can be inspired by nature, places, relationships, and events. Here are some tips that will help you choose the right essay topic.
- Decide on a topic idea for your reflective essay that you are familiar with. You will find it easier to write an essay about a topic you are interested in. Never choose a topic that is new to you. This makes the writing phase difficult.
- Research your topic: Try to recollect minor details about it. Remember all the things that are related to your topic, and include them in your essay. Take notes about your topic.
- Pick a topic that you can explain from a unique viewpoint: Choose a topic that you can explain from a different perspective. Writing something unique that demonstrates your personality in an interesting way is a good technique. Share a memorable and meaningful experience from your life.
Topics for Reflective Essays for Middle School Students
Essay topics can be difficult to choose for some students. The following list of topics can be classified according to grade level. Pick from them and make topic selection easier.
Topics for Reflective Essays in Grade 7
- Taking a trip
- To go scuba diving
- Within your hometown
- Was something you were proud of
- Even when you were lost
- To your favorite cartoon
- During that time you lied
- When you were hunting
- Did your family play an important role in your life?
- Spending time outdoors
Topics for Reflective Essays in Grade 8
- Running in the outdoors
- While picking berries
- Will be your biggest loss
- Who is your biggest inspiration?
- What is your greatest fear?
- Tell me about your most exciting moment.
- What is your least favorite course?
- When you go on a date
- To a birthday party
- Which is your favorite online space?
Topics for Reflective Essays in Grade 9
- A new school
- Makes me think about the future.
- You participated in or watched a sporting event.
- You moved to a new city.
- You had an unforgettable dream.
- You were running and hunting.
- You cannot forget that dream.
- It was your childhood home.
- Watching the sunrise
- An award ceremony
Topics for Reflective Essays in Grade 10
- Defending someone in a situation
- While playing with friends
- It was a memorable dream
- About lying and hiding
- The most recent meal
- While getting lost in the dark
- As an intern at a hospital
- Or when someone’s life inspired you to change your own
- Challenges as a college freshman
- By participating in sports
Topics for Reflective Essays for College Students
For college students, the most difficult part of writing a reflective essay is choosing a topic. Some students are better at choosing the essay topic than others, but some will get stuck in this phase.
Here are some excellent reflective essay topics for college students for your convenience. Choose one and write a well-written essay.
- First time writing a thesis statement
- Your favorite video game
- The impact of social media on students
- A place you always try to avoid
- What was the best birthday memory you had?
- What is your favorite restaurant?
- The moment when you were proud of yourself
- The bravest moment of your life
- The most beautiful thing you have ever seen
- A time you were embarrassed
Topics for Reflective Essays for High School Students
The choice of a topic for a reflective essay can be confusing for high school students. Your topic should be engaging and you should be able to explain your personal experience easily. Here is a list of good topics for high school students; choose something from the list for your essay.
- Shop at your favorite outlet store
- To relive your favorite childhood memory
- Of the most memorable holiday
- That scared you?
- That’s when you met your best friend
- And what you love about yourself
- Is playing with friends.
- What’s your favorite book?
- I loved playing in the mud as a kid.
- Having to move to a new town or city
Topics for Reflective Essays about Places
Reflective essays should be based on strong emotions and memories. You could write an essay about a day spent at your favorite café, favorite restaurant, etc.
It is easy to write a reflective essay about a place where you have really good memories. Here are some topic ideas that you can use and write an essay on.
- Your grandparents’ house
- A skating rink
- A place where you feel safe
- A favorite vacation spot
- A popular lunch spot
- On your first day at the circus
- The mall or your favorite store
- Your first trip abroad
- Best park in your town
- Your most memorable adventure
Topics for Reflective Essays about Events
A good way to grab the reader’s attention is to write about any event. Your essay can be about a birthday party, a farewell, or any other event that you have enough information about.
If you are writing a reflective essay about an event, include vivid details. Here are some interesting topics for reflection essays, choose one and write a good essay.
- Unexpected gift
- To travel on vacation
- While you were lost
- The first time you voted
- On your trip to the zoo
- When you got a new job
- It was one of your most memorable trips
- During the holiday season
- When you moved to a new city
- Or when you swam fishing
Topics for Reflective Essays on Nature
A reflective essay should provide the reader with a deeper and more meaningful experience. In addition to making your writing process more interesting, writing about nature also stimulates your imagination.
The following are some good reflective essay topics about nature:
- Mountain climbing
- Ocean diving
- Hiking in the woods
- Climbing rocks
- And watching the sunset
- While running in the forest.
- Spending quality time with your pet.
- Taking a hike in the woods
- And going swimming
- While watching animals at a zoo
Topics for reflection on relationships
As relationships are filled with strong emotions, writing a reflective essay about them means expressing those emotions. The following are some good reflective essay topics about relationships:
- A wonderful family reunion
- When you spoke publicly for the first time
- What friendship means to me
- When you were punished by your parents
- During a family reunion
- When you apologized
- For a time you spent with friends without parental supervision
- Tell me about your relationship with a family member
- An angry conversation
- Or a genuinely funny laugh
Some reflective essay topics are the same as some of the questions you may ask in a job interview.
Examples of Reflective Essay
Check out some examples for inspiration now that you know what it takes to write a reflective essay.
An Example of a Reflective Essay on “My Little Brother”
Essay example reflecting on the arrival of a younger sibling, written at a middle or high school level.
“There have been many life-changing experiences in my short life. Every new experience has been the first experience at one point in time. For good or for bad, each event altered the course of my life. But, the most transformative event was the birth of my youngest brother.”.
Joel is someone my parents often refer to as a happy accident. My mother became pregnant when I was 13 and my other brother, Jake, was 10. We were what you would call a well-rounded family of four. In almost every way, we fit the ideal classification. My youngest brother’s striking blue eyes were the moment when we realized what we were missing.
Honestly, I resented having another sibling. It wasn’t necessary to add to our family, and my mother, already 38 at the time, was considered high risk because of her age. A pregnancy full of complications sent my life on a rollercoaster-like ride that my 13-year-old mind could not comprehend. Now I can see how forging through those loops helped me cope with the unforeseen challenges of life.
My mother took me to the hospital instead of my father on the day Joel was born. I was the next best alternative because Jake and my father were both feverish; it wasn’t a planned move. With each contraction, I gained a new appreciation for just how strong and powerful a woman could be at her weakest. Through holding her hand and feeding her ice chips, I gained a connection with my mother that I didn’t realize we lacked.
Almost simultaneously, my new baby brother entered this world. One doesn’t realize how much you need something until it’s sitting in your lap. Secondly, my life after this moment would never be the same the moment he curled his chubby little finger around mine, I understood the meaning of the words “happy accident.”.y.
Life has given me many experiences that have shaped me as a person. But, nothing so profoundly changed my views and outlook on life as the birth of my youngest brother. Joel’s arrival was a life-altering event that caused me to see the world through new eyes.”
Reflective Essay Example for “Reading My Favorite Book”
This reflective essay example about a favorite book is something you might find at the middle or high school level.
When it comes to books, I don’t understand the appeal. Every time I was given an assignment, I would read one after another, not understanding what all the fuss was about. Nevertheless, the moment I read Pride and Prejudice, it was as if my literary eyes were opened for the first time. It stirred love within me for classics I didn’t realize could exist.
When I was first given the assignment of reading Pride and Prejudice, like many of my friends, I scoffed. With an eye roll, I internally calculated how much time I would have to read the book and write a report. I sighed at the loss of time with my friends for a stupid classic.
Cracking open the cover, I was determined to hate it before even reading the first words. By the time I reached page 3, I nearly stopped reading. But there was something about Elizabeth Bennet that quietly piqued my interest. I can’t say where, but somewhere along the way, my eyes devoured the pages instead of trudging along.
The moment I reached the end, I was ecstatic and disappointed at the same time. Their ending had been perfect, but I realized I would miss them. Not just them, but I would also miss being a part of their world.
It was the first time the characters of a story had affected me this way, so I tried to shake it off. However, after several days, that sadness carried me to the classics section of the school library. The moment I cracked open my next classic, my soul instantly felt more at ease, and I’ve never looked back.
I never thought I’d say a book changed me, but in this case, it’s true. The love I found in Pride and Prejudice introduced me to a beautiful world of classic literature I can’t imagine living without. Despite not reading Pride and Prejudice for a while, it will always be my favorite book.
In the conclusion of your reflective essay, you should focus on bringing your piece together. This will include 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 behaviors 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.
How do you start off a reflective essay?
As is the case with all essays, your reflective essay must begin with 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.
Can you say I in a reflective essay?
In your reflective essay, you should use the first person with terms like I, me, my, and mine. The essay is an account of something that actually happened to you as well as your thoughts on the event.
What is an example of a reflection?
Common examples include the reflection of light, sound, and water waves. The law of reflection says that for specular reflection the angle at which the wave is incident on the surface equals the angle at which it is reflected. Mirrors exhibit specular reflection.
How do you start the first paragraph of a reflective essay?
Describe the subject matter of the paper in more detail. Include one or two sentences after the first sentence in which you describe the basic features of whatever topic you will be discussing in your essay. Describe them in terms of your feelings, and how you felt and experienced whatever you are discussing.
How many paragraphs should a reflective essay have?
The number of paragraphs depends on the requested essay length. However, it is recommended to write at least three paragraphs in this part. In the body, present your main points, arguments, and examples. This is the part of an essay where you express all your main ideas, develop them, and express your feelings and emotions.
What are the three parts of a reflective essay?
However, some major elements go into a typical reflective essay: introduction, body, and conclusion.