When we are young, when faced with a writing a reflective essay, we may feel that we really don’t have much to reflect on. This is when you have to sit back and think about your short life and pull memories out like teeth.
You may have more memories than you think, but you are so busy living life that you never really reflected on them as having any importance once those times had passed.
Remember when you would come back to school after summer vacation and the first thing your English teacher always wanted was not only my math homework help that you had from a friend, but a story about what you did this past summer, well it is much like that when writing a reflective essay for your college English Professor.
The hardest part is selecting a reflective essay topic, but once you have found a good one your words will fly from your fingers onto the page with no problem. They are your personal memories and no one else can write them like you can.
Research and Gathering Info
Finding the Perfect Reflective Topic Ideas
The use of your research skills are what you will need to begin your search for reflective essay ideas.
After gathering your own thoughts, the next step you can take is interviewing your parents, friends, and relatives for more information. They are the people that can help you with this trip down memory lane.
This is a perfect time to call your parents, you know that you should have before this but that is okay, they will be glad to hear from you.
Were you active at your church, community center, or sit on activity councils at your school? Did you do an internship while in High School, or maybe volunteer at your local hospital. Get in touch with all of the people that you have worked with over the years and before you know it you will be compiling a list of topics and gathering ideas to choose from.
Many students have kept a journal throughout their time in elementary school right through to high school. If this is your case, there is so much info in them for you to glean from now to help you with your reflective essay topic.
Get your journals out and spend an afternoon slowly reading them. As you read them think of where you were then and where you are now.
If any of your entries make you laugh, write them down into an outline, also if there are any that bring tears to your eyes, put them in the outline also.
Another great resource for memories are any greeting cards that you have received over the years from your parents, aunts/ uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers. It’s amazing the feelings that come over you when taking this type of walk down memory lane.
Now that you have gathered the information you need for your reflective essay, now you need to get it all in order. This type of essay is not one that you just put down on paper, it has to have reasons for actions, and explanations of outcomes in your story.
In order to do this, you must organize your thoughts in an outline. This will put your paper in sections that are easily read. Writing an essay should always begin with research and then an outline so that you are not jumping all over the place with your ideas.
The one thing that many students fail to do when writing an essay is to reflect back on the previous paragraph while writing the next one. Cultivating this habit will give your writing the effect of seamless thought, and keep your reader engaged.
Use the following layout for organizing your research:
An Introduction- Begin with telling your audience about your topic and cultivate your thesis. Your thesis is one-two sentences introducing what your paper is about. It should include some back-story to get the reader interested.
Use a compelling incident
Use an amusing story
Express with full description a surprising or intriguing fact followed by a dramatic question.
Keep in mind that what you lead with has to be in synch with the material that follows. If you lead with a sobering statement, you cannot follow with outrageous emotion. Do not become instantly lighthearted and comical if you start off with a serious theme.
Tone in your introduction sets the stage for the rest of your paper, your audience is being set up in your introduction.
The body consist of a few paragraphs-
Paragraph I: The experience you are writing about and how it affected you
Paragraph II: Tell about how this experience made a difference to others around you
Paragraph III: What did you learn from the experience or get out of it
Your Conclusion: A conclusion is the claim that is already said in the body of your paragraphs, repeating some of the sentences here in the conclusion wraps everything up nicely. It usually goes something like this:
Summarize your points
Tie major points of the story together
Reveal your points the way they appeared in your paper
Conclusions are read last, so this is the paragraph that your readers will remember the most. If it does not tie together you will leave them confused, in this case your professor, and you will see statements on your paper like “unclear” , or, “how does this tie in to your story”
Preparing this outline first before writing your paper will help you write a cohesive set of thoughts that flows smoothly when read by your professor. Help for creating an outline can also be found by visiting online writing services.
Everyone gets behind sometimes and these services can help when the time you have to finish your paper has reached a critical point. No matter how much time you have with your urgent term paper, you should always place high attention to the conclusions page, as it might make the main impact of your paper.
Topics That Work
If you cannot find your own topics or are in a crunch for time, these may jog your memory and get you started on getting that reflective essay done.
A stormy night: The lights went out and everyone was gathered in the same room hoping that a tree would not fall through the roof, then the lights went out.
Moving away: You could not believe that your family was moving away from the only home you ever knew.
Your first love: Everyone said it was puppy love but you knew you would be with your first love the rest of your life, then you broke up. He dumped you or you dumped him?
First time speaking in public: You are up on that stage and all you see is spinning lights, what happened?
You lied to your best friend: They asked you a question about something that would hurt their feelings if you told the truth, so you lied.
A death: No matter who it was, someone close to you passed away. What happened in the ensuing days after you found out? What changed in your life due to this persons passing?
First job: You got the job, and on the first day you were nervous and made lots of mistakes. How did your coworkers act towards you/your new boss/how did you feel?
Your first road trip without your parents: Where did you go and with who? What did you see that you had not intended to see on the trip? How much convincing did it take to get your parents to let you go?
You had to write an essay to get a scholarship: Did you get help with the essay? Did you get the scholarship? How did you react/ your family react when finding out you won the scholarship?
You got drunk for the first time in your life: What led to the drinking? Were you of age? How did you feel the day after? Were you with friends and did you all drink? Did you play it safe by not driving or did you get in trouble with the law?
You got locked up: Why? Did you have to stay in jail or did your family bail you out? What happened while you were there? How did it feel to have to call your family and tell them you were in jail?
Weight loss or gain: Since growing up have you gained weight, lost weight? What about your weight is unhealthy and were you teased?
Bullying story: Were you bullied at school? Were you or a friend bullied and how did you deal with it.
Town conspiracy: Has something happened in your town that made headline news across the nation? Did a local politician cause the township shame?
Local kid makes good: Did someone from your high school make it big? Were you friends with this person? Were you jealous or happy for them?
You meet your favorite star: Did you get their autograph? Were you in a photo with them? Were you invited backstage to a concert of your favorite singer? Did you get a chance to visit a set where they were filming?
You had to admit you were wrong: How did it feel? What led up to admitting a wrong, and to whom? Do you have trouble being wrong about anything?
Your team won the championship: What sport was being played? What part did you play in getting your team to the championship? Was your team always winners/losers?
What child are you: Are you the oldest, middle or youngest child and what kind of relationship do you have with your siblings due to the place you hold in that hierarchy.
Adoption: Are you adopted and if so have you met your birth parents? How did you find out you were adopted? Do you feel you are adopted? (could be a funny story with this last one)
Only child: Were you the only child for many years and then your parents surprised you with the fact that you were going to have a brother of sister? How did it make you feel, were you excited, or you wanted to scream no, no, no!
Fistfight: Were you ever in a fistfight? Get a black-eye? What was it about and how old were you when it happened? Do you think you won the fight? Was the altercation over when the fight was over, or did it lead to hard feelings with that person up to this day?
Cooking: Do you remember the first thing you were allowed to cook? What was it and how did it turn out? Do people tend to love your cooking or run from it when you are in the kitchen.
This section was saved till last because if you try to create a title in the beginning of your paper, it will change before you are done.
Titles may not seem as important a part of organizing your reflective essay as the rest, but it can be. A proper title tells your audience what your paper is about. They can be provocative but their main goal is to let the reader know what they are about to read.
The title for your personal reflective essay will set the tone for your introduction, it can sometimes make or break your paper, so think carefully about your title and save it for last. (Remember when writing, it is okay to kill your little darlings, meaning to revise, revise, revise.
To cap it all off, this essay is about an experience that you have had in your life, only you and those that shared the story with you can enhance or downplay the experience. Go in deep, and don’t hold anything back.
It is the one type of paper that you can cut loose on the writing, but keep in mind the grammar making sure it is solid and correct. If dialog is used to describe banter between you and someone in your story, make sure you study how to write dialog within a paper.
Good luck with your reflective essay, you may even be able to sell it if done properly.
“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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