Reflective Paper: Ultimate Guide To Successful Reflective Essay Writing

Mike Russel

What is a Reflective Essay?

To define a reflective essay, let us consider it a composite of several elements. Those are yourself in the past and the present, description, and analysis. In this manner, a reflective essay definition might be as follows:

It is a paper where you describe some past experiences and analyze them from your present standpoint. 

The purpose here is to show your essay writing skills and bring a personal touch. The fact that it is a reflective paper should not mislead you into making it a free stream of thought! You still compose the paper in a structured and logical manner, following the rules of academic essay writing.

Do you need a better idea of what a reflective paper might look like? Then, check these great reflection texts by renowned authors and journalists:

  • “The Comfort Zone” by J. Franzen; 
  • “A Birth Story” by M. O’Connell;
  • “Self-Reliance” by R. W. Emerson;
  • Girl” by A. Chee.

Your reflection essay format at college is normally much shorter than the texts above and has a simpler structure. Yet, reflection texts by famous writers offer insights into the tone and language appropriate to a reflection paper. Besides, these texts give you an idea of how a good reflection paper combines elements of description and analysis.

Reflection Paper Outline: How To Start Reflective Essay

What is the purpose of writing a reflective essay, and how do you start it? Without going into details, the reflection letter format requires two things. You need to describe your experience and analyze it through the present lens. That is why the very first thing you do is pick a topic. You choose the experience you describe and the analytical lens you apply. Here are some popular paper types:

  • Reflective essay about writing. You can reflect upon how a certain experience, such as working on a research paper or report, helped you become a better writer.
  • Reflection paper about reading. Here, you analyze how a particular book has transformed you. It might have changed your view on a social issue or revealed new facts.
  • Reflection letter format in a special discipline. You can describe how a particular class has contributed to your personal development. For instance, you can write a reflective essay in English class.

The reflective paper format is flexible! You do not necessarily compose a reflection about academic activities. Instead, you can choose to write a paper related to your personal life, relationships with the family, or hobbies. Whatever you pick, it is useful to organize your ideas in a structured manner.  That will allow you to evaluate the potential of each idea as a core theme around which your reflection outline will grow. One way to organize the ideas is by using the table below or a similar one.

Idea #What? (your experience)How? (description of the past)So what? (present time analysis)

Now, you have scanned the reflective essay ideas and selected the most suitable one. So, you start working on the reflective paper outline. If you want it fast and simple, your outline for the reflection paper should have a classic three-part structure. The latter includes an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. When preparing the reaction paper outline, you can be very brief. That means you only describe key thoughts, details, and arguments to include in each part. Here is a basic reflective essay outline example that you might use at this point:

Reflection paragraph outline
IntroductionHook: Get them interested with an anecdote, interesting facts, etc.Thesis: A summary of what you will describe + the key takeaway.
Body paragraph #1Opening claim: Introduce the paragraph’s topic.Key details: Describe the topic by providing the details and analyzing them.Closing sentence: Sum up the central idea and prepare the reader for the transition.
Follow the same reflection paragraph outline for paragraphs #2, #3, and the subsequent ones
ConclusionThesis restatement: Repeat the main idea from the introduction in different words.Key takeaways: Sum up the meaning the described experience implies to your personal development.

Completing the reflection outline might be time-consuming if it is your first paper in this format! At first, it can be chaotic: what do all those hooks, theses, opening claims, and closing sentences mean? The best option is to get a good reflective essay sample and read it with the use of our outline. That will give you a handy example of how to write a reflective essay. No worries if you do not have a reflection paper template! In the next section, you can find the reflective essay structure and explain how to write each paragraph.

A Step-By-Step Guide: How To Write Reflection Paragraphs for Each Part

Now that you are familiar with the classic essay structure, let us take a closer look at how to write each part of your reflective paper outline.

Step #1: Reflective essay introduction

As you can see in the reaction paper outline, the introduction consists of a hook and a thesis. The former must grab the audience’s attention and encourage them to continue reading. Examine different texts by famous people for a good reflective essay introduction example. What is attractive about the first lines of these texts? Why do you want to read them? 

As a rule, a powerful hook is the one that causes an emotional response in you. It may be fun, curious, surprising, or whatever else. A good hook is also personal enough. It must show the presented story is authentic.

Writing a good thesis is important because it is the clue to the entire paper. The more logical and consistent your thesis is, the easier it will be for you to complete the body paragraphs. A thesis statement is a restatement of the main idea. More specifically, a good thesis statement of a reflective paper comprises three elements. Each element answers the main reflective essay questions:

  • What the essay is about: e.g., how you read Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch” and “The Secret History”;
  • What the main idea is: e.g., how this reading encouraged your passion for writing;
  • What the unique insight is: e.g., how you developed this passion due to Tarrt’s skill of creating charismatic characters.

The unique insight is of great importance to the reflective essay thesis. It ensures the thesis is not merely descriptive but analytical, too. If you examine the best reflective texts, you will see that a good thesis statement for a reflective essay is one or two sentences long. These are the last sentences in your introductory paragraph. Returning to the example with Donna Tartt, the thesis might be as follows:

“I had ‘The Goldfinch’ and ‘The Secret History’ on my bedside table and two beautiful weeks of summer reading ahead of me. At that point, I did not know that Tartt’s talent to create charismatic characters would fascinate me with a writer’s career.”

Step #2: Body text

The classic structure has three body paragraphs, but you might choose to have four or five, depending on your topic and message. Whatever it is, there are two main things you need to know about writing body paragraphs: their structure and organization.

Although the paragraph structure might be flexible, we suggest using this basic outline:

  • The opening sentence: One idea that you develop in the paragraph;
  • The details: Supporting arguments, facts, and descriptions;
  • The closing sentence and the transition: The smooth shift to the conclusion paragraph.

Once you have determined the structure, you must decide how to organize the reflective essay ideas. To be substantial, let us again take the example where Tartt’s two novels have triggered a change in you. Here are several strategies you can choose when organizing the paragraphs:

  • Sequential: You, first, describe everything related to the first novel. Then, you describe everything related to the second novel. Finally, you describe the personal change.
  • Comparative: You choose several criteria and compare the two novels using one criterion per paragraph.
  • Analytical: You break your big personal change into smaller parts. For instance, the big personal change is that you developed a passion for writing. The smaller parts, in this case, might be the readers’ emotions, the power of beautiful language, and the cultural enrichment. Now, you analyze one minor part in each paragraph.

Whatever strategy is practical for you, it is important to keep it all consistent. You only stick with one organization strategy and do not merge them within your reflective paper.

Step #3: Reflective Essay Conclusion

The final part of your reflection is the conclusion. If you examine reflective essay conclusion examples in some good texts, you will see they all follow the same principles:

  • Structure: You restate the thesis and then summarize the key ideas.
  • Size: The length of a conclusion part is normally similar to that of the introduction, plus or minus three sentences.
  • Content: You should not give the reader new information in the conclusion part. Yet, you can revisit and rethink the experience described in the body paragraphs.

When you write the paper for the first time, it is good to have a reflective conclusion example. To get it, you can check the reflection articles by famous authors or buy a sample paper. Besides, you can ask the professor to provide a comprehensive reflective paper template.

Before Goodbyes: Tips on Improving Your Reflective Paper

As a bonus, we have collected a few tips on how to write a self-reflection paper about yourself. Use these strategies to complete your reflective essay assignment fast, easily, and with the best results, even if you are working with cheap papers.

Body paragraphs come first!

Composing the introduction and conclusion is easier when you have written the main part. Once you have completed the self-reflection essay outline, we suggest writing the body paragraphs first. By this point, you will have a clear idea of how to place accents correctly and will be able to make the introduction and conclusion truly engaging.

Relevant vs. irrelevant information

Reflective essay writing might be challenging. In effect, you need to share your personal experiences and feelings with someone unfamiliar with your life. There is always a temptation to go into lengthy descriptions to ensure the reader understands everything. But how long should a reflective essay be?

In most cases, you have word count requirements and cannot afford to include all explanations you want. The use of the reflective paper outline is of great help here. It allows for logically organizing ideas and removing unnecessary details.

Follow the formatting requirements!

The requirements for a reflection essay include the paper’s title list, headers, and citation formatting. As a rule, professors demand the APA format for reflection papers or to write the MLA format reflection paper. They can also give you a reflection paper format example (e.g., reflection paper APA) to follow. If they don’t, there are plenty of free online services and guides on how to write a reflection paper in APA, MLA, and other citation styles. 

Griffith Referencing Guide and Purdue Online Writing Lab are two great examples in this regard. They provide extensive information on how to manage reflection paper formats. They give you examples of how to format reflection paper citations according to the requirements of a particular style.

Proofreading and plagiarism checks are obligatory

Proofreading is an essential element of reflective essay writing. Apart from the standard grammar and plagiarism checks, you must assess your paper against the reflective essay rubric. It is also wise to compare your paper to the reflection essay template provided by your professor. If there is none, you can find a good reflection paper template online and see how closely your paper follows it.

Mike Russel

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