How to Write a Reflective Essay
Reflective essay by definition is a kind of writing that requires the author to inform the reader about his or her attitude, idea or impression regarding a given topic. Alternatively, writing reflective essays is meant to help its author describe how a certain event, person or experience has impacted him or her; or to describe the process of his or her personal growth during an academic course or some other significant experience (this can be a journey, an important class etc). For example, you may be required to write about a person who has had a significant impact on your life or career – it can be your teacher, your parents or your friend. In this case, you will be writing to describe this person and explain how he or she has affected you and how your personality changed as a result.
Distinctive Features of a Reflective Essay
Reflecting the author’s inner world, relating feelings and emotions pertaining to the described events and experiences are the most important features of a reflective essay. As a matter of fact, the essay has received its name because its main purpose is to reflect the author’s personality. Very often this type of essay is mistakenly understood as informative essay and students merely give an account of events or experiences. A simple enumeration of facts doesn’t make the essay reflective; in order to become one, it has to reflect the author’s inner world in relation to the described events. Let’s take a look at a quick example. Let’s imagine you have visited Tibet last summer. In an informative essay, you would inform your reader how you prepared, how you got there, what means of transport you used etc. In a reflective essay, you would tell your reader how you got interested in going there, what feelings you experienced during your visit and how it affected you as a personality. In the first case you enumerate events one by one; in the second case, you share your thoughts and feelings with your reader. This is what makes a reflective essay different from other essay types.
This type of essay is normally assigned during high school and college years with the purpose of giving students the opportunity to analyze their own experiences and skills. In this case, the object of analysis is students themselves; this essay type allows them to contemplate about things they might have been taking for granted. Another case when this type of essay can be assigned is when there is a need to better understand the personality of the interviewee. Reflective essays are also written while applying for college. The high number of college applicants makes competition incredibly tough; as a result, college admission officers require prospective students to write such essays – only thus can they pick out best candidates. They are looking at a number of things, including maturity, learning skills as well as the ability to analyze and think critically etc. The need to do reflective writing arises in everyday life too; therefore developing this skill is critical.
Reflective Essay Outline
In its basic form, a reflective essay will take the common essay structure:
Introduction: This section should be the shortest; usually only one paragraph that establishes the frame of your personal reflection in a clear and concise manner. This is often achieved using reflective statements, then pointed sentences that describe the key ideas of reflective essay. For example, “the structure instilled in me by my baseball coaches has made me more organized and focused throughout my academic career”, or “I believe my membership on the school debate team has been the single largest contributor to my research skills today.”
Body: The body paragraphs are where you can be more creative with your space and structure. Some reflection papers resemble narratives in which the writer tells their story from the perspective of how their experiences have impacted their personal growth and development. In the body of the essay, it is important to use descriptive language to differentiate between simply a retelling of key events and a rich narrative that exhibits true personal reflection.
Conclusion: In your conclusion, typically another single paragraph, you should avoid simply restating the reflective statements used in the introduction. Instead, remind your reader of the links between your experiences and the impacts these experiences have had on your development in the areas targeted, whether you’re focusing on growth academically, professionally or otherwise.
More about essay structure:
How to Write a Well-Structured Essay
Language and Tone
A reflective essay is supposed to reveal your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. It requires your presence in the text of the paper. The use of personal ‘I’ in this type of paper is ok. You can also use other personal pronouns like ‘we’, ‘you’, ‘they’ etc. This will make your essay more personal. Most other essay types require objectivity and impersonality; however, this is not the case. Referencing is not needed in 9 cases out of 10; however, some reflective essays will require you to back up your claims by making a reference to a reputable source of information. Be prepared to run a background research to back up your claims and read instructions carefully.
Choosing a Topic
Deciding on a topic for your reflection paper can be difficult, and ultimately the topic must be based on what experiences in your life you think will best exhibit your growth in the way you intend to present it in your personal reflection.
With that in mind, here are some ideas to get you started. These topic suggestions are separated into categories from easy, marked by simpler topics that can be developed in a shorter period of time or space, to difficult, which contain more complex themes and must be described in a longer and more drawn out format.
Reflective Essay Topics
Easy reflective essay topics:
1. A happy event from childhood or another time, and how it has affected your life.
2. An early memory, positive or negative that impacted the way you have grown up.
3. An event, like a celebration or holiday that has led to changes in the way you think or behave over time.
4. A new person in your life; what was your first impression and how did meeting them affect the way you have developed as a person?
5. Lessons learned through experiences in school
Medium reflective essay topics:
1. A first job or internship; think about skills you learned and relationships you made and how they have impacted your life.
2. A complex relationship or first love; new emotions and experiences are often the catalysts for personal development and change.
3. Any experience that leads to self-improvement, from a mental, physical or emotional standpoint.
4. A family vacation or other family experience that led to self-discovery or change in your interaction with your family members.
5. The death of a close family member or friend and how it has affected you over time.
Difficult reflective essay topics:
1. The first experience with a group of people different than you, and how gaining understanding led to a personal change.
2. An experience in which you feared for your own safety and how overcoming or surviving the event changed you.
3. A great accomplishment, such as athletic or academic excellence, and the personal steps necessary to accomplish it.
4. A lifelong regret that has affected your actions and attitude since the event.
It is important to remember: while these suggestions are for varying levels of complexity, any topic can be described with more or less depth to fit the requirements of your unique personal reflection.
Reflective Essay Format
Depending on your school, subject, and even essay topic, you might be required to format your writing in accordance with different standards. Most typical referencing styles are MLA and APA. These referencing styles tend to evolve over time, so be sure to consult respective manuals for updates.
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Below we offer an example of a thoughtful reflective essay that effectively and substantively captures the author's growth over time at CSUCI. We suggest that you write your own essay before reading either of these models-then, having completed your first draft, read these over to consider areas in your own background that you have not yet addressed and which may be relevant to your growth as a reader, writer, or thinker.
Any reference to either of these essays must be correctly cited and attributed; failure to do so constitutes plagiarism and will result in a failing grade on the portfolio and possible other serious consequences as stated in the CSUCI Code of Conduct.
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Sample Reflective Essay #1
Author: Prefers to remain anonymous
As an English major I have learned to appreciate the peaceful, yet exhilarating moment when my mind engages with an author's thoughts on a page. As Toni Morrison says in The Dancing Mind , "[reading is] to experience one's own mind dancing with another's." In my early days as a college student, I wanted to know the "true" meaning of a work or what the author intended, however, I have now realized this would void literature of its most noteworthy complexities. Individual interpretations bring varied insights to a work and it is also interesting to point out messages the author may not have realized s/he included in the piece.
I have always been a thinker, but throughout my coursework, I have greatly sharpened my critical analysis skills. Instead of focusing on proposed meanings or biographical background, I have learned to continuously ask "why" on many different levels. I challenge myself to dig into a text as deeply as possible and unpack every detail to develop a satisfying close read. Also, by reading multiple novels by the same author I have learned to identify different writing styles and make connections that weave texts together; this helped me develop a deeper understanding of the novels. When I look at one of my freshman level novels and see clean pages, I realize that I did not actively read the book. I guess you could say that I have learned to read with a pen, which has drastically taken my writing to a new level because I am able to connect back with my initial insights marked on the page.
Writing had always been one of my strengths, but it was challenging to take that initial step past the high school, five-paragraph essay form that constricted my ideas for so long. Moving past this form, however, has greatly opened my mind. My thoughts are now able to be more complex because I have learned how to sustain a logical argument in an organized manner. My writing has become increasingly more concise and I no longer have room for added "fluff" or "padding." Another improvement is my ability to point out multiple complexities within a text, instead of sticking to one-sided arguments in my papers. Furthermore, learning how to find peer reviewed journal articles and order books through interlibrary loan has significantly widened the scope of my research, which has lead to more scholarly papers with credible references. My writing is so much more interesting than it used to be.
It is difficult to identify gaps in my knowledge as an English major, only because I feel like I have learned so much. I feel that I have largely expanded my literary analysis and writing skills, but I need to be prepared to teach high school students their required literature. I think it would be useful to identify commonly taught novels in our local high schools and study them myself. By studying the required literature and thinking about how to teach it, I will have a sturdy foundation to work from once I am in the classroom.
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