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A Full Guide on How to Write a Reflective Essay

how to write a reflection paper

We can congratulate you if you have been assigned a reflection paper. This is one of the simplest and easiest academic papers in terms of being able to share your opinion, and not being required to cite and paraphrase endless academic sources. However, this doesn’t mean this type of paper is easy and doesn’t require effort. It is interesting, and, as you’ve probably noticed, interest and motivation can sparkle your productivity up. Let’s take a detailed look on how to write a reflection paper step by step.

Step I: Define it
Before we get to the DIY part of how to write a reflective essay, first let’s figure out what it is. A reflective paper is both the description of the effect of a particular piece of reading combined with the effect the classroom experience (discussion, lecture, etc.) has on your way of thinking and perception of a certain issue.

What is suitable to include in your reflection essay:

  • analysis and your thoughts on a particular experience
  • illustration of how a material or experience has affected your thoughts and ideas
  • explanation of why a particular material caught your attention

Nota Bene! A reflection essay is neither a fully academic piece of writing, where you simply quote thoughts of other people, nor an entry in a personal diary. You are supposed to share your thoughts and feelings a certain book or article has provoked, but you still need to stay logical and concise.

Step II: Structure it
Now that you have a general notion about reflective essays in general, it’s time to learn how to write a reflection paper step by step. Mainly, the structure of a reflection paper is not much different from a typical academic essay, but there are some nuances we would like to pay attention to.

  • Introduction
  1. Hook
  2. Expectations
  3. Thesis
  • Body
  1. Stories and thoughts
  2. Explanation of their effect on you
  • Conclusion
  1. Summary of your experience

Nota Bene! Writing a reflection essay is easier than any other type of academic paper, because you finally have something to say and don’t need to repeat the same thought in three different variations to add volume. Watch out! Your paper should typically fit within a 300-700 word limit. Life is unfair, right? Once you have something to say in an essay, you have to keep it short.

Step III: Outline your paper
One of the best ways of how to write a reflective essay is writing a detailed outline. The one that you have seen above can also be called an outline, but we are talking about an extended version, where you include all the information possible, and once you are done you just need to tailor the text a little bit and you have a perfect finished essay.

1. Hook. In order to make your paper interesting and pleasant to read, you need to sparkle curiosity in your audience, and nothing can do this better than a good hook sentence. Add a twist to your experience that might look unusual and interesting. It will be ideal if your opinion on a book or a movie has completely changed, so now you can say how you lived it and now hate it or vice versa. Even if it didn’t change so dramatically, you definitely look at the issue from a new perspective – so add it to your hook.

2. Expectations. A reflective essay is a paper where you are supposed to include your expectations! Sadly, those should not be something like, “I hoped my life in college would be awesome with all the networking and me securing a high-end job during a third semester while hanging out with a CEO of a huge company.” You have to write something like this, but in a more academic way and about a book or a movie you are going to reflect on.

3. Thesis. Now we’ve gotten to the most important part of your essay. If the hook and expectations are like first impressions on a first date, then the thesis is the moment when you realize you’re totally into this person. Alright, joking aside – you can ignore all the other advice in this guide on how to write a reflection paper, but a solid thesis in an absolute must-have. Your thesis statement should explain the change of your thoughts and perceptions on the matter.

4. Stories and thoughts. Now it’s time to illustrate your case with specific situations, senses and quotes. Remember that relying on a source and quoting it is good, but be considerate. You are supposed to share your opinion, not just paraphrase famous scientists or movie critics. However, remember that you can’t get too personal, since this is still an academic piece of writing. If you are describing a real-life experience, avoid dragging people into your writing, calling names, etc. If you feel like you are still too angry or frustrated by a certain person’s actions, it’s better to avoid mentioning them at all.

5. Explanations of the effect. This part is as important as the thesis from the introduction. Once you have presented your readers with a collection of facts and opinions on the particular book, you need to show how and why you got from opinion A (hated the book) to opinion B (love it to the skies and beyond). Use transitions words to make your essay smooth and pleasant to read. Remember that your audience doesn’t read minds, and that you need to make your writing as logical as possible.

6. Summary of your experience.
Phew, you finally got to the end of the paper, now it’s time to relax. You don’t need to add new information in the conclusion part. It may seem a little bit odd, but what you need to do is to restate your thesis using slightly different words, and add a touch of summarization. Something like, “from this experience, I learned,” or “this book taught me to” is a nice way of how to write a reflection paper according to all academic standards.

Step IV: Write the essay
Now that you know how to write a reflection paper step by step, it’s time to do the job. Find a comfy place where you feel the most motivated and productive, shut off all notifications from social media and start writing. If you can’t do huge chunks of work at one sitting, try the Pomodoro Technique. This application can also block all the distracting websites while you are working on your paper.

Step V: Check List
We congratulate you on finishing your paper, or at least getting to this point in such a lengthy guide on how to write a reflection paper step by step. If you were following our instructions, now you have a finished reflection paper. All you need to do is check it and send it to your teacher.

  • Does your thesis statement indicate the change in your opinion on a particular movie or book you are reflecting on?
  • Do your body paragraphs illustrate the case?
  • Do you explain the effects of certain quotations or movie scenes to show the change your opinion has gone through?
  • Did you check your spelling and grammar?
  • Is your essay clearly structured?
  • Is your conclusion a summary of your paper, not a new paper?
  • Did you maintain academic writing style in your paper? Note: when it comes to reflection essays, you are allowed to use first person singular, yay!

General Writing Advice

1. If you are stuck on a certain point in the outline, skip it and start working on the next one. Organizing scrabbled pieces of text is better than spending three hours on one sentence which you don’t even like.
2. You don’t need to be afraid that you can’t write something original and contribute to the topic. This is not the purpose of a reflective essay. Even if your opinion is similar to 90% of other writing on the topic, it still will have unique traits. Don’t be afraid and share your opinion freely.
3. Proofread your essay at least several hours after you’ve finished writing, or ask a friend of yours to do you a favor. In case of an emergency, if the deadline is approaching, read the paper backwards or out loud. This will help you slow down and pay closer attention.

Ask for Help
If you still have no idea how to write a reflective essay, you can always ask as for help! Check out our blog for more writing advice and useful tricks like Be Ready for Writing an Annotated Bibliography, and maybe the wave of inspiration will hit you then. And even if it doesn’t, you are not alone in your struggle! If you think, “I need to pay someone to write my essay,” just ask us to help with your paper (any type, not just a reflection essay), and we will be right there with awesome ideas and a team of experienced authors.

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