How to write a reflective essay

How to write a reflective essay
How to write a reflective essay

Reflective essays normally contains three elements of description about personal past life experience, analysis element which breaks down the past experience of the writer and aids in forecasting the future of the topic or focused part and the outcome or action element which is the effects of the writers personal experience in the essay. If the three elements are used in the essay, it will clearly bring out the connections between experiences, learning, and theories.

The purposes of reflective essays are as follows;

  • Reflective essays encourages the learners to make observations about their experiences and beliefs and link them with their theoretical learning in the subject.
  • It helps learners create a new knowledge by making them show that they can evaluate what they read, think, and do by acknowledging a range of viewpoints and possibilities.
  • Reflective essays help the learners draw connection between the reflective topic, relevant theories they learn, and experience thus creating new wider understanding.

Below are the simple rules to writing an attractive reflective essay;

  • The introduction should be short precise and straight forward.
  • Try to make the reader comprehend how the event or experience affected you.
  • The reader should get to understand the writers experience without getting offended by words choice.
  • Be a bit formal since the essay is academic tough there is a high tendency of being informal.
  • Talk about the new skills and achievements you acquired from the event or experience.
  • Since a reflective essay should show how you have improved over time, make the reader aware of your situation before.
  • Use a descriptive language to make the reader visualize the essay easily.

What is a reflective essay?

Reflective essay is a college essay in which the write examines his or her experiences in life. The writer pens down about those experiences detailing on how he or she has changed or grown from those past experiences.

When writing a reflective essay, the writer is required to describe the insights that he or she gained or express their views on some experience. Reflective essays in many cases tends to be personal writings about an experience but at times they made up.

Depending on the audience addressed by the essay, reflective essay format can change. Format for writing a reflective essay for a college course or an academic purpose will have a slight difference from a reflective essays for magazines which as a larger and heterogenic audience.

However the basic structure and format of the introduction, body paragraphs and the conclusion will be maintained. Great hook and a strong introduction will pull the reader in without giving too much away and then provide a quick overview of the reflective topic. Experiences and growth are written down on the body part which are several paragraphs and then strong conclusion that concisely restate the growth, experience, and lesson learnt.

Reflective essay is a personal experience thus the tone and voice of the writing are personal as well. They are basically written from the first-person point of view and these type of essays take the reader through the writer’s journey of growth, development and discovery.

How to start a reflective essay

In a reflective essay, one is required to express his or her thoughts and feelings about a certain experience, event or phenomena. Reflective essay thus provides a good platform for the learner to sharpen their critical thinking skills as well as the ability to develop and express opinions on a particular topic.

Below are the steps of writing a reflective essay;

  • Think of an event, experience or phenomenon which is the reflective topic. At times in the academic reflective essays, learners are given the topic. After the topic, the writer should think of creating a thesis for the essay hence need to ask himself or herself the following questions;
  • How he or she feels about the event.
  • How the event affected his or her life.
  • Why it affected his or her life.
  • Make a mind map by gathering relevant points – from the questions in step one above, the student can write the thesis. Go ahead and identify the main arguments and ideas which will support the thesis statement and help the audience follow the growth and development of the thoughts and experience.
  • Organize details – Group them into paragraphs to be written later and then decide on the logical sequence of the paragraphs as you arrange them.
  • Write the first draft – write a strong opening paragraph as an introduction which must be eye-catching so as to attract the readers. State the supporting arguments, ideas, and examples in the body paragraphs. Explore only one event or experience as well as reflections on it in each paragraph. Summarize the thoughts in the first sentence of the conclusion. Reason about what you have learned and how personal experience might impact others. You can finish the reflective essay with a rhetorical question to the audience on how they can act on such a situation.
  • Revise and improve the draft – this allows the write to go through the essay he or she has written and how to improve it. Wen revising the writer should check for, ideas, organization, voice, word choice, and sentence fluency. Below are the questions the writer should have when revising the reflective essay;
  • Ideas – is the topic interesting? Are there enough details and events to support the topic?
  • Organization – does the first paragraph introduce the topic? Do the paragraphs shows how the writer changed? Does the conclusion shows how the experienced affected the life of the writer?
  • Voice – does the topic sound interested? Dees the essay sound natural and realistic?
  • Word choice – are the nouns and the verbs used lively? Is there a good use of descriptive modifiers?
  • Sentence fluency – are the lengths and beginnings of the sentences varied?does te sentences join up smoothly?
  • Make the necessary corrections – after revising the essays, corrections on spelling, capitalization, grammar, clarity, and punctuation should be made. Exchanging the essay with other essay writers can be of good importance in this step.
  • Share the essay with the audience – the essays can be shared to the target audience. If it’s a college set up, the tutor can collect them for awarding the marks then put all the class reflective essays on an eBook or a file for other readers to access.

Since the reflective essay is all about personal life experience, one can choose the event he or she likes. It is almost similar to a diary where one is needed to write their thoughts about a significant happening. Consider the following key points wen writing a reflective essay;

  • The introductory paragraph gives a hint or is related to the conclusion of the essay.
  • It is grammatically correct and acceptable to use the personal pronoun “I” in a reflective essay since it is a personal experience.
  • A more authoritative introduction can have one or more quotations.
  • In most cases writers describe what went right or positive experience but one may also describe a negative experience or how an experience could have been improved.

What should a reflection do in a narrative essay?

Reflection is the act of engaging or flashing back at an event, experience, decision, or activity considering how to improve or it formed in one’s life. It plays a key role in establishing values and goals when written with self-awareness and honesty.

Reflection in a narrative therefore aids in offering the account of personal experience, which enables to analyze the writer’s thoughts and actions and the consequences attached to it. A reflective essay is written purposefully to share personal experience and analyze its impacts in the writer’s life. A reflection in an essay should therefore;

  • Elaborate how the event or experience was important to the writer.
  • It should offer a good analysis of what made the event or the experience memorable.
  • It should extend the writers focus experience to other writer’s areas of life.
  • It should analyze the shared experience of the writer and show the impact of the event or experience to his or her life.

Before writing a reflection in a narrative essay, you need to have a clear picture why you should include it. In a narrative essay, a reflection has the following purposes;

  • Analyzing the experience the story is all about.
  • Explain how the personal experience of the writer may be of a good influence or use to the reader.
  • Brings in some useful information about the characters in the narrative essay.
  • Shows how a certain event or experience as influenced other aspects of the writer’s life.
  • Makes it clear how the event or experience was of great significance to the writer.

 What to write on a reflective essay

Reflective essay should include a description of the experience or the literature piece as well as an explanation of personal feelings, thoughts, and reactions. They are all about personal experience but must be well organized and maintain a formal tone.

Reflective essay is about the writer’s personal ideas and or experience, the writer should bear in mind that he or she is writing a formal academic or college essay and not a letter to a friend. When writing a reflective essays just like any other college essays there are things that are allowed and those that were not allowed for a quality essay.

These are dos and don’ts;


  • Thoughts and ideas must be stated clearly so as to make the audience understands what the writer is saying i.e. write the ideas in a descriptive manner.
  • The essay should be as formal as possible since it is still an academic essay despite the fact that it’s a reflective essay.
  • Using factual material is a very important aspect but not only basing the essay on personal experience.
  • Follow the standard classical structure of the reflective essay i.e. introduction, body paragraphs, and the conclusion.


  • Do not put all the life experiences into one essay, write about some few important moments.
  • Do not write everything at a go but you should rather be organized in your essay by composing a mind-map before you start writing.
  • Despite the fact that a reflective essay is about personal experience, do not be too personal since the essay remains to be an academic essay.
  • Sort the ideas and experiences in a logical order. Do not make your essay free flowing analysis.

There are quite a number of common mistakes that writers tend to make when they are writing their reflective essays. Some of the commonly observed mistakes are discussed below;

  • Stop being too much informal then writing a reflective essay, keep the formal tone always since it is an academic essay.
  • Never ignore the structure of the essay i.e. introduction, body paragraphs, and the conclusion. Ignoring the reflective essay structure will result to disorganized essay making it difficult for the readers to understand.
  • Inclusion of too much personal information in the essay. This is not an autobiography but you need to state your idea and analyze an opinion referring to your past experience.

Reflective essay outline

After the writer have been given a reflective essay topic, you can go head and plan the components of a descriptive essay which are introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion. Introduction of reflective essay does make the very first impression to the reader but also the structure will capture the attention of the reader.

The structure of the reflective essay assures the reader that the writing presented maintains the flow of ideas and a coherent structure. A solid structure will therefore make the reader very much interested in the essay. A reflective essay therefore has three sections; introduction, the body and conclusion.


Here is the outline of introduction of a reflective essay; Opening sentence, background information, overview of the topic, Thesis statement, and subject of the essay. This is the component that will grab the attention of the reader and thus must be written simply and smooth.

The speaker at this level shares either directly or indirectly the overall focus of the reflection. Majority of the established writers are mostly indirect about the main reflex topic or what point of their lives they will focus on. Academic writers should however be specific to the main topic or the experience they are about to write about.

Body paragraphs.

A reflective essay normally have body paragraphs and must have evidence which show or support the thesis. These are the building blocks for critical analysis. The common structure of any main body paragraph starts with topic sentence, and followed by a series of sentences which are extensions of the topic.

The body of the reflective essay will basically elaborate how the writer has changed or what he or she has learned from the reflective experience. For a better and quality reflective essay, the writer may see it better off to share the change or lesson learned while citing examples to make the essay more realistic. For instance, an academic writer can be asked to reflect on hiw he or she has improved across the module or semester, they show how different lectures and assignments improved their writing skills.

The structure of body paragraphs should have topic sentence, development sentences, and supporting sentences in their paragraphs.


This is last paragraph of a reflective essay. The writer here sums up how he or she has changed and or the effects of those changes. Conclusion is the summary of the entire essay and gives a listing of the essay hence it provides the reader’s a sense of closure.

The writer may decide to look backward or ahead or both. If viewing about backward, the writer has to write about his or her situation in the past. If writing about the future, he or she have to share how he or she thinks the experience in the essay will change him or her in the future. If writing about both ahead and backward, the writer will compare the past and foreseen future to emphasize the differences in a relevant manner.

Here are the strategies to concluding a reflective essay;

  • Place a connector to the opener – conclusion should have an interesting opening sentence and must be related to the first paragraph.
  • Restate the thesis or topic in different words – this serves more of a final judgment of what the writer think about the assigned context.
  • Summarize of main points – readers should see the big picture of the reflection made along the body of the essay.
  • State the significance of writing the prose – the writer should make the readers feel the meaningful and important analysis.
  • Direct the audience wisely – if for instance the writer had come up with a suggestion, he or she should express it in the conclusion section.
  • Consider other perspective as well – as literary analysis is subjective, different perspective on the same text co-exist.
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