Reflective essay? How difficult can it be to reflect on your own experiences and write about them, you wonder until you actually sit down to write the essay. You are in for a rude shock because it certainly is not as easy as it seems.
A reflective essay requires students to examine their life experiences, especially those which have left an impact on them.
From describing your thoughts and feelings regarding a certain life event to analyzing its impact and examining what you learned from it – the primary purpose of writing a reflective essay is to push students to think deeply and learn from their experiences.
Here’s How You Can Submit a Well-Written Reflective Essay for University
Though writing a reflective essay can seem difficult at first, but once you have a clear idea of what you want to write and more importantly how to write, it often gets easier as you progress. Here are five key writing tips to keep in mind while writing a reflective essay.
Choosing a Topic of Reflection
As a super busy student, when was the last time you drowned yourself in thoughts and reflected on your past experiences? Well, here is an assignment that deliberately puts you in that space.
Think about all the life experiences which have had an impact on you – it can be a life-changing event, your interaction with someone you admire, a movie character that appealed to you, a book that gave you perspective or anything else which helped in shaping your personality and thought process.
The end goal is to write on a topic that will help you reflect on your growth as an individual. So, start brainstorming and jot down every idea that comes to your mind.
Create a Mind Map
Once you have a rough but definite idea about what you want to write on, the next step is to create a mind map to make sure you approach the essay in an organized manner.
While creating your mind map, quiz yourself by asking questions of relevance which will help put together perspectives for the essay. Some questions you can consider are:
- What did you learn from your experience?
- Would you want to change anything? If yes, then why?
- What do you feel about the experience?
- What were the challenges faced?
- Did you start doing anything differently after this experience?
This exercise will give you an idea of what you want your essay to be centered around. The idea is to keep pushing yourself to think deeper and find meaning in your experiences in order to put together a successful reflective essay.
Here’s some practical advice from Become a Writer Today on how you can use mind maps to write better and faster
Sometimes all you need to do to write is just start. That’s what freewriting is essentially about.
After you’re done brainstorming, creating a mind map and organizing your thoughts, just open a blank document and start writing with the flow. Don’t stop to think or edit – just write as your thoughts come to you.
The best part about freewriting is that it results in a steady stream of ideas that you might have missed out on if you hadn’t resorted to writing with the flow.
So, whether you’re not motivated to write or are just second-guessing your ideas at every stage, it helps to let your thoughts guide you and put them out on paper for starters.
Structure the Essay
Now, it’s time to put your ideas and thoughts into words and give them a proper structure. A reflective essay is ideally divided into the following parts:
Introduction – start your essay with a hook to capture the reader’s interest. Your thesis statement should introduce the past experience you will be reflecting upon while setting the tone for the rest of the essay;
Body – this is where you will elaborate on the experience and its significance followed by analyzing the impact it had on your life. Make sure you don’t rant on. It’s important to put your storytelling skills to use and keep the essay engaging for people to want to read more. Use examples wherever possible as it strengthens your narrative;
Conclusion – the concluding paragraph is a summation of your reflections. You need to mention how the experience shaped your life and how you intend to carry forward your learnings and apply it in the real world.
Proofread, Proofread and Proofread
Don’t make the grave mistake of turning in your reflective essay without proofreading. In fact, you must give thorough rounds of proofreading before finalizing it. You will be surprised to see the number of silly mistakes that are made in the first round of writing.
So, watch out for grammatical, spelling and sentence formation errors. You must also ensure the essay flows well and. It’ a good idea to get a family member or friend to read your essay too to get a fresh set of eyes on it.
What Makes a Successful Reflective Essay?
While writing a reflective essay might sound like journal writing, it’s certainly way more than that.
Now that you know the steps involved in reflective essay writing, let’s take a closer look at what makes for an effective essay that is sure to make your paper stand out and fetch you high scores.
Here are the nine critical components of a successful reflective essay.
Demonstrate Personal Experience
Reflective essays need to be derived from your personal experiences and believe it or not – it shows when students half-heartedly speak about their experiences just for the sake of the assignment.
So, write with a clear line of thought while describing your personal experience because that is what will set the foundation for the paper. The reader has to understand the context before you go on to analyze and share your perspective.
Be Detailed and Descriptive
One of the most important parts of writing a reflective essay is finding the right balance between giving away too much and not being detailed enough.
A generic reflective essay is sure to not get you the grades you want. Instructors want to see how deep your analysis is which is reflected in your descriptive writing. Don’t hesitate to paint a vivid picture because it alleviates your essay.
It is recommended to write in the first person as it conveys a more personal tone and is more reflective of your personality. So, stay away from vague ideas and concepts and deepen your analysis.
Be Honest About Your Feelings
The best reflective essays are a product of utmost honesty. The ability to be vulnerable and be completely open about your experiences is what gets you contemplate the experience/event and examine the consequences with greater precision.
So, don’t scratch the surface and shy away from describing your true feelings and emotions – be honest and you’re sure to write a compelling reflective essay that sounds genuine and appeals to the reader.
Analyze and Evaluate the Event
The biggest mistake students make while writing reflective essays is that they end up summarizing their experiences instead of analyzing and evaluating the situation.
While you need to describe the event clearly and concisely, you are also expected to evaluate and analyze your thoughts, feelings, and reaction to that experience.
What’s the difference between evaluation and analysis, you ask?
Evaluation involves judging the merit or significance of something while analysis is about interpreting the meaning behind it.
Here’s a snapshot of Gibbs’ reflective cycle which aptly encapsulates the approach you can take while writing this paper.
Remember – the idea of a reflective essay to derive and demonstrate what you achieved from the experience/event and the influence it had on your life. So, don’t stop at merely summarizing the experience.
Include Examples to Illustrate your Points
Nothing accentuates a piece of writing than weaving credible evidence and examples to illustrate your thoughts and feelings while writing a reflective essay.
Examples help justify the points you’re trying to make and help the reader relate better to your writing. This technique keeps misinterpretations at bay and paves the way for clearer understanding.
State a Plan of Action
You described the event, addressed your feelings, evaluated the experience and analyzed the situation but it feels incomplete, doesn’t it?
That’s because any kind of reflection needs to end with a course of action that involves writing about how it changed your life and what you learned from the experience.
Look at it this way – if you were to go through that experience again, what would you do differently? That’s what you have to address as an action plan.
Stick to the Main Theme
The length of a reflective essay varies from 300 to 700 words. Considering that you have a word limit to abide by, you need to ensure you don’t digress and deviate from the main purpose/theme of your essay.
This is a point worth mentioning because while writing about their personal experiences, students do tend to go off-topic. Not only does this result in ineffective utilization of space but going off the trail also projects you in a bad light and can hurt your score.
So, be sure to stick to the main theme – this is something you must check for in the editing stage.
A kind of literary device, imagery is used to bring one’s writing to life and make it more appealing to the reader.
As reflective essays are about reflecting on your personal experiences, it’s a good idea to incorporate imagery and weave a picture in the reader’s mind. This strengthens your writing and lets you enhance your descriptions.
Here’s a video by Reedsy on how you can write stronger descriptions and use interesting imagery in your writing
Maintain a Formal and Professional Tone
A reflective essay might be a personal account but it still is an academic form of writing.
This means that you need to maintain a formal and professional tone, stay away from slangs, avoid contractions (can’t, won’t, shouldn’t, etc.) and abide by the general grammar and sentence formation rules.
As you are reflecting on your experiences, it is alright to write in first-person (I, me, us, we, our, etc.).
The interesting thing about writing reflective essays is that nothing is right or wrong. It all boils down to your interpretation of your life events and the insight the reader is able to get into your personality.
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