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What is a reflective essay and how to write it?


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Ordering a reflective essay from Pro-Papers using a computer

First of all, let’s look at the reflective essay definition. This is a type of writing assignment that requires a person to describe and analyze a past event or an experience he or she was involved in. Reflective writing requires not only knowledge of the subject, but also an analytical/critical mind. It is a common task in schools and universities, which helps students learn from difficulties they have faced in their lives or studies, and think of the ways to avoid or cope with them in the future.

If you want to know how to make a reflective essay perfect, here is a rule to follow: devote 10% of the essay’s length to the description of a certain experience, 65% to its thorough analysis, and other 25% to reflecting on the things you have learned for the future. Your work has to do more than just tell how you have matured since the event; it has to show this in examples to make the reader believe it.

How to write a reflective essay that catches the readers’ attention?

Reflective essays are written at least once a year and cover diverse parts of students’ lives. This task helps students of different ages to evolve, learn from their mistakes, and apply the obtained knowledge later in life. Therefore, it is crucial to understand how to write a reflective essay and present personal growth in it properly.

Overall, it is important to tell about the event in detail mentioning what, where, and why has happened and propose the ways you could have changed the outcome of the situation. You will have to describe the situation and tell how it has influenced your life. It is crucial to show that you have learned your lesson and will be able to make the right decisions if a similar situation occurs in future.

Tips for writing a good reflective essay outline

The essay consists of at least five paragraphs, where each one has a different purpose. The way the academic reflective essay is written is has its own specifics, but the outline is rather typical:

  • Introduction sets the scene and tells the reader what is going to be reviewed and why.
  • Thesis statement describes the main idea of the essay.
  • Body paragraphs describe an experience and analyze it.
  • Conclusion summarizes the problem, reiterates the purpose and suggests the further actions.

The body of the paper has to cover three main questions:

  • what has happened
  • what are the results
  • what can or will be done in the nearest time.

Answering these questions clearly will help in writing a good reflective essay. Note that it is important to separate the answers and create nice transitions to make the work coherent. This part needs to flow into the conclusion, where the reader has to see the whole picture and understand the way the writer has developed through the process.

Tips from experts

Meet our advisors

Read the essay question carefully!

Look for these words:

  • Describe/summarize means give the facts
  • Explain means analyze the topic
  • Argue means to reject/accept a viewpoint
  • Discuss refers to presenting a point of view
  • Critique means give both positive/negative sides
  • Compare and contrast discuss similarities/differences

Structure an essay

Beginners use the five-paragraph structure with references. Advanced writers use a variation of this method.


Write the first ugly draft – using first/third person depending on the requirements. Know how to paraphrase and summarize. Don’t plagiarize – everyone checks if the essay is unique.

Editing & Formatting

I use the chainsaw and surgical methods. Chainsaw cuts material that isn’t relevant. Surgical involves fine-tuning spelling and grammar.

What is the formatting style? APA, MLA, or CMS? What is the word/page count? Follow the rubric.

Penny J. Larsen

College professor with 30 years of teaching experience

Common mistakes when writing a reflective essay introduction

Writing a reflective essay is an intricate process and the introductory part of your paper should be flawless to grab the attention of the reader. So, ‘how to start a reflective essay?’, you may think. The answer depends on the experience you have chosen to analyze, so there are no common rules as to what should definitely be included in the introductory part. But we have gathered several tips that will help you to avoid the most common mistakes made when writing a reflective essay introduction, like:

  • Starting from afar.
    In fact, you can start with anything, be it news, historical facts, a question, or a life story. However, no matter what you choose, the introduction should be directly related to the topic of the essay. In general, you shouldn’t beat around the bush for a long time.
  • Using clichés.
    Most of the students use shocking facts from the press, quotes of famous people, or jokes to start their essays. While these are acceptable options, being original always pays off. If you have a personal story that can illustrate the topic of your essay, this would be the best choice.
  • Starting off dull.
    Remember that your task is to attract and hold the reader’s attention throughout the entire text, and if you start off by stating some boring facts, even if there is a hook, the reader’s interest will fade away even before the main part of the essay begins.
  • Being inconsistent.
    Make a clear connection between the ideas and facts that support the main topic, with your thesis statement and subsequent paragraphs. Structure the text carefully and do not clutter the introduction with unnecessary information.

Why write a thesis statement for a reflective essay?

When writing a reflective paper, you might still be required to formulate a thesis. Why though?

  • To highlight one main idea in the paper;
  • To get a better understanding of how to structure the essay and to clarify the arguments;
  • To familiarize the reader with the main idea before presenting the arguments.

The thesis is the basis of the whole paper. As you write a reflective paper, your main idea may change slightly, so at the end of the work, do not forget to re-read everything again and assess whether the thesis still reflects the content of the resulting work.

Writing a body of a reflective essay

The main part requires the most attention especially when drawing up a plan. Generally, there is no one commonly accepted reflective essay format because it is a rather personal paper. So, the body part can have a different structure:

  • Idea-argumentation, idea-argumentation, idea-argumentation, etc. In this case, you indicate a key idea in every paragraph and then support it with factual information;
  • Reverse structure (facts-inference). Describe the situation or indicate some facts and then draw a conclusion from them.
  • One key message and several arguments. In this case, it is necessary to support one thought with a few facts. The thesis can be presented either at the beginning or after the factual info is presented.

You are free to use any number of arguments to support your thesis as long as you do not overload the text.

How to write a great conclusion for a reflective essay?

Sometimes, when everything has already been said and every argument has been put forward, it is quite difficult to sum everything up in several concise sentences without repeating the ideas that have already been expressed. But good reflective essays are supposed to have well-structured and succinct conclusive parts. So, here are several standard ways to finish an essay:

  • Conclusive statement.
    It is usually customary to end an essay with a conclusion drawn from all of the above arguments. Make sure not to duplicate what has already been said – remind the reader about some main points, add to them, and show what you have learned from the experience you are writing about.
  • A deeper reflection.
    What could you have done differently? What can be said about your overall emotional or physical state, problem-solving skills, or thinking patterns? Briefly cover the answers to these questions adding to what you have already said in the body of the paper.

No matter which option you choose, make sure it is consistent with the rest of the paper. In the end, good reflective essays leave an impression that any complications the student faced have been approached seriously, and he or she realized how to benefit from the experience, either good or bad, which is something you should aim to show as well.

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