Tips Writing Reflective Essay Examples

Who hasn’t seen Forrest Gump? A touching, hilarious, poignant movie about a shrimp-fishing, table-tennis-playing, long-distance-running war hero from the deep South.

The movie begins with Forrest sitting at a bus stop. As various people come and go, Forrest recalls the story of his life. It’s like the movie version of a narrative essay.

Forrest does a good job of describing what has happened at various points throughout his life, but the viewer is left with the job of taking it a step beyond the narration.

This next step is reflection. The audience listens to the things Forrest has accomplished in his life and attaches deeper meaning to them in regard to what they teach us about success, social perceptions, and life in general.

If you were to combine Forrest’s narration with the audience’s contemplation, you’d get the movie version of a reflective essay.

A reflective essay is about you.

This means there won’t be any lengthy research attached to a reflective writing assignment (yay!). Instead, you will be asked to describe a part of your life and reflect on what you learned from it.

This “part of your life” could take many forms. You could focus on an experience, a personality trait, or an important person you’ve met who has influenced you in some way. There’s a lot of wiggle room, if you will, in a reflective essay to make it your own.

I can hear you now: “No research? I just have to write about myself. Piece of cake.”

However, it’s precisely this sense of freedom that can get you in trouble. There are enough pitfalls with reflective writing to fill an entire blog post. But I’m a positive guy, so let’s instead focus on five tips for a super successful reflective writing assignment.

Reflective Writing Tip #1: Choose the Right Topic

The first and, perhaps, most important step in a reflective writing assignment is choosing the right topic. Choosing the wrong topic can lead to that nightmarish moment when, after trudging through a difficult first draft, you realize that you may have to start over.

Avoid this scenario by giving yourself lots of time to choose a topic. I know you want to procrastinate. I know. But just don’t. Start thinking about topics immediately.

This doesn’t have to be intensive work. Just give it some thought throughout the day. When you get an idea, jot it down. Eventually, you’ll have a list of topics to choose from when you sit down to put fingers to keyboard.

I can hear you saying to yourself, “I don’t even know where to start thinking.” Don’t worry. I’ve got you covered.

When brainstorming reflective essay topics, keep the following questions in mind.

Am I excited to write about this topic?

If not, you’re going to be miserable throughout this entire process. Think of an experience that you’re actually interested in reflecting upon.

Has this experience influenced me in some way?

More on this in a bit, but just keep in mind that an experience lacking in any type of lesson learned is not going to work for a reflective essay.

Is this topic unique? Will it be interesting for my reader?

The tendency is to play it safe when writing an essay that involves a personal topic. You may be inclined to avoid writing about anything that may be considered abnormal by your reader. But as Forrest says, “What’s normal anyways?”

I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone when choosing a reflective essay topic. You may be surprised at what you can gain from it.

And if you need a little help getting started on topic ideas, check out these example reflective writing essays:

Reflective Writing Tip #2: Go Deeper

One of the biggest traps a writer can fall into when tackling a reflective essay is to get it confused with a narrative essay. As mentioned above, the two have similarities, but they also have one big difference.

Imagine, for instance, that one day you were running from bullies and, unknowingly, ran past a football scout who, noticing your amazing speed, gave you a scholarship to play college football.

This, in and of itself, is a great story, but in a reflective essay, you must go deeper.

Add in the fact that as a child you were told you’d never be able to run because of a crooked spine, and you’ve got the makings of a strong reflective essay about breaking expectations.

The goal is to analyze how this event shaped the person you are today. It’s easy to get lost in the story and assume that the reader understands the significance behind it, but you have to include that analysis in your writing.

Like Mama, you have to explain it so the reader can understand it.

I imagine, after the above experience, you might think twice when someone says you aren’t good enough to do something. An experience like that might influence success in other areas of life—which is what you would focus on in your essay.

Reflective Writing Tip #3: Think About the Future

So you’ve thought of a great story from the past that you want to tell in your essay. You have a great angle from which to analyze this story in relation to how it has affected you up until this point.

Now, I suggest you take it even one step beyond this.

How has the past experience in your life changed your goals for the future? Has it shaped your destiny?

Forrest Gump had a wonderful relationship with his mother. There are several moments between them that would make for a great reflective essay—from her willingness to do anything to get him into the public school system to her battle with cancer.

All of these moments shaped the way Forrest looked at the world and made decisions in his life, but I imagine they also will affect the way he raises his own son in the future.

After telling of past experiences and analyzing their effects on the present, why not take the time to reflect on how those experiences may have affected your future goals? It’s one more layer of reflection that will help make your reflective writing assignment super successful.

Reflective Writing Tip #4: Plan Before You Write

Although you may have thought of a great story to tell and think you can jump right in and write it, I encourage you to take the time to plan your reflective essay.

Much like life itself, reflecting on the past can lead in many surprising directions. This is one of the coolest parts of a reflective essay. It isn’t cut and dry like some other essays in which you research and write about a topic.

You get a chance to learn something about yourself when tackling a reflective essay.

First, take the time to develop a reflective essay outline. It might seem like a waste of time to create an outline for an essay about a personal subject. But a reflective essay outline will help you to focus on the most important details, create a roadmap of your essay journey, and ultimately, save you time.

Much like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get when you start a reflective essay. Take the time to plan before you write, and you’ll get something clear, concise, and personally rewarding.

Reflective Writing Tip #5: Finished? Keep Working

Any and every good piece of writing consists of several drafts. Reflective writing is no different. After outlining and then writing your essay, I suggest using the reflective learning cycle to, uh, reflect on your draft.

The four steps to the reflective learning cycle are plan, act, observe, and reflect.

We’ve already gone over the planning part of the process above. When you’re finished outlining your essay, you will move on to the action, which, you guessed it, involves writing your essay.

Once you’ve written the first draft, you will tackle the observation portion of the process. This involves going back and reading your draft. I suggest that you give yourself some time between writing and observing.

Go to the beach or watch a movie after finishing the first draft. Put all thoughts of that past draft behind you before thinking about the next one. By getting the essay out of your head, you will be able to return to it with a clearer perspective.

Once you have reread your essay, you should then reflect on it. What worked? What didn’t? Were there holes in your story? Your analysis? Have your insights changed? Are there new perspectives that should be included?

At this point, the cycle begins again. You plan your next draft, rewrite the essay, observe, and reflect on it. You should continue circling this process until you no longer feel the need to make more changes.

Even at this point, you’re not done. Remember when I suggested that you step away from your essay after writing it and before reading it in order to clear your mind? Well, the fact is, you’ll never be able to look at your own essay from a completely clear and unbiased perspective.

I suggest that you shoot your essay over to one of the professional editors at Kibin. He or she will apply a new set of eyes and an editor’s mind to your reflective essay, giving it the much needed final touches before declaring it a final draft.

I love reflective writing. I’m always surprised at what I can learn about myself when I take the time to reflect and write. I encourage you to follow the above tips to achieve a super successful reflective essay, and I wish you luck in learning something about yourself in the process.

As for me, I think I’ll have some shrimp tonight. Maybe some shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo, pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp …

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Your instructor just told you that your next writing assignment will be a reflective essay.

Reflective essays are about you, so you go home and take a good long look in the mirror.

Before you start writing about what you see on the surface, keep in mind that a reflective essay involves more than just a cursory glance. It requires taking a deeper look at yourself, stepping through the looking glass, so to speak, to discover and show important parts of yourself to your readers.

Image by sammydavisdog via flickr

Below, I’ll show you how to create a killer reflective essay outline, and I’ll even give you a downloadable template you can use to make your own outline.

What Is a Reflective Essay and How Is It Different from Other Essays?

So you may be asking yourself what a reflective essay is exactly. You’ve written many other types of essays for many different classes, so how is this any different?

First things first… a reflective essay is one in which you reflect on your personality, places you’ve been, people you’ve met, or experiences that have influenced you. This type of essay lets you tell the reader who you are and what/who has made you that way.

Unlike most other types of essays you may have written, reflective essays typically don’t deal with researching facts and figures. They are much more personal in nature and can be more fluid in structure and style.

It can be tempting to just jump right into writing, but hold on! A good reflective essay can be a great reflective essay with the proper planning.

Using a Reflective Essay Outline to Organize Your Thoughts

The goal of any essay is to write clearly and concisely about whatever topic you choose or are assigned. Unfortunately, with reflective essays, some people tend to get a little disorganized and start sounding like the Walrus, talking about anything and everything in no particular order.

Don’t be like the Walrus!

Using a reflective essay outline can help your writing in a few ways

  • An outline can help lay out exactly what details you want to use before you start writing. This is tremendously helpful because you won’t end up on your last paragraph and suddenly realize that you forgot to include a crucial element or two.
  • An outline gives you a clear roadmap instead of curvy paths and dead ends. You don’t have to wonder what’s supposed to come next because it’ll all be in the outline. In other words, you won’t have to spend time “in Wonderland.”
  • Because you can look at your reflective essay outline and follow it as you’re writing, ultimately you’ll save some time in your writing. Second-guessing what comes next, in what order the supporting details should go, or going back for big revisions because you forgot something important are all wastes of time.

Are you convinced yet that creating a reflective essay outline is the best option?

Good! Now let’s get to actually making that outline!

How to Craft a Good Reflective Essay Outline

Because the subject of reflective essays is different from that of, say, an argumentative essay, the structure and organization can also be quite different. However, some rules still apply. To start organizing, your reflective essay outline should include sections for the introduction, body and conclusion.

For the purposes of giving examples, let’s say Alice just got back from her adventures in Wonderland and is working on a reflective essay outline to tell about her experience there.

Image by Jessie Wilcox Smith via Wikimedia Commons

Introduction

As with any essay, your reflective essay should begin with an introduction. The parts of your introduction to include in your outline are:

  • The hook: you want to grab your reader’s attention from the very start. If you’re telling about an experience, give a quick preview of the most exciting part of that story.
  • The thesis statement: In a reflective essay, the thesis statement will usually include a brief statement of what your essay is about as well as how the specific person, place, or experience has influenced you. You will expand on this later, so don’t give away too much in the beginning.

Alice’s introduction might go something like this:

I don’t know how I had gotten myself into such a mess, but I found myself running down a seemingly endless path with the Red Queen’s entire court shouting, “Off with her head!” I had long yearned for adventure and excitement, but my time in Wonderland made me realize that adventure comes with some serious risks.

Body

The next part of your outline is perhaps the most important. Without your reflective essay outline, the body can get muddled and confusing. I can’t tell you exactly how to organize the body of your essay because every essay is going to be different. However, I do have a couple of tips.

  • If you are writing about an experience or an event, use a chronology that makes sense. It doesn’t have to be completely linear, but if you jump around in the timeline too much, it can confuse both you and the reader. Laying out the important parts in the outline will help you figure out in what order to put everything.
  • No matter what you’re writing your reflective essay about–an experience, person or place–you should include the impact it has madeand what, if anything, you learned. This should be at least as long of a section as the description of the event, person or place. It’s what shows off who you are and it’s what the reader will be most interested in.

The body paragraphs of Alice’s reflective outline may look something like this:

  1. Following the white rabbit down the rabbit hole
    1. Description of what happened
    2. Learning to look before I leap
  2. Meeting the Caterpillar
    1. Description of what happened
    2. I learned how to control my size
    3. I started to realize just how strange the people were in Wonderland
  3. Mad Tea Party
    1. Description of what happened
    2. Although a lot of fun, the tea party was very stressful
    3. The people I met were progressively crazier
  4. Croquet with the Red Queen
    1. Description of what happened
    2. It’s very hard to play croquet when the other person is cheating and threatening to behead you
    3. It was at this point when I realized that Wonderland had no rules, and that a world without rules is insane

As you can see, Alice’s timeline includes different events within the entire experience and with a moment of reflection on each. The final lesson learned is the epiphany–the aha! moment.

Your outline does not have to look just like this. It could be a summary of the entire experience, followed by what you learned from it. Like I said, every essay is different.

Conclusion

The conclusion of your reflective essay should be the finishing touch that brings the whole piece of writing together nicely. Include a brief summary of your main points (as stated in the body paragraphs), as well as the overall takeaway from your reflection.

For example, Alice’s conclusion would be similar to this:

The White Rabbit, Caterpillar, Mad Hatter, and the Red Queen are certainly faces that I’ll never forget. They each contributed to the sheer madness of Wonderland. But those people–that madness–made me thankful for the peace and security of my own home and family and its rules.

More Resources to Help with Your Reflective Essay Outline

I hope you have a better understanding of why and how to draft a good outline. To give you a bit of extra help, here’s a downloadable reflective essay outline template.

Reflective Essay Outline Template.

This outline template follows a 5-paragraph format, but you can add paragraphs and rearrange the body paragraphs to fit your needs. Just fill in the blanks with your own information, and you’ll be one step closer to a stellar essay.

Need more inspiration? Check out these reflective essay examples.

If you’re looking for topic ideas, check out 15 Reflective Essay Topics to Inspire Your Next Paper.

Good luck!

Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.

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