Reflective Essays: What Is, How to Write, Examples

Reflective Essays

In a previous article, we talked about narrative essays. A narrative essay is one which tells a story, and is usually written from the author’s point of view. Reflective essays are similar to narrative essays in that they’re typically written in the first person. But there are differences between the two. Let’s explore reflective essays a bit more, and look at a few examples.

What is a Reflective Essay?

A reflective essay is just that – a reflection. When you write reflective essays, your goal is to tell the world about something you’ve learned, or an experience you’ve had, whether you’re writing about remodeling your bathroom (and why not? Every house needs its own spa), leaving an abusive partner or achieving a major career goal.

However, these are slightly different from the narrative essay. The narrative will typically read like a story. You’ll have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and your narrator will usually serve as a protagonist.

A reflective essay is a bit more loosely defined. The essay may change depending on the audience, and there may not be a definitive end to the “story” you’re telling.

Reflective essays can be informal or formal. There are universities which list reflective essays as requirements in admissions applications. There are also opportunities to post reflective essays on blogs, for example.

Generally speaking, your reflective essay will briefly recount an experience, then will describe the lesson you learned from that experience. But unlike a narrative essay, the focus isn’t on telling the story. Instead, you’ll concentrate on the feelings you experienced, your outlook prior to the event and most likely how your outlook has changed as a result.

Reflective essays may sound simple, but they’re actually quite difficult to write at time. They’ll require deep thought and, you guessed it, reflection on your topic of choice. Properly written, though, they can be quite moving; writers of reflective essays can rival the most talented poets.

How to Write a Reflective Essay: Part One

If you’re tasked with writing a reflective essay, or if you just want to give it a whirl, there are a few ways you can get started. First, you’ll choose a topic. Your topic should be something that you feel emotion about. Writing a reflective essay about electric smokers just won’t work.

Dig deep. Was there something which caused you heartbreak in the past? Is there a scent which reminds you of your grandparents’ home? Have you experienced a coincidence which you couldn’t explain? Think of what evokes emotion in your own mind, and strive to pass that emotion along to your readers.

Next, you’ll need to think about your topic. And if we’re being honest, sometimes the best way to write a reflective essay is just to write. Sit down with your notepad, your tablet or your laptop – whatever will make your words appear. Now just write. You’re not aiming for MLA formatting here. You’re not even going for proper spelling. Translating your emotion to words is what’s important.

Once you’ve put your emotions into words, you’ll likely need to do a bit of editing. Read through your rough draft and correct all of those typos and double negatives. Ensure that your essay makes logical sense, and that the circumstances surrounding your experience are explained sufficiently.

Got it? Now it’s time to make sure that your reflective essay is, well, reflective.

How to Write a Reflective Essay: Part Two

In order for reflective essays to show reflection, they’ll need to answer a few questions. The beauty of these essays, though, is that you’ll get to choose what those questions are. There are many sites across the web which can provide ideas, but here are a few to get you started.

• How can my experience help others?
• How did my experience change my relationships?
• Did this experience translate to a bigger meaning in my life?
• What made this event so difficult?
• Why are my memories of this event so vivid?
• How did this make me realize that I was wrong?
• Would someone with a similar experience feel the same way?
• Why was this so unexpected?

Again, these are just a few examples of questions you may answer within your reflective essay. But it’s important to note that if you don’t answer these questions, your essay is likely a narrative essay.

Once you’ve written your essay and answered your questions, read your essay again. Then read it again, and one more time. Put yourself into the mind of your reader, and ensure that everything is explained. If you like, have a family member look it over.

Your thoughts should be clear and you should paint vivid imagery with your words. Your main point should be concise and apparent. And your reflective essay should aim to elicit emotion. It’s not easy, but you can do it.

What’s the Point of Reflective Essays?

Reflective essays carry much emotion and that’s part of their beauty. You can write about topics which are very personal to you; you can share your experiences and your knowledge with anyone you choose.

But you may be wondering why you’d ever need to write such a personal essay. As mentioned, you can use them in academics sometimes, or you can write reflective essays as part of a blog or even a private journal.

It may surprise you to know that many professions make use of the reflective essay. Therapists document patients’ progress through these, social workers can provide reflective essays as accounts of progress or digression in children, and there are many instances of reflective essays having been submitted as evidence by doctors or other professionals in a court setting.

That having been said, even if you have no professional or academic requirement to write a reflective essay, you may still choose to try it. They can offer many benefits to your own emotional growth. When you have a bit of free time, give it a shot. Writing reflective essays can be very rewarding, and who knows? You may learn something about yourself in the process.

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