Ever sit under a tree on a beautiful summer day and reflect about your life and what you’ve learned?
No? That’s okay if you haven’t. A lot of students are way too busy to spend their days reflecting. But if you’ve been assigned to write a reflective essay, here’s your chance to do so.
Are you reflecting on the writing assignment right now? Perhaps you’re thinking, “I don’t even know what a reflective essay is and have no idea how to write one.”
If that’s the case, then you should stop reflecting and start reading, as this blog post will teach you how to write a reflective essay that’s interesting.
What Is a Reflective Essay?
The goal of the reflective essay is to describe how a person, event, or experience affected you. Your objective is to reflect upon your personal growth.
To do this, you’ll need to share your thoughts and emotions. Don’t worry; you don’t have to share your deepest, darkest secrets (unless, of course, you want to).
While this definition might sound a lot like a narrative essay, be careful not to confuse the two. A reflective essay doesn’t simply tell a story or explain an event like a narrative essay does.
Here’s an example from a narrative essay written by the classic cartoon mischief-maker Bart Simpson.
Last week at church I switched the organist’s music. I would’ve gotten away with it, but Milhouse snitched on me, and the reverend ordered us to clean the organ as punishment. Milhouse cleaned the organ because he feared for his soul. I didn’t believe in souls, so I sold mine to Milhouse for $5. When bad things started happening to me, I quickly realized I needed to get my soul back.
Bart tells the story of selling his soul and finding a way to get it back. He’s not reflecting about how the experience affected him.
Narrative essays don’t usually reflect upon events or explain how they changed you. (If they do, the reflection is kept brief, as the narrative’s purpose is to tell the story.)
Okay, so now you know how a narrative essay is different from a reflective essay. But, what the heck is a reflective essay anyway? Let’s use another example.
Here’s an example from a reflective essay written by Bart Simpson.
When I sold my soul to Milhouse for $5, I thought it was a great deal, but soon after the sale my life took a turn for the worse. My pets hated me, and I couldn’t even laugh at Itchy & Scratchy cartoons. I knew I had made a terrible mistake. Thanks to Lisa, I was able to get my soul back, and I’m a new man; I definitely learned an important lesson.
See the difference? The narrative essay describes events. A reflective essay explains how the events shaped you.
Bart briefly retells the story of selling his soul, but the focus of the essay will be the lesson he learned and how the event changed him.
Though you’ll still need to tell your story in a reflective essay, it will only be a small part of your paper. In other words, don’t spend too much time explaining the details of the events. If you do, you won’t have enough space to reflect.
Still wondering how to actually write a reflective essay that’s interesting? Read the following for some helpful advice.
How to Write a Reflective Essay: Q & A
Q: How do I know what to write about?
A: Sometimes your professor will decide this for you. You might have to reflect on your learning in a course or, perhaps, during field experience or internship.
If you’re writing about your learning in a course, think about the course content. (Pull out the syllabus if you need to remember the key topics of the course.)
Or, you might write about how a specific teacher changed your life.
Lisa Simpson might write about how a substitute teacher inspired her and taught her that life was worth living.
If you are allowed to choose your own topic, pick something that has affected you on meaningful level.
Don’t write about how your new XBox changed your life because you can now play your favorite games at any time.
Do write about something that will allow you to reflect on the subject in a meaningful way.
Lisa Simpson might write about how entering a beauty contest as a feminist really did make her a stronger person and helped her self esteem.
Q: What does it really mean to reflect?
A: Reflecting means you’ll have to think more deeply about your subject. Don’t just write about anything that comes to mind.
Reflection takes time.
Think about cause and effect, how ideas compare, how you feel about the topic, and how you have been affected.
Lisa Simpson might write about the time she fell in love with a lamb at the petting zoo. When her mom served lamb chops for dinner, she struggled with the idea of lambs as living creatures and animals as food. Her inner struggles led her to become a vegetarian.
Like Lisa, you may have a lot to consider, and it may take a while to actually decide how you feel about an experience.
Keep reflecting, and, before you write, jot down as many feelings and reflections as you can on your topic. You won’t end up writing about everything you put in your notes, but this process will help you decide what’s most important and will allow you to narrow your focus.
Q: How do I make my reflective essay interesting?
A: Choose relevant content. If you’re writing about how volunteering at a homeless shelter affected you, choose key points that really changed your life in a significant way.
You may have realized the importance of wearing comfortable shoes while standing and serving meals for hours, but did the revelation about proper footwear really change your life? Is this really what your audience wants to read about? I doubt it.
Choose more complex insights. Consider how and why the events, the interactions, and your experiences changed your outlook or your goals for your own life.
Homer Simpson might write about the time doctors found a crayon lodged in his brain, and how when they removed it, he instantly became smarter. His story would focus on how the events changed him and how he felt when he was finally able to relate to his daughter, Lisa.
In Homer’s reflective essay, stories of driving to work or sitting at Moe’s drinking a beer wouldn’t be relevant, as they don’t offer any insight to his reflections about his relationship with Lisa.
Q: Can I write in first person?
A: Yes (unless your professor says otherwise). Most academic writing is formal and requires you to write in third person, but because reflective essays are more personal, and you’re reflecting about your thoughts and experiences, in most cases you may use first person.
Q: If I can use first person, does that mean I can write like I talk?
A: No. Remember, you’re still writing an academic essay. Your tone should be formal, and you should avoid slang and jargon.
Q: How do I structure a reflective essay?
A: The structure of a reflective essay is like most other essays. You need to include an introduction, body, and conclusion. You’ll also need a strong thesis that informs readers of the focus of your paper. (Read Use This Reflective Essay Outline to Get Your Paper Started)
Reflective Essay Checklist
Now that you know how to write a reflective essay, don’t forget to proofread and revise your paper once it’s done.
Here’s a quick proofreading and revision checklist to help polish your essay.
Check the opening. Have you used a good hook sentence? Does your opening grab readers’ attention? Does anyone actually want to read your reflection?
Check essay format. Are your margins correct? Have you used an acceptable font? Is your spacing correct?
Ask for help. Don’t forget to have a friend, family member, or expert Kibin editor help polish your reflective essay.