Use This Reflective Essay Outline to Get Your Paper Started
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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.

reflective essay outline

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

reflective essay outline

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.

reflective essay outline

Image by Jessie Wilcox Smith via Wikimedia Commons

Introduction

research paper outlineAs 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

2The 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 made and 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

research paper outlineThe 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!

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  • olanrewaju Ebun

    I ust want to say THANK YOU very much this article was vey helpful

  • J. Logan

    This is great, thank you! 🙂

  • Happy to help!

  • Bond

    Eden,
    Can I use this as a resource for teaching my Composition Skills class? I love how you’ve outlined this. It’s very straightfoward.

    • Glad you found Eden’s post and outline helpful! You can definitely use it for your class with attribution, yes.

    • Margrett Chisholm

      Hi Eden, i like the simple straight forward way you have put your point, this will help me as I design my portfolio. I posted your page on face book thanks.

      • Hi Margrett,
        Thanks for your comment! I agree, Eden does a fantastic job and I’ll make sure she sees your kind praise.

        Have a good one!
        Naomi

  • sid

    Thank you soo much.
    u just saved me.

  • sid

    thanks again

  • hdisqus123

    Trashe article. Absolute garbaggio.

  • adisqus123

    Not the best article I’ve seen

  • Slut

    Learnt alot thanks!

  • Anonymous

    This was super helpful and the example of Alice in Wonderland made it much easier to understand how to write this kind of essay. I learnt more in 5 minutes of reading this than 50 minutes in class; brilliant teaching.

    • What a wonderful comment! We’re very happy to help you and I’ll be sure to pass this to the author, Eden.
      Best,
      Naomi

  • Gabby

    Thank you! This is so helpful. Loved that you used a story that most people know, helped me understand it more!

    • No problem–happy to help. Thanks for the kind comment! I’ll make sure the author sees it. Cheers!

  • Abu

    Thanksss so much help indeed!!!

    • You’re welcome! Thanks for the comment. 🙂

  • Clem

    Thanks you, this is very helpful.

    • So happy that we could help. Thanks for the comment!

  • Meera .G

    thank you this was very helpful.

  • nurzahrah mohdnazari

    thank you this was very helpful.

  • Muratkhan Moldir

    My teacher gave me a task to write a personal reflection on one TED TALK, called 5 ways to listen better. I have no idea how to write this short essay… Can you help me please