Writing about yourself can be embarrassing. Writing about social issues can be intimidating. But writing about how you personally engaged with a social issue can be absolutely terrifying. It can also, however, be a powerful way to convince readers of your ability to perceive, analyze and overcome some of the most difficult challenges that societies face.

It’s OK to Talk About Yourself

Now is not the time to be shy or self-deprecating. A reflective essay about a social issue is really about your engagement with a social issue. Your readers don’t want to read a statistical analysis of racism, sexism, homophobia, religious persecution, addiction, colonialism, war or poverty; if they did, they’d read an academic journal. They want to read about how you personally experienced pressing social problems, and what you did to overcome them. So while you don’t want to over share, it’s critical that you do share.

Demonstrate Insight

You have to do more than describe an aspect of your life in a reflective essay; you have to demonstrate that you’ve analyzed it and gained insight from it. Those insights can be both about yourself and society at large. What did your experience teach you? Prove that you’re able to think critically about your life and relate it to the social challenges that other people face.

Demonstrate Growth

Our experiences shape us into the people we become. Now is your chance to talk about how a social challenge made you the person that you are today -- hopefully, a better person. When we engage personally with a social issue, we often become more sensitive and empathetic toward other people, passionate about a specific cause or dedicated to social justice. How did your experience change you?

Follow a Narrative Arc

Like any essay, a reflective essay needs to follow a logical structure. It has to have a beginning, middle and end. In the introduction, you should capture the reader’s interest by providing a vivid illustration of your experience; in the middle, share your thoughts and ideas about the issue at hand; and in the end, you should summarize your general reflections.