What Is a Reflective Essay Paper?

In a reflective essay, the writer captures an image of his own mind.
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Writing a reflective essay is like taking a "selfie" photo in words or holding a mirror to your psyche and memorializing the details of the image. In a reflective essay, you examine your own mind and articulate the process. Reflective essays focus on a specific experience, whether taking a course or going through a major crisis, and explain to the reader what its effects and ramifications are and how you have been affected or changed.

1 Benefits of Reflective Essay Writing

When you write things down, creating a visual image, you enhance your brain's ability to remember what you have written as opposed to merely thinking a thought or saying it aloud. Therefore, reflecting on learning solidifies the intellectual benefit gained, both in remembering the material that was taught and by analyzing the experience and cognitive processes involved. Writing down your reflections and having them at hand to rewrite can also generate fresh insight.

2 Uses of Reflective Essays

A teacher may assign a reflective essay to analyze how much material his students have absorbed, how well they have integrated it and what parts of his instructional strategy were most beneficial or flawed. A reflective essay provides a deeper, more detailed picture of the learner's experience than short-answer or multiple-choice testing possibly can. This type of essay is a part of most applications for admission to private school, college or graduate school, because it gives admissions officials a more complete picture of the individual they're considering. Reflective essays are also used in disciplinary contexts, where a misbehaving child or an individual convicted of offenses such as drunken driving or shoplifting may be asked to participate in an educational program and sum up the ways in which the program has (or has not) changed her.

3 Structure of a Reflective Essay

A reflective essay typically offers the writer considerably more flexibility than a research paper or critical essay, but the basic structure is the same. In your introduction, explain to the reader the purpose of the essay and who you were when the experience began; in terms of the essay topic, for example, you might characterize yourself as overly shy, lacking an understanding of theoretical physics or blind to the feelings of others. State whether you feel the course or experience has effectively changed you or not. In the body of your essay, identify specific parts of the experience and their specific impact on you. In your conclusion, briefly revisit who you were before and summarize the ways in which you have or have not changed. You may include ways in which your new understanding will affect your future behavior.

4 Reflective Essay Tips

Although reflective writing is more casual than other types of academic writing and does not usually require extensive research and citations, it will be held to the same standards as any other type of writing in terms of punctuation, grammar, clarity and logic. Don't get sloppy. Take the time to reflect in depth on your metacognitive processes -- not just the facts you have learned, but the way in which your mind analyzed and organized these facts. After you've written a first draft, reread it with an eye to uncovering deeper layers of insight and previously unseen connections. And be honest. Insincerity is often easy to spot and makes the entire exercise pointless.

Anne Pyburn Craig has written for a range of regional and local publications ranging from in-depth local investigative journalism to parenting, business, real estate and green building publications. She frequently writes tourism and lifestyle articles for chamber of commerce publications and is a respected book reviewer.