Writing a Reflective Essay

Table of contents

What is a Reflective Essay?

A reflective paper is based on some sort of experience or event. As a writer, you analyze the experience in order to extract meaning or lessons to be learned. This essay format asks you to look inward and open up about your own thoughts and emotions. A reflective essay is often quite revealing about the person who wrote it. Your reflective essay will include a description of the experience or event, and writing about your thoughts and reactions to that work.

A reflective essay will be personal and written from a very subjective point of view.

In spite of this, you will be expected to write using an academic tone, and present your thoughts in an organized manner.

What is the Purpose of Reflective Writing

You are asked to write a reflective paper to gauge your understanding of certain topics, to learn more about yourself, and to share what you have learned with others.

Writing a reflective essay also reveals your mastery of:

  • Analyzing a written work, experience, or event, and drawing conclusions from it.
  • Understanding what you have experienced and determining how you will incorporate any new information or insights.
  • Writing subjectively to identify and hone your world view.
  • Connecting external things to your own experiences.

Topic Ideas for a Reflective Essay

Because a reflective essay is based upon your own experiences and insights, it is difficult to suggest a very specific topic. Instead, here is a list of topics that should give you some useful inspiration.

  • A time when you had to face your fears
  • A moment when you realized a long-held belief was wrong
  • Your scariest experience to date
  • The happiest time of your life
  • When you felt abandoned
  • When you had to make a choice with no good options
  • An unforgettable experience
  • Something that changed the course of your life
  • How you think you can make a difference in the world
  • Something that made you end a relationship with a friend
  • An experience that influenced your career choices

Here is a trick to help you keep your topic ideas organized:

Use a bullet journal to write down your topic ideas on the left column. These could be experiences you’ve had or the main points you want to cover. To the right of each of these write a list of your responses or reactions. Then, to the right of that, write what you want to share with your audience.

Reflective essay writing cycle infographic

Sample Reflective Essay

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Writing a Reflective Paper

In academics, you will sometimes be asked to reflect on a written work of some sort. You may also be asked to reflect on a film or play, even a work of art. If that is the case, try to jot down some notes as you go through the experience. If you are asked to write about an experience you have already had, think in terms of identifying the experience to analyze, describing the experience objectively, then reflecting on it. By doing this, you can better flesh out what your essay will look like.

Here’s an example:

Past Experience: Running a marathon

A description of the experience: I trained for 6 months, increasing my distance each week. On the day of the race, I ran with a team that was there in support of a cancer charity.

My insights: I learned that I could accomplish something truly amazing. I still hate running, but I am proud of going through the experience and finishing what I started.

Reflection Paper Format

The format of a reflective essay is likely to be much different than a standard essay or research paper. It may be structured much more similarly to a diary entry or short story. Even so, you may be required to adhere to a specific writing format such as MLA or APA.

As far as length goes, refer to your assignment rubric or ask your instructor. 300 to 700 words is fairly common. Finally, stick with formal language and avoid slang or idioms.

Writing a Reflective Essay Outline

To start writing your essay, go back to the chart you have created or any notes you’ve taken. Before you start writing, consider that the description of the experience shouldn’t take up much of your paper. Instead, it is the reflection on the experience that is most important.

Start with your reflective essay introduction.

You need a hook. This is an interesting sentence or two that gets attention and leads to your topic. Example: I had never spent 200 dollars on a pair of running shoes before.

Next, you need to figure out your thesis statement. Your thesis should name your past experience, and summarize what you took away from it. Example: Training for and successfully completing a marathon taught me that I have more inner strength than I ever imagined.

Now consider the body of your essay. Here,  you might consider using a chronological sequence. After all, that’s how you experienced the event. It will help you to build a linear narrative. Each paragraph in the body of your essay should be anchored with the main idea sentence and followed up with supporting points.

Finally, write your conclusion. Here is where you summarize your ideas and show you have evolved from your experience. Describe what you feel now, in the aftermath of the experience, and how it will change you going forward.

Getting Help With Writing a Reflective Essay

If you still need assistance with writing a reflective essay or turning a reflective essay outline into a finished paper, there is professional help available. Contact us for advice at any time. We are available 24/7 with writers on hand to assist you. We can even help with reflective essay examples.

Best Reflective Essay Topics

  1. Why is the grass always greener on the other side?
  2. The importance of parental supervision in a stable family
  3. Can a pet be really a friend?
  4. Your most embarassing experience and the lesson it taught
  5. Are childhood friends the true friends?
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Tips on How to Start a Reflective Essay and Beyond

Here are some additional tips on how to write a reflective essay.

  • Review some example essays from writers that you trust.
  • Be certain you understand the instructions completely.
  • Don’t miss any group study or peer review sessions.
  • Seek feedback from your instructor throughout the process.
  • Adhere to the rules of the reflection paper format you have been assigned.
  • Don’t be self-indulgent. Choose a topic that will be relatable to your audience.


Now that you have a clear reflective essay definition, and the answer to the question ‘what is the purpose of writing a reflective essay?’ you should be ready to get started. Bookmark this essay to use as a guide, or place an order for further assistance.

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