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How to write a reflection paper-The ultimate guide

Whether you are accepted into Stanford or decide to join your local college, as a student, you will be tasked with writing a reflection paper at some point. This type of writing allows the student to express their thoughts, ideas, and opinions about different topics. 


Almost all subjects you enrol in will require you to express your thoughts on certain areas. 


Before you write one, a reflective essay may seem like one of the easiest papers to write in college, yet it is one of the hardest. For a reflection essay to earn you the best grade, it needs to constitute a critical analysis of a situation, mostly a personal experience. This type of writing is similar to a diary entry, only that it will be graded and is required to be written in a specific format. 


What is a reflection paper? 


Generally, a reflection paper is a type of academic writing that requires you to give your opinion or understanding of a situation. It should be supported by personal experience in the field or observations you have made throughout your life on the topic you are covering. You get to write the essay from your point of view. The best part of reflection papers is that they are no wrong answers even though they are graded. 


For a reflection paper to be viable, it needs to express your thoughts clearly in an understandable manner for any reader. There are endless topics to write on, including the most bizarre ones like ‘do aliens exist?’, your favorite TV show, your opinion on WWII, and even what you think about the current government. The liberty to choose a topic ensures you write on just about anything, as long as you can present your facts in a way that is easy to understand. 


Why are reflection papers important?


Reflection papers give you the chance to have a closer look at how your personal experiences shape your thinking. When asked to write a reflection paper, the professor will ask you to explore your own ideas in text instead of summarizing other people’s opinions. This type of essay writing helps you to improve your analytical skills as it allows you to express your thoughts, including how and why you think the way you do. 


Additionally, reflection writing helps you to acknowledge the influence of preconceived ideas and assumptions on how you think. By doing this, you learn to appreciate and accommodate other people’s opinions because you understand the factors that may have shaped their way of thinking. You also get to recognize how your thinking can oppose or support what you read. 


Types of reflection papers 


Experiential Reflection 


This type of reflective writing is common in programs like nursing, business, educations, and forensic. It is used to create a connection between theory and practice. When asked to write a reflection paper on placement experience, you not only describe your personal experience but also base it on the ideas you learn in class.  


You can choose to assess an approach or theory based on practice and observation to evaluate your skills and knowledge in your area of study. This type of writing allows you to assess your choices, actions, successes, and failures as part of a framework such as a work placement objective or theme. With this type of reflective writing, abstract concepts can become real to the writer when they are considered in line with personal experiences. This reflection can help a student to make plans for improvement. 


Reading reflection writing 


To ensure there is a thoughtful and balanced assessment of readings, most interdisciplinary courses ask students to submit a reflection on different texts. Often, the professor will indicate the expectation of the reflection. Even so, the main idea of the process is to elicit the student’s informed opinions about issues presented in the text as a way of considering how they affect the different interpretations of students. Reading reflections are the perfect opportunity to recognize and break down assumptions that are probably challenged by the text. 


Approach to reflection paper inquiry 


Before you start to write a reflection paper, it is essential first to consider how a professor will assess the writing. Generally, your instructor expects you to engage with concepts from a critical perspective while making a connection between your personal experiences, opinions, and observations. You are expected to analyze different ideas from your point of view to elicit original thoughts and encourage active participation in the course material. 


Deciding on where you begin with writing a reflection paper is not always the easiest choice. Like any other academic writing, reflection papers require a strong analysis and narrow focus, with interrogation as the best way for identifying a focus and reflective analysis. 


Suggestions for lines of inquiry when developing a response


Experiential reflection 


In an experiential reflection essay, you can discuss your experience in a practice or work placement in line with organizational or personal goals. This will offer a perspective and valuable insight into your personal growth in that profession. 


For this type of reflective writing, you need to balance reporting with critical analysis or reflection. Essential questions to ask include:



  • What are the objectives of the organization? What are our learning goals? How do these goals fit the course themes and concepts? – This helps to contextualize your reflection.

  • What is the name of the host organizations, mission, and role? Who do they serve? – It is important to offer critical information. 

  • What did the experience teach you about yourself, society, and working in the field? - this is your analytical reflection.

  • Did your experience meet the concepts and goals of the organization or course, and why? What lessons did you learn? What did you succeed in, and why? What would you do differently, and why? How will you use the experience to prepare for your future in the field? - always include lessons from your experience. 


The purpose of this reflection is to show you are learning in the course. Ensure you directly and actively connect concepts from your learning to your reflection. 


Reading reflection


This is a type of critical reflection that requires persistent and thoughtful inquiry. You will need to investigate your knowledge and assumptions to make an in-depth analysis of your text and assessment. There are three steps to writing a successful reading reflection.


Assess your text:


  • What is the main point, how is it developed? This helps to identify the purpose and theoretical/impact framework of the text. 

  • What ideas have stood out for you, and why? Were these ideas new, or do they oppose existing work?


Develop your ideas:


  • What do you know about the topic, and where does this knowledge stem from? What experiences of observations shape this understanding? 

  • Do you agree or disagree with the argument, and why? 


Make the connection:


  • How does this text affect your existing assumptions and ideas? How does it challenge your assumptions and beliefs?

  • How has this text helped you better understand the topic and explore the area of study/discipline?


Step to writing a reflection paper 


Choosing reflection paper topics 


It is common for students to miss fantastic ideas for reflection paper topics. Even when you have experience in this type of writing, it is always ideal for exploring other topic options. 


Good reflective essay topics include:



  • A person, role or experience that changed your life

  • A topic that breaks your heart

  • A topic on what inspires you

  • Special qualities

  • Insight on how you reach your goals.

  • Something you like about yourself

  • Your dreams

  • Biggest fear

  • What you think your future should be like

  • Ways to overcome mental health issues

  • Are we alone in the space?

  • How to admit you were wrong

  • Why people tell lies

  • The role of education in your life

  • An outstanding person and their role in history 


The format 


The format of a reflective paper depends on the target audience. For academic reflective writing, the format is similar to that of any other academic paper you have written before. 



  • It should be written on a Standard A4 paper.

  • Ensure you leave a 1-inch margin on each side.

  • Always use 12-point text size.

  • Use Readable font (Arial, Times New Roma, Calibri, Helvetica, etc.)

  • Use Double spaces between the lines.

  • Ensure your Citation is according to APA, Chicago style. The professor determines this. 

  • Word count is usually between 250 and 750.


Generally, when you set out to write a reflective paper, you can choose to use the traditional method or the original method. 


The traditional method allows you to express the main idea of your paper in the thesis statement, develop your body in paragraphs offering supporting arguments, and conclude the facts by defending your thesis statement. 


The original approach takes a conversational tone where you give a hint of the end of your essay at the beginning. This gives your reader an idea of your essay and the possible conclusion, leaving room for doubt. The body should include an analysis that leads to the conclusion that is somewhat different from the reader's expectation from the introduction. 


The introduction 


In the introduction, you need to express your feelings on the subject critically. Ensure your ideas are expressed reasonably and clearly as opposed to a sentimental one, to fit the academic style. The introduction should give the reader an insight into what to expect in the paragraphs that follow. You need to build a strong idea in the introduction. It should be informative, catchy, and brief. Do not start from your thesis; instead, return to it later. You can use reflective questioning in the text. 


The body 


This is the part where you go back to your thesis and explore it. Ensure you explain the case in various paragraphs, preferably use a three-paragraph structure. The first paragraph should introduce the experience and the influence it had on you. The second paragraph should compare other people’s experiences (like a compare and contrast paper), and explain what you learned from it. 


Start with your reason for choosing the topic, which leads to your own experience. Ensure you remain logical and dig into details to give the reader a clear picture. If you use examples, ensure you cite your sources. Always show how the experiences affected and shaped you. 


The conclusion 


This part of your paper should be striking. It is the third paragraph in your writing that should show your ideas were fully formed. Wrap your essay with strong accents, leaving a conceivable image of your experience in your reader’s mind as something to ponder. 


In your conclusion, highlight your paper's main points in an effective and persuasive way, ensuring you answer the questions you asked in the introduction. 


Proofreading your work before submission 


Once you have successfully written your reflection paper, always revise it, and fix any grammar errors before submission. This makes your work look professional. Take your time to ensure you hand in an essay that is easy to read and understand. After writing, take a break from the paper for a day or two. Coming back to it will make it easier for you to notice mistakes you may have missed the first time. 


Bottom line 


As it is with any other academic writing, it helps to have a clear focus on your paper. You do not have to highlight every experience in relation to the topic. Instead, pick a few experiences that you feel best suit the need and explore them in context with your learning. For reflection responses, identify the main arguments of the text to develop a strong analysis that integrates relevant ideas from your course material. 


Always ensure your writing is organized by introducing your topic and the points you want to explore in connection with your experiences and learning. Develop the ideas in the body of the essay and conclude your paper by explaining what you derived from the reflection. With the questions listed above, you can develop an outline that you can use to write your reflection paper. 

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Published on: 29, Jun 2020
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