Reflective Writing
This writing style may seem simple on the surface, but they can be a real stumbling block if you're not quite sure how to go about it.

In simple terms, reflective essays constitute a critical examination of a life experience and, with the right guidance, they're not too challenging to put together.

A reflective essay is similar to other essays in that it needs to be easily understood and well structured, but the content is more likened to something of a more personal issue - like a diary entry.

In a reflective essay, a writer primarily examines his or her life experiences, hence the term ‘reflective’.

The reflective thinking process begins with you – you must consciously make an effort to identify and examine your own thoughts in relation to a particular experience.

You need to explore your (if any) prior knowledge or experience of the topic, which will help you identify why you have formed certain opinions on the subject.

Remember that central to reflective essay writing is the examination of your attitudes, assumptions and values, so be upfront about how you feel.

Reflective writing can be quite therapeutic, helping you identify and clarify your strengths and weaknesses, particularly in terms of any knowledge gaps that you may have. It’s a good way of improving your critical thinking skills, too. It enables you to adopt an introspective posture in analysing your experiences and how you learn/make sense of them.

The Essay Format
The purpose of writing a reflective essay is to provide a platform for the author to not only recount a particular life experience, but to also explore how they have changed or learned from those particular experiences.

Reflective writing can be presented in various formats, but the most often format is in a  log format or diary entry. Diary entries in particular are used to convey how the author’s thoughts have developed and evolved over the course of a particular period.

The format of a reflective essay may change depending on the target audience. Reflective essays can be for class assessments (academic) or may feature more broadly as a part of a general piece of writing for a magazine.

For class assignments, while the presentation format can vary, the purpose generally remains the same: the leranings aim to inspire students to think deeply and critically about a particular learning experience or set of experiences.
Here are some typical examples of reflective essay formats that you may have to write:

It can be a focus on personal growth:
A type of reflective essay often used by teachers as a strategy for helping students to learn how to analyse their personal life experiences to promote emotional growth and development. The essay gives the student a better understanding of both themselves and their behaviours.
It can be a focus on the literature:
This kind of essay requires students to provide a summary of the literature, after which it is applied to the student’s own life experiences.

What are you going to write about?
As you prepare the content of your essay, you need to keep in mind that a reflective essay is highly personal and aimed at engaging the reader(the target audience). And there’s much more to a reflective essay than just recounting a story. You must be able to reflect on your experiences by showing how it influenced your subsequent behaviours and how your life has been/may have been particularly changed as a result.

As a starting point, think about some important experiences in your life that have really impacted you, either positively, negatively, or both. Some typical reflective essay topics include: a real-life experience, an imagined experience, a special object or place, a person who had an influence on you, or something you have watched or read.

If you are writing a reflective essay as part of an academic exercise, chances are your teacher/lecturer will ask you to focus on a particular pathway – such as a time when you had to make an important decision – and reflect on what the outcomes were.
The aftermath of the experience is especially important in a reflective essay; miss this out and you will simply be storytelling.

It may sound obvious, but the reflective process forms the core of writing this type of essay, so it’s important you get it right from the outset. You need to really think about how the personal experience you have chosen to focus on impacted or changed you. Use your memories and feelings of the experience to determine the implications for you on a personal level.

Once you’ve chosen the topic of your essay, it’s really important you research it thoroughly and spend a lot of time trying to think about it in graphic detail. Write down everything you can remember about it, describing it as clearly and fully as you can. Keep your five senses (sight, smell, sound, taste, touch), in mind as you do this, and be sure to use adjectives to describe your experience. At this stage, you can simply make dot points and notes - using short phrases, but you need to ensure that you’re recording your responses, perceptions, and your experience of the event(s) you are describing.

Once you’ve successfully emptied the contents of your memory, you need to start reflecting.
A great way to do this is to pick out some reflective questions that will help you think deeper about the impact and lasting effects of your experience.

The following are six useful questions that you could consider:
– What have you learned about yourself as a result of the experience?
– Have you developed because of it? How?
– Did it have any positive or negative bearing on your life?
– Looking back, what would you have done differently?
– Why do you think you made the particular choices that you did? Do you think these were the right choices?
– What are your thoughts on the experience in general? Was it a useful learning experience? What specific skills or perspectives did you acquire as a result?

These signpost questions should help kick-start your reflective process. Asking yourself lots of questions is key to ensuring that you think deeply and critically about your experiences – a skill that is at the heart of writing a great reflective essay.

Consider using the three models of reflection (experience, reflection and action) before, during, and after the learning process to ensure that you maintain a high standard of analysis.
Foe example, before you really get stuck into the process, consider questions such as:

  • What might happen (regarding the experience)? Are there any possible challenges to keep in mind?

    What knowledge is needed to be best prepared to approach the experience? Then, as you’re planning and writing, these questions may be useful:

What is happening within the learning process? Is the process working out as
Am I dealing with the accompanying challenges successfully?

Is there anything that needs to be done additionally to ensure that the learning process is successful?

What am I learning from all this?
By using such a framework, you’ll ensure that you are keeping tabs on the reflective process that should underpin your work.

The plan
This is an especially important step when you’re tackling a reflective essay – there can be a tendency for people to get a little ‘lost’ or disorganised as they recount their life experiences in an erratic and often unsystematic manner as it is a topic so close to their hearts.

Although you may feel well prepared with all that time spent reflecting in your arsenal, do not, start writing your essay until you have worked out your comprehensive and well-rounded plan.
Your writing will be so much more coherent, your ideas conveyed with structure and clarity, and your essay will likely achieve higher marks.
But if you develop a thorough outline (this is the same as a ‘plan’) and ensure you stick to it like a mariner to a map, you should do just fine as you embark on the ultimate step of writing your essay.
Here’s a summarised list of key benefits of creating a detailed essay:

  • An outline.  This allows you to plan the basic details that you will incorporate into your paper – this is great for helping you pick out any superfluous information, which can be removed entirely to make your essay succinct and to the point.
  • Think of the outline as a map – you plan in advance the points you wish to navigate through and discuss in your writing. Your work will more likely have a clear through line of thought, making it easier for the reader to understand. It’ll also help you avoid missing out any key information, and having to go back at the end and try to fit it in.
  • It’s a real time-saver! Because the outline essentially serves as the essay’s ‘skeleton’, you’ll save a tremendous amount of time when writing as you’ll be really familiar with what you want to say. As such, you’ll be able to allocate more time to doing the edit and ensuring it is of a high standard.

Now you’re familiar with the benefits of using an outline for your reflective essay, it is essential that you know how to craft one. It can be considerably different from other typical essay outlines, mostly because of the varying subjects. But what remains the same, is that you need to start your outline by drafting the introduction, body and conclusion.

Your Introduction Paragraph – Your Eye Catching “Grab” to entice the reader to continue reading.
As is the case with all essays, your reflective essay must begin within a strong introduction that will “grab” the reader’s attention and encourage them to read on.  

Don’t spend too much time on how to start your first sentence or paragraph; just start writing and you can always come back later to edit. Your first draft won’t necessarily be your best essay writing but it’s important to remember that the earlier you start writing, the more time you will have to keep reworking your essay until it’s at the stage that you are really pleased with your efforts!

Reflective Writing - The Layout