How to write a reflective essay

How to write a reflective essay

How to write a reflective essay

A reflective essay is a personal perspective on an issue or topic. This change in narrative stance can make the essay hard to write. This article will look at how to write an excellent reflexive account of your experience, provide you with reflexive essay framework to help you plan and organize your essay and give you a good grounding of what good reflective writing looks like.

What is a reflective essay?

A reflective essay requires the writer to examine his experiences and explore how these experiences have helped him develop and shaped him as a person.  It is essentially an analysis of your own experience focusing on what you’ve learned.

Don’t confuse reflexive analysis with the rhetorical one. If you need assistance figuring out how to write a rhetorical analysis, give our guide a read!

Based on the reflective essay definition, this paper will follow a logical and thought-through plan. It will be a discussion that centers around a topic or issue. The essay should strive to achieve a balance between description and personal feelings.

It requires a clear line of thought, evidence, and examples to help you discuss your reflections. Moreover, a proper paper requires an analytical approach. There are three main types of a reflective essay: theory-based, a case study or an essay based on one’s personal experience.

How to choose reflective essay topics

Unlike most academic forms of writing, this writing is based on personal experiences and thoughts. As such, first-person writing position where the writer can refer to his own thoughts and feelings is essential. If the writer talks about psychology or medicine, it is best to use the first-person reference as little as possible to keep the tone objective and science-backed.

To write this paper, you need to recollect and share a personal experience. However, there is still a chance that you’ll be asked to talk about a more complex topic.

By the way, if you are looking for good ideas on how to choose a good argumentative essay topic, check out our latest guide to help you out!

The criteria for a good reflective essay

The convention of an academic reflective essay writing will vary slightly depending on your area of study. A good reflective essay will be written geared towards its intended audience. These are the general criteria that form the core of a well-written piece:

  • A developed perspective and line of reasoning on the subject.
  • A well-informed discussion that is based on literature and sources relevant to your reflection.
  • An understanding of the complex nuance of situations and the tributary effects that prevent them from being simple and clear-cut.
  • Ability to stand back and analyze your own decision-making process to see if there is a better solution to the problem.
  • A clear understanding of how the experience has influenced you.
  • A good understanding of the principles and theories of your subject area.
  • Ability to frame a problem before implementing a solution.

These six criteria form the principles of writing an excellent paper.

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What is the purpose of writing a reflective essay?

The purpose of a reflective essay is for a writer to reflect upon an experience and learn from it. Reflection is a useful process that helps you make sense of things and gain valuable lessons from your experience. Reflective essay writing allows you to demonstrate that you can think critically about your own skills or practice strategies implementations to learn and improve without outside guidance.

Another purpose is to analyze the event or topic you are describing and emphasize how you’ll apply what you’ve learned.

How to create a reflective essay outline

  • Analyze the task you’ve received
  • Read through and understand the marking criteria
  • Keep a reflective journal during the experience
  • Use a reflective framework (Schon, Driscoll, Gibbs, and Kolb) to help you analyze the experience
  • Create a referencing system to keep institutions and people anonymous to avoid breaking their confidentiality
  • Set the scene by using the five W’s (What, Where, When, Who and Why) to describe it
  • Choose the events or the experiences you’re going to reflect on
  • Identify the issues of the event or experience you want to focus on
  • Use literature and documents to help you discuss these issues in a wider context
  • Reflect on how these issues changed your position regarding the issue
  • Compare and contrast theory with practice
  • Identify and discuss your learning needs both professionally and personally

Don’t forget to adjust the formatting of your essay. There are four main format styles of any academic piece. Discover all of them from our essay format guide!

Using Reflective frameworks

Reflective writing frameworks

A good way to develop a reflective essay plan is by using a framework that exists. A framework will let help you break the experience down logical and make the answer easier to organize. Popular frameworks include:

Schon’s (1983) Reflection in action and reflection on action

Schon wrote ‘The Reflective Practitioner’ in 1983 in which he describes reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action as tools for learning how to meet challenges that do not conform to formulas learned in school through improvisation.  He mentioned two types of reflection: one during and one after. By being aware of these processes while on a work-experience trail or clinical assignment you have to write a reflective account for, you get to understand the process better. So good questions to ask in a reflective journal could be:

Reflection-pre-action Reflection-in-action Reflection-on-Action
What might happen? What is happening in the situation? What were your insights after?
What possible challenges will you face? Is it working out as you expected? How did it go in retrospect?
How will you prepare for the situation? What are the challenges you are dealing with? What did you value and why?
What can you do to make the experience a successful one? What would you do differently before or during a similar situation?
What are you learning? What have you learned?

This will give you a good frame for your paper and help you analyze your experience.

Kolb’s (1984) Learning Cycle

Kolb’s reflective framework works in four stages:

  1. Concrete experience.
    This is an event or experience
  1. Reflective observation.
    This is reflecting upon the experience. What you did and why.
  1. Abstract conceptualization.
    This is the process of drawing conclusions from the experience. Did it confirm a theory or falsify something? And if so, what can you conclude from that?
  1. Active experimentation.
    Planning and trying out the thing you have learned from this interaction.

Gibb’s (1988) Reflection Cycle

Gibbs model is an extension of Kolb’s. Gibb’s reflection cycle is a popular model used in reflective writing. There are six stages in the cycle.

  1. Description.
    What happened? Describe the experience you are reflecting on and who is involved.
  1. Feelings.
    What were you thinking and feeling at the time? What were your thoughts and feelings afterward?
  1. Evaluation.
    What was good and bad about the experience? How did you react to the situation? How did other people react? Was the situation resolved? Why and how was it resolved or why wasn’t it resolved? Could the resolution have been better?
  1. Analysis.
    What sense can you make of the situation? What helped or hindered during the event? How does this compare to the literature on the subject?
  1. Conclusion.
    What else could you have done? What have you learned from the experience? Could you have responded differently? How would improve or repeat success? How can you avoid failure?
  1. Action plan.
    If it arose again what would you do? How can you better prepare yourself for next time?

Driscoll’s Method (1994) and Rolfe et al (2001) Reflexive Learning

The Driscoll Method break the process down into three questions. What (Description), So What (Analysis) and Now What (Proposed action). Rolf et al 2001 extended the model further by giving more in-depth and reflexive questions.

  • What is the problem/ difficulty/reason for being stuck/reason for feeling bad?
  • What was my role in the situation?
  • What was I trying to achieve?
  • What actions did I take?
  • What was the response of others?
  • What were the consequences for the patient / for myself / for others?
  • What feeling did it evoke in the patient / in myself / in others?
  • What was good and bad about the experience?
  • So, what were you feelings at the time?
  • So, what are your feelings now? As there any differences? Why?
  • So, what were the effects of what you did or did not do?
  • So, what good emerged from the situation for yourself and others? Does anything trouble you about the experience or event?
  • So, what were your experiences like in comparison to colleagues, patients, visitors and others?
  • So, what are the main reasons for feeling differently from your colleagues?
  • Now what are the implications for you, your colleagues and the patients?
  • Now what needs to happen to alter the situation?
  • Now what are you going to do about the situation?
  • Now what happens if you decide not to alter anything?
  • Now what will you do differently if faced with a similar situation?
  • Now what information would you need to deal with the situation again?
  • Now what methods would you use to go about getting that information?

This model is mostly used for clinical experiences in degrees related to medicine such as nursing or genetic counseling. It helps to get students comfortable thinking over each experience and adapting to situations.

This is just a selection of basic models of this type of writing. And there are more in-depth models out there if you’re writing a very advanced reflective essay. These models are good for beginner level essays. Each model has its strengths and weaknesses. So, it is best to use one that allows you to answer the set question fully.

How to write a reflective essay?

This written piece can follow many different structures depending on the subject area. So, check your assignment to make sure you don’t have a specifically assigned structural breakdown. For example, an essay that follows Gibbs plan directly with six labeled paragraphs is typical in nursing assignments. A more typical piece will follow a standard structure of an introduction, main body, and conclusion. Now, let’s look into details on how to craft each of these essay parts.

How to write an introduction for a reflective essay.

There are several good ways to start a reflective essay. Remember that an introduction to a reflective essay differs depending on upon what kind of reflection is involved. A science-based introduction should be brief and direct introducing the issue you plan on discussing and its context.

For example, a nursing student might want to discuss the overreliance on medical journals in the industry and why peer-reviewed journals led to mistaken information. In this case, one good way how to start a reflective essay introduction is by introducing a thesis statement. Help the reader see the real value of your work.

Do you need help with your thesis statement? Take a look at our recent guide explaining how to write a thesis statement.

Let’s look at some reflective essay examples.

‘During my first month working at Hospital X, I became aware just how many doctors treated peer-views journal articles as a gospel act. This is a dangerous practice that because of (a), (b) and (c) could impact patients negatively.’

The reflective essay on English class would begin differently. In fact, it should be more personal and sound less bookish.

How to write the main body paragraphs

The main body of the essay should focus on specific examples of the issue in question. A short description should be used for the opener. Each paragraph of this piece should begin with an argument supporting the thesis statement.

The most part of each paragraph should be a reflexive analysis of the situation and evaluation. Each paragraph should end with a concluding sentence that caps the argument. In a science-based essay, it is important to use theories, other studies from journals and source-based material to argue and support your position in an objective manner.

How to write the conclusion for a reflective essay

A conclusion should provide a summary of the issues explored, remind the reader of the purpose of the essay and suggest an appropriate course of action in relation to the needs identified in the body of the essay.

This is mostly an action plan for the future. However, if appropriate a writer can call readers to action or ask questions. Make sure that the conclusion is powerful enough for readers to remember it. In most cases, an introduction and a conclusion is the only thing your audience will remember.

Reflective essay topics

Here are some good topics for a reflective essay. We’ve decided to categorize them to help you find good titles for reflective essays that fit your requirement.

Medicine-related topics:

  • Write a reflective essay on leadership in nursing
  • How did a disease of your loved ones (or your own) change you?
  • Write a reflection essay on infection control
  • How dealing with peer-reviewed journals interrupts the medical procedures?
  • Write a reflection essay about community service
  • Write a reflective essay on leadership and management in nursing

Topics on teamwork:

  • Write a reflective essay on the group presentation
  • What makes you a good team player and what stays in the way of improvement?
  • Write a reflective essay on the presentation
  • Write about the last lesson you learned from working in a team
  • A reflective essay on career development: How teamwork can help you succeed in your career?

Topics on personal experiences:

  • Write a reflective essay on the pursuit of happiness: what it means to you and how you’re pursuing it?
  • Write a reflective essay on human sexuality: it is overrated today? And are you a victim of stereotypes in this area?
  • Write a reflective essay on growing up
  • Reflective essay on death: How did losing a loved one change your world?
  • Write a reflective essay about a choice you regret
  • Write a reflective essay on the counseling session

Academic topics:

  • A reflective essay on the writing process: How does writing help you process your emotions and learn from experiences?
  • Write a reflective essay on language learning: How learning a new language changes your worldview
  • A reflective essay about a choice I regret

Tips on writing a good reflective essay

Some good general tips include the following:

Do's and don'ts of reflective essay writing

As long as you use tips by HandMade Writings, you’ll end up having a great piece. Just stick to our recommendations. And should you need the help of a reliable essay writing service, remember that we’re here to help!

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