How to write a reflection paper? In this guide, you will find plenty of handy writing tips, as well as reflection paper example outline, and much more! Keep on reading to learn how to handle this task with ease and get a high grade.
What Is a Reflection Paper?
According to the general reflection paper definition, this is a type of paper that requires a student to share his or her personal opinion concerning the chosen topic. Unlike many other types of papers, in this one you only share your thoughts, supporting them with examples and personal observations, without relying on someone else’s opinions.
Therefore, this type of work gives you plenty of space for creativity. And, most importantly, there is no wrong answer! No matter what topic you choose, your task is to reflect on it offering your own opinion. And since it is your opinion, you can’t get it wrong.
A college reflection paper can be written on a variety of topics. You can choose to share your opinion on a book or movie, or opt for a broader topic to reflect on - it is only up to you.
Although all reflective papers have pretty much the same structure, there are several types of such work. Each particular type requires you to take a different approach and use a slightly different tone of voice to convey your thoughts correctly. Later in this article, we are going to look closer at each type of reflective writing.
What Is the Right Reflection Paper Format?
One more unique feature of this type of paper is that it typically doesn’t require you to stick to any specific format. Due to the free nature of this task, professors rarely decide to burden students with unnecessary guidelines' constraints. Instead, they will likely give you the freedom to express your personal thoughts and opinions in a way that feels right to you.
One of the few guidelines you will probably get is a word limit. Typically, a reflection paper can be anywhere between 400 and 800 words in length. As for the style, the most commonly used formats are APA, MLA, and Chicago.
You are free to choose whichever style you feel comfortable with - of course, unless there is no specific guideline in this regard.
But, what if you are not sure what general formatting settings to use for your paper? In this case, you can always stick to the general formatting applied to most academic papers. Here are the key points:
- A4 page format
- 1-inch margins added on all sides
- A commonly accepted readable font (for example, Times New Roman, Arial, Helvetica, Calibri, etc.)
- Standard font size - 12-pt.
- Double spacing throughout the entire text
- Citation formatting according to the selected style (either of your or your professor’s choice)
- Word limit - defined by the teacher or between 400-800 words
3 Types of Reflective Writing
There are several types of reflective writing. These types are different not by the main purpose, but rather by the direction of your reflection and the tone of voice that is appropriate for a specific direction.
All in all, there are three types of papers you should know about - reading, experiential, and personal reflection.
Let’s take a look at each type.
Reading reflection writing (also called educational reflective writing) is one of the most common forms of this assignment. Basically, it requires you to give a well-informed reflection on some piece of reading (e.g. a book, article, etc.).
In such a paper, you have to share your personal opinion and thoughts concerning the ideas presented in the piece of reading you are reflecting on.
Another type of reflective writing is called either experiential or professional, since it finds a wide application in professional programs, such as nursing, forensics, business, education, etc.
Such papers typically ask you to reflect on your professional experience or assess an approach or theory according to your personal experience and observations.
The last common type of reflective writing is personal.
Unlike the two other types, this one requires you to share your thoughts and ideas concerning some personal subject. Respectively, this type of work is the least formal and the most personal.
Depending on the specific type of reflective writing, the nature and tone of your paper may differ. Thus, it is vital to identify what type of reflection you are expected to do and keep it in mind in order to handle the task well.
How to Start a Reflection Paper
If you are wondering how to begin a reflection paper, one thing you need to know is that the work begins not when you actually start writing, and not even when you choose your topic. It all starts with small, but vital preparatory steps.
Let’s define how to do a reflection paper step-by-step, starting with the early pre-writing steps:
Read Your Piece
Since the reading reflection writing type is the most commonly assigned one, we are going to focus our guide on how to write a reflection paper on an article, book, newspaper, or essay.
First of all, to get started, you need to read your piece carefully to understand the core ideas inherent in it.
In most cases, reading the given piece just once is not enough to create a good reflection paper. Thus, the next step requires you to read your piece once more. And this time, your goal is to highlight the main concepts and ideas.
We encourage you to take notes on everything that seems important. Later, these notes will help you write your paper.
Summarize Your Notes and Analyze the Piece
Next, you should review your notes and summarize them. Define which details are primary, and which are secondary.
Then, analyze your piece and brainstorm. Here are the key questions to ask yourself before you get to writing:
- How does the piece grab the readers’ attention?
- What is the core idea/theme of the piece?
- How did reading it influence you?
- Did the piece make you change your mind about something? How?
- Do you have any questions left unanswered?
- Did the author of the piece miss some critical issues?
- Does this piece relate to your past experiences? How?
Asking these questions should help you connect your past experiences to the given book or article, and develop your opinion concerning it.
Formulate a Topic
The next step you should take is formulating a clear and engaging topic. In fact, defining your topic is pretty easy if you are writing a reflective paper on a book, article, or another written piece. In this case, you need to mention the title of the piece in a topic and add a phrase like “My interpretation of,” “My reflection on,” etc.
However, if you are handling a different type of reflective writing, for example, a personal one, then you should be thoughtful about choosing your topic. It should be engaging, clear, and relevant to your personal experiences.
Here are a few examples of topics for a personal reflection essay:
- The first childhood memory
- Your thoughts on the appearance of the new family member
- A book that changed your life
- The most unforgettable journey
- How my views on (genre of your choice) music changed over time
The ideas are countless, so just be yourself and write about something you are interested in.
In the case you were assigned to write an experiential (professional) reflective paper, you should pick a topic that relates your professional observations or experiences to some theories, approaches, etc. For example, you can write about something like “How my observations for business management subject matter have changed throughout my studies”.
Organize Your Ideas
Finally, when you have a good topic and all your notes, the last prewriting step is organizing your ideas. The easiest and safest way to do this is by creating a detailed outline.
We encourage you not to skip this step because a solid outline will help you make the writing process simple and ensure a smooth flow of information (as well as appropriate organization) in your paper.
Pro tip: Before creating your own outline, we encourage you to check out at least one reflection paper example. Having a solid example can really help to understand what is expected of you, and give you the inspiration for writing your own paper.
Reflection Paper Outline
Just like every other academic paper, a reflection paper consists of three basic parts - an introduction, body, and conclusion.
An intro is one of the most important parts. It has to introduce the readers to your paper and state your position or opinion concerning the topic. To create a strong introduction, you need to:
- Specify what exactly you are reflecting on (a book, article, experience, etc.)
- Provide a concise summary of the work
- Make a thesis statement that explains your main idea (opinion) - typically it will focus on the main lesson you’ve learned
Example reflection paper thesis:
Reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak made me change my opinion about the value of books in our lives completely.
The body of your text is where most of your reflection will take place.
Typically, you should include at least 3 body paragraphs to disclose the topic fully.
Each paragraph should focus on a single idea. There should be smooth transitions between them. And all body paragraphs should examine your experiences, opinions, and ideas you’ve had relating to your topic.
Keep in mind that if you are writing a reflection on some written piece, you are allowed to use quotes to support your ideas.
In the body of your paper, be sure to explain how the experience or piece affected you and describe how you feel.
Reflection paper example statement for a body paragraph:
I heard many people stress the importance of books, but never before reading The Book Thief I saw such a true, reverent attitude to literary works. This is something that struck me to the core.
The final element of your paper, a conclusion, has to sum up everything you’ve discussed in your paper. There are two effective ways to finish your paper:
- Summarize all the points from your paper and restate your thesis.
- Tie all your points together and highlight the key lessons or insights you’ve gained.
Having an outline can help you during the writing stage in many ways. Thus, this step should not be missed.
Now that you know what parts to include in your paper, here is a reflection paper example outline:
- A hook (attention-grabbing statement) to engage the readers
- State the topic of your paper and provide a short summary
- Make a clear thesis statement
- Paragraph 1: Topic sentence (main idea), supporting arguments, analysis of the idea
- Paragraph 2: Topic sentence (main idea), supporting arguments, analysis of the idea
- Paragraph 3: Topic sentence (main idea), supporting arguments, analysis of the idea
- Restatement of the thesis
- A brief summary of the main points
- Final, concluding statement
How to Write a Good Reflection Paper: 4 Easy Steps to Success
If you are wondering how to do a reflection paper, here is your step-by-step guide:
Highlight Your Core Idea
Once you get to writing your paper, you will start with creating an introduction. Write a hook sentence, then summarize the experience or piece you will be reflecting on, and then set the main theme for your paper. Tell readers about what you’ve learned from your topic, and how you feel about it.
Reading The Great Gatsby made me reevaluate my idea of the existence of the American Dream.
Tie Your Core Idea to Your Experiences and Ideas
Be yourself and explain how your ideas and experiences relate to the topic. Feel free to use quotes to support your statements.
A lot of people are living in constant pursuit of the American Dream, and I used to so as well.
Analyze Your Idea Further
Take the idea you stated earlier and continue developing it, further explaining why you agree or disagree with it.
I used to believe that the American Dream is real.
Despite the loud statements and slogans about equality for all, I feel like the American Dream is no longer real (if it ever has been). American society defines you by who you’re born. And, according to multiple examples, it is impossible to change the social class fully.
Tie Your Opinions, Experiences, and Observations Together
Your primary goal is to find the connection between your observations, experiences, and opinions and tie them together in the framework of your topic to create a single united picture.
The Post-Writing Stage: Proofreading and Editing
So, you have spent plenty of time and effort writing your paper, what’s next? Though it may feel like the work is done already, there is one more task you need to take care of. Namely, the last stage of the process is proofreading and editing your final draft.
To help you overcome this stage quickly and easily, we’ve prepared a handy proofreading checklist for you:
- Content is accurate, relevant, fulfill the purpose of the task, and meets the provided guidelines
- The topic is relevant, clear, and engaging
- General formatting rules have been followed
- There is a clear thesis statement
- There is an introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion
- Transitions between paragraphs are smooth and pertinent
- You have covered all vital ideas and points
- You have provided readers with all the needed information to understand the text and its main idea
- Each paragraph is clear, concise, straight to the point, and focuses on a single point
- There are no wordy or watery expressions
- The tone of writing goes in line with the paper type
- All sentences are clear, focus on one idea, and their lengths vary
- There are no grammar, punctuation, syntax, or other mistakes
- There are now words that are used wrongly or inappropriately
- The paper uses more of the active voice than a passive
- The bibliography of works cited (if necessary) is formatted according to the chosen styles and contains all sources I’ve used
- You've proofread and edited the entire text
7 Tips for Writing a Reflection Paper
After reading our guide you have an effective reflection paper template and everything else you need to create a top-notch paper.
Now, let’s look at some dos and don’ts that will help you make your paper even better:
- Do keep it short and straight to the point.
- Do make your paper as clear as possible.
- Do include a strong thesis statement.
- Do pick an appropriate tone of voice.
- Don’t forget to cite all sources you’ve used.
- Don’t neglect proofreading and editing.
- Don’t go off topic.
The Bottom Line
Now that you know about the main steps that need to be taken, have a clear reflection paper example, and know which way you are heading, you should be able to cope with this task and get a deserved high grade.
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