What Is a Reflection Paper
A reflection paper is a type of paper that requires you to write your opinion on a topic, supporting it with your observations and personal examples. As opposed to presenting your reader the opinions of other academics and writers, in this essay you get an opportunity to write your point of view—and the best part is that there is no wrong answer. It is YOUR opinion, and it is your job to express your thoughts in a manner that will be comprehensible and clear for any and all readers that will read your paper. The topic range is endless. Here are some examples: whether or not you think aliens exist, what your favorite TV show is, or what your opinion is on the outcome of WWII. You can write about pretty much anything.
There are three types of a reflection paper, and depending on which one you end up with, the tone you write with can be slightly different. The first type is the educational reflective paper. Here your job is to write feedback about a book, movie, or seminar you attended—in a manner that teaches the reader about it. The second is the professional paper. Usually it is written by people who study or work in education or psychology. For example, it can be a reflection on someone’s behavior. And the last is the personal type, which explores your thoughts and feelings about a personal subject.
Reflection Paper Format
Reflection papers typically do not follow any specific format. Since it is your opinion, professors usually let you handle them any way you are comfortable with. It is best to write your thoughts freely, without guideline constraints. If your reflection paper was assigned to you, the format of your paper might depend on the criteria set by your professor. College reflection papers (also known as reflection essays) can typically range between about 400-800 words in length.
How to Start a Reflection Paper
The first thing to do when beginning to work on a reflection essay is to read your article thoroughly while taking notes. Whether you are reflecting on, for example, an activity, book/newspaper, or academic essay, you want to highlight key ideas and concepts.
You can start writing your reflection paper by summarizing the main concept of your notes to see if your paper includes all the information needed for your readers. It is helpful to add charts, diagrams, and lists to deliver your ideas to the audience in a better fashion.
After you have finished reading your article, it’s time to brainstorm. We’ve got a simple brainstorming technique for writing reflection papers. Just answer some of the basic questions below:
- How did the article affect you?
- How does this article catch the reader’s attention (or does it all)?
- Has the article changed your mind about something? If so, explain how.
- Has the article left you with any questions?
- Were there any unaddressed critical issues that didn’t appear in the article?
- Does the article relate to anything from your past reading experiences?
- Does the article agree with any of your past reading experiences?
- How my views on rap music have changed over time
- My reflection and interpretation of Moby Dick by Herman Melville
- Why my theory about the size of the universe has changed over time
- How my observations for clinical psychological studies have developed in the last year
The end result of your brainstorming should be a written outline of the contents of your future paper. Make sure to not skip this step, as it will ensure that your essay will have a proper flow and appropriate organization.
Writing a Reflection Paper Outline
Your introduction should specify what you’re reflecting upon. Make sure that your thesis informs your reader about your general position, or opinion, toward your subject.
- State what you are analyzing: a passage, a lecture, an academic article, an experience, etc…)
- Briefly summarize the work.
- Write a thesis statement stating how your subject has affected you.
One way you can start your thesis is to write:
“After reading/experiencing (your chosen topic), I gained the knowledge of…”
The body paragraphs should examine the ideas and experiences you’ve had in context to your topic. Make sure each new body paragraph starts with a topic sentence.
If you are writing about a book or an academic article, your reflection may include quotes and passages. They give your reader a point of reference to fully understand your feedback. Feel free to describe what you saw, what you heard, and how you felt.
“I saw many people participating in our weight experiment. The atmosphere felt nervous yet inspiring. I was amazed by the excitement of the event.”
As with any conclusion, you should summarize what you’ve learned from the experience. Tell the reader how your newfound knowledge has affected your understanding of the subject in general. Describe the feeling and overall lesson you had as a result of the reading or experience.
There are a few good ways to conclude a reflection paper:
- Tie all the ideas from your body paragraphs together, and generalize the major insights you’ve experienced.
- Restate your thesis and summarize the content from your paper.
We have a separate blog post dedicated to writing a great conclusion. Be sure to check it out for an in-depth look at how to make a good final impression on your reader.
How to Write a Reflection Paper: Step-by-Step Guide
Step 1: Create a Main Theme
After you choose your topic, write a short summary about what you have learned about your experience with that topic. Let readers know how you feel about your topic—and be honest. Chances are that your readers will likely be able to relate to your opinion or at least the way you form your perspective, and that will help them have a better understanding of your reflection.
After watching a TEDx episode on Wim Hof, I was able to reevaluate my preconceived notions about the negative effects of cold exposure.
Step 2: Brainstorm Ideas and Experiences You’ve Had Related to Your Topic
You can write down specific quotes, predispositions you have, things that influenced you, or anything memorable. Be personal and explain, in simple words, how you felt.
• A lot of people think that even a small amount of carbohydrates will make people gain weight
• A specific moment when I struggled with an excess weight where I avoided carbohydrates entirely
• The consequences of my actions that gave rise to my research
• The evidence and studies of nutritional science that claim carbohydrates alone are to blame for making people obese
• My new experience with having a healthy diet with a well-balanced intake of nutrients
• The influence of other people’s perceptions on the harm of carbohydrates, and the role their influence has had on me
• New ideas I’ve created as a result of my shift in perspective
Step 3: Analyze How and Why These Ideas and Experiences Have Affected Your Interpretation of Your Theme
Pick an idea or experience you had from the last step, and analyze it further. Write your reasoning for agreeing or disagreeing with it.
Idea: I was brought up to think that carbohydrates make people gain weight.
Analysis: Most people think that if they eat any carbohydrates, such as bread, cereal, and sugar, they will gain weight. I believe in this misconception to such a great extent that I avoided carbohydrates entirely. As a result, my blood glucose levels were very low. I needed to do a lot of my own research to finally overcome my beliefs. After, I adopted the philosophy of “everything in moderation” as a key for having a healthy lifestyle.
Step 4: Make Connections Between Your Observations, Experiences, and Opinions
Try to connect your ideas and insights to form a cohesive picture for your theme. You can also try to recognize and break down your assumptions, which you may challenge in the future.
There are some subjects for reflection papers that are most commonly written about. They include:
- Book – Start off by writing some information about the author’s biography and summarize the plot—without revealing the ending to keep your readers interested. Make sure to include the names of characters, the main themes, and any issues mentioned in the book. Finally, express your thoughts and reflect on the book itself.
- Course – A good place to start is to include the course name and its description. Then, you can write about the course flow, explain reasons you had for taking this course, and tell readers what you learned from it. Since it is a paper about reflection, express your opinion, supporting it with examples from the course.
- Project – The structure for a reflection paper about a project has identical guidelines to that of a course. One of the things you might want to add would be the pros and cons of the course. Also, mention some changes you might want to see, and evaluate how relevant the skills you acquired are to real life.
- Interview – First, introduce the person, and briefly mention what the interview was about. Touch on the main points, controversies, and what your opinion is on that person.
Everyone has their own style of writing a reflective essay – and that’s the beauty of it, you have plenty of leeway with this type of paper – but, there are still a few tips everyone should incorporate.
Before you start your paper, read some examples of other papers, they will likely help you get a better understanding of what they are and how to approach yours. When picking your subject, try to write about something unusual and memorable — it is more likely to capture your readers’ attention. Never write the whole essay at once. Space out the time slots when you work on your reflection paper to at least a day apart. This will allow your brain to generate new thoughts and reflections.
- Short and Sweet – Most reflection papers are between 250 and 750 words. Don’t go off on tangents. Only include relevant information.
- Clear and Concise – Make your paper as clear and concise as possible. Use a strong thesis so that your essay can follow it with the same strength.
- Maintain the Right Tone – Use a professional and academic tone—even though the writing is personal.
- Cite Your Sources – Try to cite authoritative sources and experts to back up your personal opinions.
- Proofreading – Not only should you proofread for spelling and grammatical errors, but you should proofread to focus on your organization as well. Answer the question presented in the introduction.