How to Write a Reflection Paper

Four Parts:Sample Outline and PaperBrainstormingOrganizing a Reflection PaperAs You Write

Reflection papers allow you to communicate with your instructor about how a specific article, lesson, lecture, or experience shapes your understanding of class-related material. Reflection papers are personal and subjective, but they must still maintain a somewhat academic tone and must still be thoroughly and cohesively organized. Here's what you need to know about writing an effective reflection.

Sample Outline and Paper

Sample Outline for Reflection Paper

Sample Reflection Paper

Part 1

  1. Image titled Write a Reflection Paper Step 1
    Identify the main themes.[1] In your notes, summarize the experience, reading, or lesson in one to three sentences.
    • These sentences should be both descriptive yet straight to the point.
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    Jot down material that stands out in your mind. Determine why that material stands out and make another note of what you figure out.
    • For lectures or readings, you can jot down specific quotations or summarize passages.
    • For experiences, make a note of specific portions of your experience. You could even write a small summary or story of an event that happened during the experience that stands out. Images, sounds, or other sensory portions of your experience work, as well.
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    Chart things out.[2] You may find it helpful to create a chart or table to keep track of your ideas.
    • In the first column, list the main points or key experiences. These points can include anything that the author or speaker treated with importance as well as any specific details you found to be important. Divide each point into its own separate row.
    • In the second column, list your personal response to the points you brought up in the first column. Mention how your subjective values, experiences, and beliefs influence your response.
    • In the third and final column, describe how much of your personal response to share in your reflection paper.
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    Ask yourself questions to guide your response. If you are struggling to gauge your own feelings or pinpoint your own response, try asking yourself questions about the experience or reading and how it relates to you. Sample questions might include:[3]
    • Does the reading, lecture, or experience challenge you socially, culturally, emotionally, or theologically? If so, where and how? Why does it bother you or catch your attention?
    • Has the reading, lecture, or experience changed your way of thinking? Did it conflict with beliefs you held previously, and what evidence did it provide you with in order to change your thought process on the topic?
    • Does the reading, lecture, or experience leave you with any questions? Were these questions ones you had previously or ones you developed only after finishing?
    • Did the author, speaker, or those involved in the experience fail to address any important issues? Could a certain fact or idea have dramatically changed the impact or conclusion of the reading, lecture, or experience?
    • How do the issues or ideas brought up in this reading, lecture, or experience mesh with past experiences or readings? Do the ideas contradict or support each other?

Part 2
Organizing a Reflection Paper

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    Keep it short and sweet. A typical reflection paper is between 300 and 700 words long.
    • Verify whether or not your instructor specified a word count for the paper instead of merely following this average.
    • If your instructor demands a word count outside of this range, meet your instructor's requirements.
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    Introduce your expectations.[4] The introduction of your paper is where you should identify any expectations you had for the reading, lesson, or experience at the start.
    • For a reading or lecture, indicate what you expected based on the title, abstract, or introduction.
    • For an experience, indicate what you expected based on prior knowledge provided by similar experiences or information from others.
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    Develop a thesis statement. At the end of your introduction, you should include a single sentence that quickly explains your transition from your expectations to your final conclusion.
    • This is essentially a brief explanation of whether or not your expectations were met.
    • A thesis provides focus and cohesion for your reflection paper.
    • You could structure a reflection thesis along the following lines: “From this reading/experience, I learned...”
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    Explain your conclusions in the body. Your body paragraphs should explain the conclusions or understandings you reached by the end of the reading, lesson, or experience.
    • Your conclusions must be explained. You should provide details on how you arrived at those conclusions using logic and concrete details.
    • The focus of the paper is not a summary of the text, but you still need to draw concrete, specific details from the text or experience in order to provide context for your conclusions.
    • Write a separate paragraph for each conclusion or idea you developed.
    • Each paragraph should have its own topic sentence. This topic sentence should clearly identify your major points, conclusions, or understandings.
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    Conclude with a summary. Your conclusion should succinctly describe the overall lesson, feeling, or understanding you got as a result of the reading or experience.
    • The conclusions or understandings explained in your body paragraphs should support your overall conclusion. One or two may conflict, but the majority should support your final conclusion.

Part 3
As You Write

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    Reveal information wisely. A reflection paper is somewhat personal in that it includes your subjective feelings and opinions. Instead of revealing everything about yourself, carefully ask yourself if something is appropriate before including it in your paper.
    • If you feel uncomfortable about a personal issue that affects the conclusions you reached, it is wisest not to include personal details about it.
    • If a certain issue is unavoidable but you feel uncomfortable revealing your personal experiences or feelings regarding it, write about the issue in more general terms. Identify the issue itself and indicate concerns you have professionally or academically.
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    Maintain a professional or academic tone. A reflection paper is personal and objective, but you should still keep your thoughts organized and sensible.
    • Avoid dragging someone else down in your writing. If a particular person made the experience you are reflecting on difficult, unpleasant, or uncomfortable, you must still maintain a level of detachment as you describe that person's influence. Instead of stating something like, “Bob was such a rude jerk,” say something more along the lines of, “One man was abrupt and spoke harshly, making me feel as though I was not welcome there.” Describe the actions, not the person, and frame those actions within the context of how they influenced your conclusions.
    • A reflection paper is one of the few pieces of academic writing in which you can get away with using the first person pronoun “I.” That said, you should still relate your subjective feelings and opinions using specific evidence to explain them.
    • Avoid slang and always use correct spelling and grammar. Internet abbreviations like “LOL” or “OMG” are fine to use personally among friends and family, but this is still an academic paper, so you need to treat it with the grammatical respect it deserves. Do not treat it as a personal journal entry.
    • Check and double-check your spelling and grammar after you finish your paper.
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    Review your reflection paper at the sentence level. A clear, well-written paper must have clear, well-written sentences.
    • Keep your sentences focused. Avoid squeezing multiple ideas into one sentence.
    • Avoid sentence fragments. Make sure that each sentence has a subject and a verb.
    • Vary your sentence length. Include both simple sentences with a single subject and verb and complex sentences with multiple clauses. Doing so makes your paper sound more conversational and natural, and prevents the writing from becoming too wooden.
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    Use transitions. Transitional phrases shift the argument and introduce specific details. They also allow you to illustrate how one experience or detail directly links to a conclusion or understanding.
    • Common transitional phrases include "for example," "for instance," "as a result," "an opposite view is," and "a different perspective is."
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    Relate relevant classroom information to the experience or reading. You can incorporate information you learned in the classroom with information addressed by the reading, lecture, or experience.
    • For instance, if reflecting on a piece of literary criticism, you could mention how your beliefs and ideas about the literary theory addressed in the article relate to what your instructor taught you about it or how it applies to prose and poetry read in class.
    • As another example, if reflecting on a new social experience for a sociology class, you could relate that experience to specific ideas or social patterns discussed in class.

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