How to Write a Reflection Paper: Example & Step-by-Step Guide

In a reflection paper, you need to connect your personal experiences with theoretical knowledge. Usually, students are asked to reflect on a situation that happened to them or something they’ve read. This assignment tests your critical thinking rather than your summarizing skills. 

Struggle with writing a reflective essay? It doesn’t matter whether you are a high-school, college, or university student: this article by our custom-writing experts will help you ace this task. Here you’ll find:

  • reflection paper definition and its types;
  • writing guide with examples;
  • answers to frequently asked questions.

🤔 What Is a Reflection Paper?

A reflection essay is a type of academic assignment in which you connect theories learned in class with your personal experience and knowledge. Additionally, you analyze your feelings and attitudes towards the subject. It helps you understand how to put theory into practice. 

The picture shows the definition of a reflection paper: a description, analysis, and evaluation of an experience.

For this assignment, the ability to use reflective thinking is vital. What does it mean? It means that you should be able to look back at and analyze:

  • what you did;
  • how and why you did it;
  • how it made you feel;
  • what you could have done differently.

Consequently, your reflection essay should include the following components: 

✔️ Description What happened? What did you do?
✔️ Feelings and emotions on the topic How did you react to it?
✔️ Evaluation Was it interesting or valuable? Why?
✔️ Analysis What did you learn? How is it connected to your knowledge? Are there any gaps in your knowledge?
✔️ Action-plan How are you going to fix the knowledge gaps?

So, let’s make clear what a reflection paper is and what it’s not. Have a look at this comparison:

✔️ A reflection paper is:❌ A reflection paper is not:
  • a chance to show your critical thinking skills;
  • an analysis of your feelings, thoughts, ideas, and attitudes;
  • an opportunity to explore the subject even further.
  • a description of standalone facts;
  • unspecified judgments and arguments;
  • problem-solving writing;
  • a plain summary of your experiences and knowledge.

When it comes to topics, a reflexive paper may be about many things, such as:

  1. an analysis of your work;
  2. your impressions from attending a class or a speech;
  3. an experience that has influenced your worldview;
  4. a solution to a problem;
  5. the steps to improve your academic progress.

Once you have a topic idea, the next step is to prepare for writing.

✅ How to Write a Reflection Paper: Different Types

Before your start working on your essay, let’s find out what exactly you should deal with. There are several different types of reflexive essays. Make sure to choose the one that suits you best.

We have prepared three classifications, depending on when, how, and what you will reflect.

Depending on time, reflection papers can be:

  • Reflection-in-action. You study your actions under certain circumstances. Usually, it’s a patient-therapist interaction. In this case, you observe, feel, and analyze the situation you are engaged in.
  • Reflection-on-action. You study your actions after the situation has already occurred. It’s crucial to use your critical thinking here as well. 

Depending on the manner, reflexive essays can be:

  • Experimental. You make connections between theory and practice by conducting an experiment. It’s suitable for sociology, education, business, psychology, forensics, and nursing.
  • Reading. You connect the ideas from the texts and your interpretations to show your comprehension. 

Depending on the content, reflective writing can be:

  • a journal (to reflect on your learning in the course)
  • a learning diary (to evaluate group work)
  • a logbook (to reflect on your experiments, analyze past actions, and plan future ones)
  • a reflective note (to express your attitudes towards an issue)
  • an essay diary (to write an annotated bibliography, to analyze and critique the sources)
  • a peer review (to present your feedback on other students’ work or teamwork)
  • a self-reflection essay (to examine and comment on your working process).

Personal Reflection Essay Tips

In a personal reflection paper, you need to present your attitudes, emotions, feelings, and experiences. How do you do it? 

Here is the answer:

  1. Think about an experience that evokes particular emotions.
  2. Describe what happened: mention the participants and their actions.
  3. Demonstrate your emotions and feelings. It’s important to show them rather than just tell. The trick is to make the reader feel the same. You can do it by using imagery and various descriptive techniques.
  4. Analyze your experiences and make connections with your present-day life. You can relate them to your study material or relevant theories and concepts.
  5. Conclude with your plans. Tell the readers how you’re going to implement this knowledge. 

These reflective writing examples should give you an idea of what your writing should be like and what to avoid. First, let’s have a look at a poor example:

Example:

I wanted to become a painter. I liked to paint very much. Once I saw a painting of Claude Monet and decided to become like him. I bought paints and a canvas. My first work was not very good, but I didn’t give up. My future pictures were much better.

As you can see, it’s not very informative. There’s no analysis of an experience, and connections are not made. It also lacks interesting descriptions.

Now, check out this good example:

Description of an event. Art has always been my passion. When I saw the works of Claude Monet, I fell in love with them. It was a turning point because painting has become a significant part of my life since then.
Experiences depicted using evocative language. When I took the brush for the first time, it felt miraculous. When I started to paint, it was a feeling of happiness and freedom.
Analysis with references to other experiences. Painting has taught me patience and concentration. I also understood that one needs to work hard to achieve one’s goals.
Conclusion with some plans for the future. Now my paintings are much better than before, thanks to my persistence. I will continue developing my skills and applying them in my everyday life. 

Critical Reflection Essay: Writing Tips

In a critical reflection essay, you assess how theories can be applied in practice, examine causes and consequences, and find solutions to problems. It’s all about evaluating and changing your attitude towards an issue rather than summarizing events and details.

The critical reflection process consists of two stages:

  • Analysis. Ask critical questions to find the core of the issue and your role in it. 
  • Articulation. Organize your ideas into a structured essay.

How exactly can you make an analysis?

Have a look at the following three-stage model. All you should do is answer the following questions:

  1. What? During the first stage, you describe the details of the issue.
  2. So what? The second stage requires you to relate your theoretical knowledge to the situation you discuss. The way you do it depends on the questions you are going to ask yourself while writing. There are three major perspectives to choose from:
Academic perspective How did the situation help you comprehend the theory? Did it confirm or challenge your ideas? Did it help you identify your strengths and weaknesses? Example: This situation has helped me understood that people rarely think about high-level needs if their basic ones are not met.
Personal perspective What role did the situation play? How do the consequences matter for you? What about your assumptions and biases: were they confirmed or refuted? What was the most interesting, challenging, or unexpected part? Example: I was convinced that people usually judge each other based on their abilities rather than their social status. However, the following situation has shown that status plays a crucial role in our social image.
Systems perspective How did the situation influence the system of organization? Did anyone benefit? How did it enhance your comprehension of the organization or system? Example: The following situation has changed my comprehension of the whole healthcare system. I didn’t think that nurses could have such a significant impact on the process of recovery. Their psychological and medical help is priceless.
  1. Now what? At this stage, you think about the future outcomes. Ponder on how this situation will shape your further experiences. 

As soon as the analysis stage is over, you’re ready to relate your thoughts and ideas in written form.

How to Write a Reflective Paper on a Book

Now, let’s see what strategies can help you write an excellent reflective essay on a book. First of all, remember that this assignment is not about summarizing the plot. It’s about analyzing and connecting the ideas presented in the text with your knowledge. 

To write a perfect reflective paper on a book, take the following steps:

  1. Analyze the text. Explore the ideas, purpose, and theoretical framework of the book. State its main point clearly and concisely. Then, discuss the information that interested you the most. Mention what emotions it evoked, and say whether the ideas in the book are new to you. 
  2. Expand on your ideas. Describe how this information shapes your understanding of the subject. Also, state whether you agree with the author’s arguments. 
  3. Establish connections. Show how the book helped to broaden your knowledge. Mention whether it had challenged your assumptions.

The following sample will help you see how you can structure your ideas:

Ideas are analyzed In the book Radical Forgiveness by Colin Tipping it is stated that the concept of forgiveness is transcendent. While some information covered in the book is new and interesting to me, there are also ideas that I disagree with.
Ideas are expanded According to Tipping, sometimes our rational mind can’t solve the problem, and we need to rely on some supernatural powers. I agree that we shouldn’t let our instincts control our life. At the same time, I find the concept of higher powers questionable.
Connections are made This book has changed my attitude towards the concepts of guilt and forgiveness. It has also enhanced my understanding of psychology.

How to Write a Reflection Paper on an Article

Usually, a reflection paper on an article is concerned with critiquing a written text or a speech. These strategies will help you write it:

  1. Focus on your attitudes and feelings towards the article. You may mention your expectations and whether they were met.

Example:

I believed this book would help me understand the difference between traditional and radical forgiveness. I thought these two types had a lot in common. However, it turned out they are entirely different.

  1. Refer to the passages that interested you the most: quote directly, paraphrase, or summarize them.
  2. Include your subjective opinion: it’s important not to overdo it.
  3. Combine formal and informal vocabulary to make your writing more expressive.

✍️ How to Write a Reflection Paper: Step-by-Step Guide

Want to know what exactly you should do to get an excellent reflexive essay? Read the following tips. They will help you write any type of reflection essay.

Reflection Essay Writing: Before You Start

Let’s start with some pre-writing strategies. Here are the main steps:

Step 1: Brainstorm ideas. Identify your central theme and write a summary of essential points.

Example:

Main theme: Psychological reasons for eating a lot of sweets

Summary: 

  • Usually, I eat sweets when I’m sad or upset.
  • I have read that people who lack love and positive emotions and feelings try to substitute it with food.
  • Watching a documentary has evoked my interest in this topic.
  • My attitude towards sweets has changed after research.

Step 2: Analyze your ideas. Then, connect your experiences with theoretical knowledge.

The following list of questions will help you navigate your response.

⏳ “Before” questions⏰ “During” questions⌛ “After” questions
  • What do I expect from the following experience?
  • What difficulties may I experience?
  • How am I going to get prepared for the following experience?
  • What do I feel?
  • What am I learning right now?
  • How does it change my attitude towards the issue in question?
  • Am I coping with the difficulties properly?
  • What do I feel after this experience?
  • What was the most important part?
  • What could’ve been done differently?
  • What knowledge have I gained?

Step 3: Organize your reflection essay. This list will make it clear what the writer does and doesn’t do in a reflective essay. Keep it in mind while planning what to include in your paper.

✔️ Dos:❌ Don’ts:
  • briefly summarize the key details;
  • ask yourself critical questions;
  • mention your feelings, emotions, and attitudes;
  • relate your experiences with theoretical knowledge;
  • state your expectations;
  • include supporting evidence;
  • cite all the sources;
  • use appropriate language and tone;
  • use relevant transition words.
  • don’t focus too much on the summary;
  • don’t overuse the first-person perspective;
  • don’t use slang or offensive words;
  • don’t reveal other people’s details;
  • don’t squeeze several ideas into one sentence;
  • don’t use one sentence structure all the time.

Here’s a bonus tip: to structure your reflection process, use the 4Rs model:

  1. Report on the topic and its relation to the course.
  2. Relate it with your personal experiences.
  3. Reason out connections between your practical and theoretical knowledge.
  4. Reconstruct the initial idea to make a conclusion.

Reflection Paper Template: What to Include

Now, let’s have a look at your essay’s structure. Your paper should consist of an introduction, main body, and conclusion:

The picture shows a template for a reflection paper with the main elements included in introduction, main body, and conclusion.

Want to know how to write each part? Keep reading!

Reflective Paper Outline: How to Start a Reflection Paper

The introductory part of your essay should be catchy, informative, and well-organized. How can you do it? Follow these strategies:

  1. Begin with an informative sentence in which you introduce the topic of your paper.
    • It should be specific: try not to include general and well-known information.
    • Make this sentence catchy. This will get your readers interested in the rest of your paper.
  2. Write a couple of sentences with background information. For example, you can discuss:
    • major facts or details related to the situation or issue;
    • general themes covered in the text, interview, or video under analysis;
    • aspects of teamwork or an individual assignment;
    • your biases, expectations, and possible challenges.
  3. Write a thesis statement at the end of your introduction. A strong thesis statement should do the following:
    • cover observations or conclusions made by you;
    • reveal a clear position on an issue;
    • include a plan on how to defend your opinions throughout the paper.

Don’t forget to reread your introduction each time before writing a new body paragraph. Make sure that all of them match the ideas covered in your introductory part and thesis statement.

Reflection Paper Outline: Body Paragraphs

So, what’s the next part? After you’ve presented your ideas in the introduction, you expand on them in the body paragraphs. The main point here is to cover one idea per paragraph and provide necessary supporting evidence. That’s why it is better to have no more than 3 body paragraphs.

Here’s what to include in this essay part:

✔️Evaluation of your experiences.Pointout what you liked and disliked about the experience. Comparison and contrast can help you do it.
✔️Analysis of acquired knowledge.Reflect on what you have learned. Make connections between your previous and the newly acquired knowledge. Additionally, use direct quotes or paraphrase important information from books and articles.
✔️Critique of the sources.If you disagree with someone’s theory or opinion, you need to defend your perspective. Feel free to criticize some of the ideas, but make sure to provide relevant evidence.
✔️The explanation of causes and effects.Explain what lead you to your conclusions. It’s also worth mentioning some possible effects these opinions may have on your future.

Reflection Paper Outline: Conclusion

Finally, any academic paper needs a conclusion. Don’t know how to write it? Check out the following helpful tips:

✔️ Summarize the major points of your reflection essay. You need to restate your thesis and mention essential aspects of each body paragraph.
✔️ Identify and describe your knowledge gaps. It’s important to reflect on what you don’t know about the topic. It will help you find what to focus on in the future.
✔️ Explain how you are going to fill these gaps. In your conclusion, write about your ideas on how to enhance your knowledge.
✔️ Devise an action plan. Present the practical steps you’re going to take in the future.

📃 Reflection Paper Examples & Formatting Tips

The moment when you stop writing your essay is really amazing. But then comes the final part: you need to format your paper appropriately. Don’t know how to do it? Look no further: we have prepared some formatting tips for you.

You only need to know which citation style to use. APA and MLA are the most popular citation styles. That’s why we have gathered the most helpful information on them. Check it out!

APA Reflection Paper Formatting

American Psychological Association (APA) format is mostly used in sciences, psychology, and education. Consider the following tips if you need to write an APA reflection essay.

Structure
  • title page;
  • abstract;
  • essay’s body;
  • references
.
Title page Type the title of your essay in boldface using standard capitalization. Center it in the upper part of the page. Then, add the following:
  • the author’s name;
  • the institutional affiliation;
  • the name and number of the course;
  • the instructor’s name;
  • the date when the assignment is due.
Abstract
  • Start your abstract on a new page;
  • Type the word Abstract on the first line, centered and boldfaced;
  • Write your abstract as a single paragraph with no more than 250 words.
Format
  • Make the paper double-spaced with 1-inch margins;
  • Create a page header with page numbers flush right;
  • Use a 10-12-point font.
In-text citationsFollow the author-date format.
  • If you want to summarize or paraphrase the information, list the author’s name and the date of publication in brackets.
    Example: Since prehistoric times, people have been interested in the concept of the dream (Freud, 1997)
  • If you want to quote directly from the source, add the number of the page.
    Example: According to Freud (1997), “A reminiscence of the concept …” (p.6)
  • For sources that have three or more authors, use the abbreviation “et al.” after the first author’s name.
References
  • Type the word References in bold in the center of a new page.
  • Start each of your entries with the author’s name in an inverted format.
  • If there are several authors, name all of them, separating them with a comma and an ampersand before the final one.
    Example: Gandolfi, D., Boiani G. M., Bigiani, A., & Mapelli, J.
  • Add the year of publication in brackets after the author’s name.
  • Capitalize the first word of the source’s title.
  • Longer works titles (books, names of newspapers, etc.) should be italicized.
  • List the sources in alphabetical order.
    Here’s a full APA reference entry example: Freud, S. (1997). The interpretation of dreams. Wordsworth Editions.

Below you’ll find a downloadable reflection paper example in APA format.

Reflection Papers Format: MLA

Modern Language Association (MLA) formatting is widespread in the humanities. Do you need to write an MLA reflexive essay? Have a look at some essential formatting tips about this citation style below.

Structure
  • title and personal details;
  • essay’s body;
  • works cited.
Title pageA title page is not required. You write your personal details and essay’s title on the page where your text starts. In the upper left-hand corner, write:
  • your name;
  • the instructor’s name;
  • the name of the course;
  • the date.
Then, write the title of your paper in the center. Use standard capitalization.
AbstractIn MLA format, you don’t write an abstract unless it’s required by the teacher.
Format
  • Make the text double-spaced with 1-inch margins;
  • Use any legible font, such as 12-points Times New Roman;
  • Number the pages in the upper right corner.
In-text citationsFollow the author-page format.
  • If you want to quote directly or paraphrase information, list the author’s name and the page number in the brackets.
    Example: Since prehistoric times, people have been interested in the concept of the dream (Freud 6)
  • if there are three and more authors, use the abbreviation “et al.”
    Example:It is stated that sugar craving is connected with low self-esteem (Gandolfi et al. 5)
References Type the words “Works Cited” in the center of a new page.
  • Start each entry with the author’s name in the following format: Last name, First name.
  • State the publisher and the year of publication.
  • Use standard capitalization for source titles.
  • Take the titles of the shorter works in the quotations marks.
    Example: “Modeling Neurotransmission: Computational Tools to Investigate Neurological Disorders.”
  • Italicize the titles of the larger works, such as books.
  • List the sources alphabetically. Here’s a full MLA reference entry:
    Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. Wordsworth Editions, 1997.

If you want to know more about MLA formatting, check out this free reflection essay sample. You can download the full version below.

My Experience with Online Classes: Pros and Cons

Example:

The COVID-19 pandemic raised the need for educational means that will not potentially endanger the students’ health. As a result, the need for online classes sharply rose worldwide. However, it is difficult to conclude whether such practices have been successful so far, especially in regions that are considered least developed. According to my personal observations, online classes may represent a negative educational experience that will hinder its primary role as the means of passing on the knowledge.

My Experience with Online Classes: Pros and Cons
Download the free sample

We hope that this article on a reflection paper has made things clear for you. In a nutshell, here are the main steps:

  • analyze the situation;
  • reflect on your feelings and experiences;
  • connect them to your theoretical knowledge.

We wish you the best of luck with your assignments. Don’t hesitate to share this article with your friends!

Further reading:

❓ Frequently Asked Questions

📌 What is a reflection in writing?

A reflection is a combination of critical thinking and learning. It’s a way of responding to one’s experiences, issues, and acquired knowledge. There’s no right or wrong in reflection writing, as every person reacts uniquely.

📌 How long should a reflection paper be?

It’s better to discuss the essay’s length with your instructor. However, if there are no specific instructions regarding word count, your reflective essay should contain between 300- 500 words (approximately 1-2 pages.)

📌 How do you write a reflection paper on a class?

To write an effective reflexive essay about a lesson, you need to:

1. describe the lesson’s contents;
2. express your ideas and feelings related to the class;
3. mention what you’ve learned and how it affected you.

📌 How do you write a reflection paper on a movie?

To write a reflection paper on a movie, follow the template below:

1. reflect on your emotions before, during, and after watching the film;
2. analyze your observations;
3. draw connections with the information learned in class.

🔍 References

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