Have you been asked to write a reflective essay but do not know where to begin? This article will help you understand what a reflective essay is and how to write one from start to finish. You will learn:

  • The definition of a reflective essay
  • How to choose the best topic for a reflective essay
  • How to start writing a reflective essay
  • The appropriate format for a reflective essay
  • How to write a reflective essay outline
  • How to perfect your reflective essay

Definition of Reflective Essay

All reflective essays share one thing in common: they do ask that you consider your personal thoughts, opinions, and experiences and apply those to the course you are taking.

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A reflective essay is a relatively broad category of academic essay writing. There is no one correct type of reflective essay. In fact, you could be asked to write a reflective essay that is written in the first person or the third person.

Most reflective essays will be thesis-driven. Even though a reflective essay can seem less formal than other types of expository essays you are writing in class, a reflective essay is still considered a type of formal academic writing.

Therefore, do not consider a reflective essay assignment to be any easier or harder than any other. A reflective essay can be just as challenging to write as an analytical essay or a research paper.

First Person vs. Third Person

A first-person reflective essay seems less formal than a third-person reflective essay, but this does not mean that you can take it easy and write as if you are speaking to a friend.

You still need to write in formal academic terms, avoiding slang and remaining focused on the course material.

A first-person reflective essay could begin with questions like:

My personal experiences show that…

Based on the course readings, I now believe that…

My background and upbringing created worldviews and biases related to…

Incorporating what we have learned in this class, I feel better prepared to…

Now that I understand the concepts of ____, I will take the next steps in my research by…

Course readings like ___ substantiate my personal experiences because…

Third-person reflective essays seem more challenging at first because you are being asked to internalize what you have learned without speaking about yourself.

How do you do this? With practice and help from a good writing tutor. Begin by thinking about how you might translate what you are learning in class into writing a good expository essay. Take yourself out of it by considering how you might inform others of your learning.

A third-person reflective essay could begin with questions like:

Course readings can help inform public policy related to…

Professionals can apply the theories of ___ to improving…

Reflecting on these novels lends insight into…

Note that third person reflective essays tend to invoke the passive voice, which is often discouraged in academic writing.

If you are in doubt as to whether to write a reflective essay in the first person or third person, ask your instructor now.

Why Reflective Essays Are Important

Some reflective essays ask you to write about yourself in ways you might not be used to doing in formal exercises.

Instructors sometimes assign reflective essays at the beginning or end of a class.

Many admissions essays are reflective in nature.

Reasons for assigning reflective essays include:

  • Wanting to learn about why you are taking this course.
  • Wanting student feedback as to how the course could be improved.
  • Wanting to ascertain how much you have learned.
  • Seeing if you can apply the abstract academic readings to the real world.
  • Admissions essays to college or university, or for a scholarship

Where to Begin?

The start of every good essay is a solid topic.

Generally you will have two choices:

  • Write about a topic chosen for you, also known as the essay prompt.
  • Write about any topic you choose that is related to course content.

To choose the best topic for your reflective essay, think about all you have gone over in your class.

Brainstorming ideas can also help. Some methods of brainstorming include:

  • Talking with friends or classmates in your peer study group
  • Writing ideas down on paper
  • Listening to music and making a list
  • Drawing and allowing your mind to free associate ideas

Any method you select for brainstorming will help you to narrow down the best topics for discussion.

Unlike most other academic essays, reflective essays do ask you to delve deep into your personal opinions and how they were formed.

You can relate stories from your childhood, which are typically omitted from formal expository essays.

Alternatively, you can talk about why you have certain ideas, thoughts, or opinions, and how the course material has changed you.

Reflective Essay Topics

To help you get started on choosing the best topics for a reflective essay, refer to this handy list.

Literature Topics

How do you relate personally to the character in a book? Do you have similar personalities but different experiences, or different personalities but similar experiences? If you were in that character’s shoes, how would you have handled their crises or challenges differently?

Do you agree or disagree with the author’s take on things? Why do you feel the way you do?

How does this book relate or compare with others you have read before, in this class or in others?

In what way do you believe culture or gender affected the themes or outcome of the novel? If the novel were set in a different historical period or different cultural context, what would change?

To what degree is the character a product of his or her culture, reflecting on your own personal experiences?

Art and Music Topics

How does this work of art or music make you feel, and why?

How does this work of art or music compare to others you have studied in this class or others, and why?

Reflect on the link between the artist’s biography and the canon of their work.

Political Science Topics

Reflect on the course readings, and offer your own insights into how they can be applied to public policy change.

How do your personal experiences corroborate what we have read in class regarding specific political issues? Do you agree or disagree with the author(s)?

Reflect on different ways this theory can be applied to different political situations.

Psychology Topics

Reflect on the efficacy of various therapeutic interventions in treating different psychological disorders.

Integrate what you have learned in this class with your personal experiences.

Reflect on the ways you can apply this theory to either a counseling or clinical setting.

In what ways has this theory or therapeutic intervention changed over time?

Nursing Topics

Reflect on your personal nursing philosophy and how it might impact your practice.

Reflect on how a nurse leader’s theoretical orientation impacts their management style and the organizational policies they pursue.

How has diversity within your organization impacted job satisfaction and/or patient perceptions of quality of care.

General Course Reflections

How have you changed since taking this course?

How will you apply what you have learned in this course to your personal or professional life?

Reflect on the reasons why you took this course, and how this course changes your outlooks and opinions.

Admissions Essays

Describe a turning point in your life, and how it shaped who you are today.

Describe a situation where you demonstrated leadership skills.

Reflect on the people who have shaped who you are today. How do you hope to be an inspiration to others?