How to write a reflective essay: an Ultimate guide for the beginners

Have you ever wrote a reflective essay? If you don’t, you are in the perfect place to start! If you did this information will definitely help you obtain a wider understanding of a subject and provide you with some insights you may never encounter previously. Are you ready? Let’s go from the very beginning!
Reflective Essay

What is a reflection paper?

Reflective paper or reflective essay describes events or maybe an experience that happened in the past. After the detailed picture of this is presented, the author makes some conclusions based on what happened from a present perspective. For this type of essay, it is super important, to be honest about the emotions and thoughts you had and make a description of events honestly with great detail in the personality and individual traits of the characters. The main goal of a reflective essay is to make your reader feel like it was his experience, to make him live that moment to the fullest. How to achieve that? The process is a bit more complex than it might seem at first glance, but we will figure it out for sure in this article! You will know all the answers on how to write a realistic and meaningful essay that your reader will be able to engage in and enjoy reading it from start to finish!

Choosing the best reflective essay topic

What do you need to begin with? Of course, this is the topic of your story. It is much more than just recreating certain events, you must get the emotion out of your reader. Make him or her feel that particular moment. That’s why the correct theme of the essay is playing such a major role in getting that result.

You need to ask yourself: what are the most impactful events of your life? What is bringing true emotion out of you that could captivate the imagination of others? It could be a positive experience, it could be a negative experience. Or it could even be some kind of mixture of both. When you write your essay as a part of an academic task, the topic could be already selected by your tutor. In other instances, you will have some freedom in choosing the main theme and expressing yourself in your work. Keep in mind that a reflective essay is not just storytelling, you need to make a tangible conclusion on what outcomes certain events had brought on your life. If you miss that the whole point of this ‘format’ will be missed entirely. So, make sure you will adhere to the main principles and can draw some conclusions and influence you in your reflective essay. Being that as it may, let’s go through the main possible topics you can use.

The most popular topics for a reflective essay

  • A real experience or an event that happened to you in the past;
  • Imaginary situation  it could be something that happened to you in a dream;
  • Your favorite place in your town, or an object or a piece of clothing that is dear to your heart;
  • Your home or a place you grew up in or lived for a significant amount of time;
  • The movie you’ve watched or the book you’ve read, maybe a story that someone told you at some point and that story made you think;
  • Events that changed your approach to life or the approach to life of your friends and family;
  • A special date that is important to you;
  • The time when you had learned new skills;
  • How did you fail or achieved a major success in something?
  • A time when you tried something you never tried before;
  • A moment when you had faced your biggest fear;
  • An important memory of recurring thoughts;
  • A conversation that changed the direction of your life;
  • Something you wish you had done or a conversation you wanted to have;
  • A moment when you were embarrassed;
  • A role model you want to be when you grow up or do something;
  • Important news or a post on social media;
  • A music show that you had attended;
  • Your best friend or your loved relative;
  • Your biggest enemy;
  • A teacher or a coach that had changed your life forever.

How to build up a perfectly shaped reflective narrative?

As you see there is an impressive variety of possible essay topics. Which one is best for you? The answer is quite simple – the one that resonates with you the most. The one that you can really dive deep into and relive that emotion at that moment. You had picked one? I am sure you do! Now it’s time to think about it deeply and figure out how much you can take from this topic and what your narrative should be. Try to feel that emotion. What did you actually feel when that event occurred and what are you feeling right now, when it all set and done? You can write small notes to yourself with the little details that are popping up in your mind. You can take some time and go for a walk, or take your bicycle and ride to the forest. For some people, meditation is a way to extract those feelings. There is no wrong method if it works for you and brings you back to that moment. Once you are ready to reflect use these questions to unlock even more value from your experience.

The main questions you should ask yourself

  • What did you manage to learn from the experience or situations that happened? Can you draw some immediate conclusions? Something that became obvious or you are seeing clearly right now.
  • Can you state that this experience had changed you in some way? Can you call it growth?
  • How can you evaluate this experience or an event? Is it a positive one or definitely a negative? Maybe, something in between?
  • If you had a chance is there is any you would do differently? Or are you completely happy with the way it turned out to be?
  • What is the motivation behind the moves and choices you made? Could you possibly have an opportunity to change something or it was inevitable?
  • Can you state that the experience was useful in any form or it was completely unnecessary?

Just as you thought your reflective process had started, after these sets of questions your train of thought will really move on. You will think about other small details and ask yourself even more questions that would lead you to the new conclusions and your narrative will be clear to build a story on.

Additional tip: Keep close attention to the question like “What could happen?” as thinking about alternatives more will provide you with more depth on your reflection and eventual narrative.


How to start a reflection paper: Practical advice

We had a lot of fun with the sensitive stuff as of right now. But no matter how deep you had dived in the sea of your emotions it is a bad plan to start without a clear and strict plan for your actions. There is a method to this emotional ‘madness’ and it is called an ‘outline’. An outline will structure the flow of your emotions and help you adhere to the narrative building the story piece by piece. It is especially crucial when you are writing about yourself. For some people, it could be very easy to get lost in their own thoughts and lose the main point of your story.

Don’t let it happen to you! These are some benefits of having an outline:

  1. You can easily detect and remove any information that is not important to the core story. Once you will have a strict plan all useless bits will be very easy to see. This is a very significant advantage when you have limits in the volume of an essay.
  2. You will have a map to navigate through your thoughts and mention every important part right where it needs to be.
  3. Having a plan will help you finish your job and get all points across in a minimal amount of time.

Those benefits are more than enough to stick to the plan, but apparently, you still don’t have one! It is hard to provide one outline that would fit any reflective essay, as topics differ and the depth can be also different. But here are the main sections that will get you going.


You need to start with a bang, or with a hook in this case. Your first section must contain something that will grab the attention of the reader and encourage him or her to read your work to the very end. At the same time, this section must serve as your story in the nutshell – make sure to get all the main points across and captivate the reader, but keep him intrigued for further reading. Don’t lose your reader here – the best execution of this section can be the most important part of the whole job!

Main Body

This is probably the most complex part. You had your hook and overview in the intro, right? What’s next? Now it is your turn to tell the story. If your outline was good enough you won’t repeat yourself, but it is better to keep this in mind. Pace your story just as you like, but put it in chronological order. Keep your story short and sweet with the most informative and important parts ending up in the final version. You can draw a timeline of your events to double-check if there are any misconceptions in your narrative. This part must already contain some portion of the reflection and critique, where it is necessary, but don’t go to the bottom line yet. The main body must already summarize the experience to a certain extent and highlight the lessons you had learned through the experience. Make sure to mention the details of your personality and the ways you dealt with certain situations.


Here comes the grand finale! This is a perfect place to summarize everything that you told about in your story and provide the reader with the conclusion of what you actually learned from this. Make sure to add a specific description of how your attitude changed towards a particular subject and how will you deal with a similar situation in the future. The change in your approach and in your frame of mind is the whole point of a reflective essay – if you illustrate it well in the conclusion, your job is done! Once again, if this is academic work, your teacher or tutor will be looking at this part first, so make sure to get some clear point across there!

Some additional tips on writing reflective essays

To avoid being lost when you eventually go write your essay, here are some tips that will help you achieve the results possible in no time!

  1. Get some inspiration! Read some similar reflective stories in magazines or newspapers to get into the groove and feel stylistic nuances.
  2. Don’t be too self-critical at the beginning. Your goal is to open your mind and get your thoughts to flow freely and not criticize yourself. It doesn’t really matter what words you will choose in a certain moment – you can always go back and rewrite everything. What matters is your feelings and thoughts, they must be freed up and you will be fine. Just make sure that you follow your general plan and structure.
  3. Be descriptive in every feeling or opinion in your story. Find exact words or an exact set of words to translate your state to the fullest.
  4. Use the first-person narrative to be more sympathetic to the reader and connect better on the personal level.
  5. Don’t forget about the note you’ve made before writing an outline. Run through them – you might have missed something important.
  6. Use flashbacks, quotes, or jokes – anything you can leverage to grab the attention of the reader.
  7. Think about the vocabulary you are using – have a specific style and tone in mind for the final version.
  8. Be very honest about everything – the reflective part won’t work if you will try to fake anything.
  9. Get some feedback before you finish. If the person was part of the described events you might have some ideas to enhance the story.
  10. Build up to the point where you realize something in the story and emphasize it for a dramatic effect.

Answers to some popular questions

How to write a reflective essay?

To write a reflective essay you need to remember an event or the experience in your life that had changed you as a person in any way. Any instance that changed your personality and you can draw some conclusions will fit as a topic for an essay and you could build it up from there.

How to start a reflective essay?

To start a reflective essay you need to brainstorm a pool of ideas and create a definitive structure for your narrative which is called an ‘outline’.

What is a common mistake when writing a reflective essay?

The most common mistake is to turn your reflective essay into storytelling. You need to make conclusions on your experience – this is the main point. If you just tell the story, there is not much reflective about that!  

How long should a reflective essay be?

If you have an academic task you will know the limit. If you don’t take as long as you need to reflect on your memories and present your story to the fullest.

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