Reflective Essay: Definition, Guidelines and Format


Students are usually requested to write a reflective essay about a certain book, lecture, or class. Also, it may be a simple college essay. While a reflective essay pretends to be very subjective and personal, it should also be well structured and keep a formal tone.

Keep reading the article to become the perfect essay writer.

If you were asked to reflect on a particular book, start writing down your thoughts and emotions during your first reading. If you were asked to describe an experience from your life, make a little brainstorm to distinguish the most highlighted experience in your life. Some of your thoughts may contradict each other or fall apart, but at the end, your reader should feel that unique territory of philosophical discoveries and insights that you have experienced.

If you don’t know how to start a reflection paper, it’s not a problem! A full guide by on how to write a reflective essay was created to help you with your reflective essay writing!

Reflective Essay: Definition


The purpose of your reflective essay writing is to show the way you think about a particular experience you gained in life. The writer should show how those experiences influenced their life choice, and how they have grown or developed from those experiences. The reflective essay may have a more simple structure than persuasive or analytical essays, but it doesn’t beat around the bush.

Your reflective essay will:

  • Contain an analysis or conclusions about what you have seen, heard, read, or experienced.
  • Express a connection between you and this experience.
  • Describe what you have learned from the situation and how you can use this new information.
  • Identify your own point of view on the situation and philosophical musings.



Unlike other academic papers, a reflective essay typically doesn’t require profound research as it is more personal in nature. Style and structure may vary to requirements, as well as the paper topic and its purpose. A reflective essay may follow APA, MLA, Chicago/Turabian, and other styles. Be sure that you have properly formatted the title, headings, page numbering, spacing, font, bibliography, etc.

Reflective essay format traditionally consists of classical essay parts:

  • Introduction (Describe the place where the story took place)
  • Body paragraph (Explain how you have changed or what you have learned)
  • Conclusions (Sum up your experience)



Writing a reflective essay may sound easy, but in practice may become a hard thing. In fact, a reflective essay covers your own experience and situations from your own life instead of conducting scientific research. Sometimes it is very difficult to be critical of ourselves and such essays help us become better and think more critically about ourselves and learn more from our experiences. It is better to have a to-do list to gain more effective writing.

  1. Examine the requirements. Read attentively all questions that were given by your tutor and write down the main moments that you should consider in your essay. Identify the area and aspects that you should focus on when reflecting.
  2. Decide on the experience or event. Brainstorm to indicate topics that interest you the most. You’ll want to shape your ideas and come up with interesting information, so you will need time to properly understand what direction you should choose.
  3. Write an outline. Write an exemplary structure of your future essay. Keep in mind that the body paragraph should consist of chronological events and have a linear storyline.
  4. Write a catchy introduction. Use an attention grabber and tell in a few words about your experience that you are going to describe in the body paragraph. Don’t give much at the beginning and hold the cards close.
  5. Write the body paragraph. It may consist of several parts according to your situation. Each thought or idea should be structured into different paragraphs and follow the logic. Usually, a body paragraph will contain the following two parts which paint the situation and your own thoughts about it.
    Start the body with a description of the situation and its physical environment. Here you can use a wide arsenal of expressions to take your reader into those places to see and sense the moment. Answer the questions like:
    – Where and when did the situation take place?
    – Was there prehistory before the main story?
    – Who was with you?
    – What did you do?
    Write your reflection. Tell me about your feelings and thoughts. Answer the questions like:
    – What did you expect to happen?
    – What did happen in fact?
    – What were your feelings?
    – How could you change the situation?
  6. Finish with conclusions. It should be like a finishing touch that ties the whole text into an organic whole. Describe the main points from the body paragraph and the substance of your reflections.
  7. Proofread your text. Don’t skip this essential step. Make sure that your thoughts have a logical structure, and your text is free from grammatical mistakes and punctuation and spelling errors.



Q: How to start a reflection paper?

A: If you are sitting behind a blank window in Microsoft Word, answer the following questions, and it will be a great start!

  • Description: what experience did you have?
  • Feelings: what feelings and thoughts did you have?
  • Evaluation: what were the positive and negative sides of those experiences?
  • Analysis: what previous experiences can you relate to this one?
  • Conclusion: what else could be done?
  • Action plan: what would you do if it happens to you next time?

Q: How to write a reflection paper introduction?

A: In an introduction, the writer should directly or indirectly share the overall focus on the experience that will be described in the essay. For example:

“I think that every person has books that cause many warm memories and associations, books that have become true friends and wise helpers, books without which it is difficult to imagine your life. What is the role of books in the formation of a person’s personality? Here I will tell you about one book that made a huge impact on my life and my way of thinking.”

Q: What is a good example of a reflective essay outline?

A: As an example, if you plan to write about volunteering in a nursing home, the structure of your reflective essay will look like the following.

Expectation about volunteering in a nursing home:

  • First impression
  • Expectations

Working experience:

  • Finding hard to help older people
  • Finding friends among older people


  • New-found passion and feelings toward the work
  • A changed mindset about helping people and being helpful

Q: What should I do if I get stuck with writing?

A: Use a free writing technique. You should start writing everything that is on your mind for a set period of time. This method will help you generate ideas for your essay. It happens that writers just get so caught up with writing that they can’t stop writing after the set time is over.

Written by Marinelle Adams