Academic

Writing a Reflective Essay: It’s not what you think it is!

First of all, making a reflective essay may not be as simple as you think. If done properly, it is not just a part of a personal diary that you happen to make public. It is actually an analytical piece of writing which requires skillful articulation of these two things: description and reflection. Whether it is for a school assignment or something you would like to publish online regarding your personal experience, knowing how to write an effective reflective essay can be very helpful to students and newbie bloggers alike.

Reflective essays could be academic in nature or could be an in-depth informal discussion of feelings and emotions relative to an important life experience or event. To start, the description part is relatively easy. It simply requires a narration of the facts that compose the experience or event that the writer wishes to talk about. For example, the essay is about your recent experience of successfully studying for a notoriously difficult exam. Many readers would be able to relate to that, for sure. The descriptive part of the essay should talk about the physical environment or the technical aspects of the exam such as notable rules or the extent of the coverage. How was the experience for you? This is to give the readers an idea of the event and perhaps they could also find a similar occurrence in their lives. That way, they would even be more engaged in reading your work.

The second part is the more important portion which is the reflection.  It should talk about your feelings, lessons learned and discoveries regarding the experience. It could also include your perception of the event, the challenges you faced along with suggestion to the reader on what they should do in order to attain success just as you did.

 

Experience Descrbe Reflect
Successfully passing a difficult exam The physical environment, other notable rules or the extent of the coverage Feelings, lessons learned, new discoveries, perception, and challenges faced based on the experience

 

Now that you know the important parts of a reflective essay, here are some suggestions on how to structure or outline your work.

reflective-essay-structure

Step 1. Analyse the essay question

This is a very important step. There are times when we get so excited to jump into an assignment that we might be talking about an entirely different thing than the subject requires. That’s a lot of wasted time and effort that could have been spent making an impressive reflective essay. So I say, hold your horses! Stop, take a deep breath, read and re-read the assignment question. Make sure you understand what the assignment entails. This is also a good time to write the outline of your essay to serve as a guide for you.

Step 2. Read the marking rubrics

After you have understood the requirements of the assignment, the next step is to determine which areas of the assignment you should focus on. Perhaps you should concentrate on personal feelings and reflections more than new discoveries. Or is it the other way around? The only way to know for sure is if you give enough time to study the marking rubrics. This is also an effective time management technique. This is because you will be able to know which parts of the essay you need to give extra attention to.

Step 3. Identify the experience or event you would like to write about

If you are a blogger, you could go directly to this part. You would need to think hard. Which experience has been most relevant to you? Think of an even or experience which you can share the most insights.  In that way, you will be able to write an honest and more meaningful essay.

Step 4. Answer questions on who, what, when, where, and how?

As part of the descriptive portion of the essay, this will be helpful to set the scene for the event or experience. To create clear picture of the physical environment, talk about the persons involved, where and when it occurred, and what else happened during the event.

Step 5. Reflect on your feelings, on the lessons you have learned, on new discoveries, and perceptions

In this portion, you would have to look into how the event affected you, whether personally or professionally. This serves as an evaluation of the event or experience. Was it a good or bad experience for you? If the essay is for a school assignment, you would need to anchor your reflections on relevant studies or literature that you have discussed in class. You may need to look into cause and effect relationships or compare and contrast certain phenomena. Further, you may also need to highlight your action plan based on the reflection and how it could be applied to your personal or professional learning needs. If this is for a personal blog, then you have more room to talk about feelings and perceptions without necessarily having to cite credible sources to support them.

Step 6. Conclude and/or make recommendations to help the reader

This is simply a recap of all that you have talked about in your essay. The conclusion likewise reminds the reader what is the purpose of the essay. Further, this could be your opportunity to give advice or recommendations in relation to the lessons you have learned or on the new discoveries you have made. This is a way to tie up everything that has been discussed in the essay.

Now that you have my ideas on how to conceptualise and structure an effective reflective essay, do not stop here! There are other ways to formulate reflective essays based on models of well-known academics such as John Driscoll’s Model of Reflection (What?, So What?, Now What?) and Graham Gibbs’ Reflection Cycle (Description of the event, Feelings, Evaluation, Analysis, Conclusion, Action Plan). Once you read up on these and more, you will realize that the possibilities on reflective essay writing are endless. It’s up to you to pick the strategy that will be most effective for you.

Good luck!

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