Informal Reflective Essay

As its name suggests, reflective writing is a way of reviewing what you have learned by writing about it. To reflect means "to bend back." But writing also helps you move forward. New ideas develop as you turn your thoughts back to what you have learned.

What is reflective writing?
Reflective writing is a tool you can use to "interact with new information," according to Kim Douillard. You can think of reflective writing as what you learned + your reaction to it.

Reflective writing is not purely personal, because you write in response to new information. Suppose that you learn that psychologist John Gottmann can predict whether couples will stay together with over 90% accuracy. The key to a lasting relationship: having at least 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative interaction. In a reflective writing, you might explore whether you believe Gottmann's findings are credible or how you could use his research on the job.

While reflective writing is done in response to something you've learned, it is not purely academic. In academic writing, such as a research paper, you write as an expert. The opinions you express are based on objective evidence. In reflective writing, you explore your subjective thoughts and feelings. For example, you might describe what happened when you tried to have 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative interaction.

How formal is reflective writing?
How formal should your reflective writing be? It depends. Writing that will not be shared with others can be as informal as you like. However, some reflective writings, such as a case report or cover letter for a portfolio, are very formal.

If you do reflective writing for a class, the level of formality and objectivity required depends on the assignment and your teacher's expectations.

How can I write about what I've learned?
You can use many different strategies to write reflectively:

Writing Strategy


• summarizing what you've learnedThe most important thing I learned today is....
• observing The manager motivated employees by....
• questioningWho, What, When, Where, Why, How
• connectingNow something I learned in my first term makes sense because....
• applyingThis is how I can use....
• evaluatingThis is right/wrong because.... or This is important because....
• becoming self-aware One way I have improved is....
• strategizingOne reason I succeeded is.... or In the future, I will avoid that mistake by....

How do I get started?
If your teacher gives you a prompt, find the key words in the question. For example, you might be asked to write a paragraph that summarizes the most important idea you learned in class today. The key words would be paragraph, most important, and today.

The criteria used to grade your writing are also important. If you are asked to write a paragraph in class, your teacher is probably most interested in what you have to say. If you are writing a letter to introduce a portfolio of your work, you may be asked to follow a certain format and you will be expected to polish your writing. Review the rubric or other grading criteria before you start.

When you are ready to generate ideas, techniques you can use include freewriting, questioning, and graphic organizers.

How do I develop my ideas?
This is how one teacher describes the process of reflection: "You will briefly summarize the ideas presented in class or in your textbook. Then you spend some time thinking before you continue writing. Then you will give your opinion on the subject, and you will back up your opinion with personal experience or examples....Then you will connect all of the ideas and experiences by drawing conclusions about your findings and experiences" (Heines, 2008).

How can I use reflective writing to get new ideas?
At first, your reflections might simply express what's on your mind. However, one reason to write reflectively is to develop and explore new ideas.

To generate new ideas, ask yourself questions like these:

•  Does my thinking match that of experts on this topic? If not, what can I learn by thinking about the difference?

•  What would happen if I switched points of view on this topic? (For example, someone who favors capital punishment might consider how a defense attorney might think about the death penalty.)

•  How has my thinking on this topic changed over time?

•  What questions do I have about this topic? How might I find the answers?

• How could I use my knowledge or insights to help others?

Internet Resources on Reflective Writing


In a reflective essay, you need to express your thoughts and emotions about certain events or phenomena. Writing this type of essay provides solid training to sharpen your critical thinking skills, as well as your ability to develop and express opinions on a particular topic—either chosen by yourself or assigned by your instructor.

Steps for Writing a Reflective Essay

  1. Think of an event which could become the topic of your essay. When you have chosen an event, ask yourself how you feel about it, how it affected (or did not affect) your life and why? This will help you create a thesis, which will serve as the focal point of your essay.
  2. Make a mind-map. Write down your thesis and draw a circle around it. Now identify your main arguments and ideas which will support it and help readers follow the evolution of your thoughts and experiences, group them into paragraphs which you will write later, and connect them to your central circle. Creating this type of flow diagram will help you see the overall structure of your essay more clearly. Finally, decide on the logical sequence of these paragraphs and
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