A reflective essay requires the student to examine a past experience with the aim of either demonstrating how and why the student changed as a result of the experience, or what they learned from the experience to benefit their future actions or reactions. Therefore, the writer should think carefully about the event before they start to write as the writing process will require consideration of what happened and the way it occurred. The deliberation should also include identifying thoughts and feeling stimulated by the event.

The Structure

The structure of a reflective assignment is the same as most essays or term papers with an introduction, main body, and conclusion. Several reflective learning frameworks exist which may help to guide the process into more prescriptive steps, especially for those with little experience writing reflective essays. Available frameworks include Gibbs Reflective Cycle, Donald Schon’s reflection-in-action/reflection-on-action cycle, or Kolb’s Learning Cycle, with all providing a similar approach to reviewing and then reflecting on the event.

The Introduction

The introduction should include a brief overview of the experience being examined and the purpose of the paper. The body of the paper should provide a more detailed account of the event, detailing what happened and how. This is a descriptive stage with the provision of details, including the sequence of relevant events and the writer’s emotions at the time. The particularsprovided regarding the incident create the foundation for the reflective element.

The Main Body

During the reflection stage the author will scrutinise the event and their reactions, providing an analysis which will give the readers an insight into the reasons for the events and outcomes and an understanding of why it was important or relevant to the writer. The analysis may include details such as personal thoughts and reasoning which explain or justify personal actions. The article may benefit from a demonstration broader thinking incorporating the influences which may have triggered personal reactions or the responses of others, with the application of theory. The essay should then examine the outcome, and either how the author has changed as a result of the event, or how the outcome could have been improved if the writer’s actions had been different. If the latter is used, the essay should also include a statement or plan on how the student will adjust their behaviour or performance-based o the analysis.

The Conclusion

The conclusion section is a recap; succinctly summarising what happened and how the writer has changed. Alternatively, the conclusion may reflect on how the writer will change as a result of the experience and the reflection.This ending section may also benefit from some concluding thoughts.

Additional Tips

The type of details provided in the essay may vary depending on the context, the event, and the underlying purpose of the paper. For example, as an academic assignment, the reflection may require the student to consider the events with the application of relevant theories or concepts to demonstrate understanding of the concepts and how they may be used to explain, manage, or improve performance. Effective essays will use specific examples to illustrate points raised and provide evidence of critical thinking and should incorporate acknowledgement of personal weaknesses and suboptimal performance.