How to Write a Reflection Paper: The Ultimate Guide with Example Paper

Reflective writing includes expressing your deep thoughts on paper. The subject can be about a movie, song, performance, or book. Learn how to properly express your ideas and emotions on paper by reading this article.

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High school and college students are no strangers to the task of making a reflection paper or reflection essay. From English literature subjects to a Biology class, teachers may require students to create a summary regarding the current day’s topic. After school seminars and programs, professors would likely ask their students to write a reflective paper and share the things they have learned during the events and share some of their personal opinions. 

To write a reflective paper can be a trivial task or a difficult one depending on the writer. This type of paper requires the writer to present their opinion and private thoughts. It can be compared to writing a memoir, a diary, or a personal journal entry where a person freely writes their inner thoughts on a piece of paper. Depending on the subject of the paper, the reflection summary can be a very personal statement that gives an insight into the writer’s thought process. If the subject is a life-changing experience, the paper may contain the author’s realization and changes in belief.

Reflection Paper Definition

There is no official definition of a reflection paper or reflection essay. However, most writers define it as a written document that contains a person’s opinion and insight regarding a certain topic. An author writes a reflective paper using their own perspective and shares their thought process. An individual is free to write anything in this type of essay as long as it comes directly from their own thoughts. A reflection paper should show the inner thoughts of the author, how they feel about the topic, their reaction to the topic, their understanding of the topic, and the things they learned. A person who is writing a reflection paper should examine how a particular topic affected and changed them. A good reflection essay would give readers a deep insight into how an event or a subject influenced the author’s life.

Reflection Paper Definition

A reflection essay can help a person improve their critical thinking skills and become more aware of their actions. Reflecting on a life-changing experience will help a person grow and realize some aspects of their life that they tend to ignore. While writing, the author may look back and reflect on the things that they could have done differently. People who read the essay may also learn from the author’s experience and realization. Professors often use literature like “The Great Gatsby” or movies like “Facing the Giants” as a subject for a college reflection paper. This gives their students access to a fictional life-changing experience that they can learn from.

Reflection Paper Format

There is no specific reflection paper format since the paper is about a person’s personal opinion. So teachers tend to let their students write without any specific directions and limits. However, since it is a written document, students may follow other writing format styles such as MLA style, APA style, Turabian style, and even Harvard style. Students may decide their reflection paper format depending on the paper’s subject. They can use APA style for psychology and science topics or prefer MLA style for topics under humanities.

In general academic writing, writers should use “double space” for their paragraph spacing. They should place a one-inch margin on the left, right, top, and bottom ends of the paper. The first entry in a paragraph should be indented at least half an inch from the margin. Choose a readable and formal font type. Times New Roman, Calibri, and Arial are some of the common font types that writers prefer in academic writing. Make sure to also use a font size between 10-12 points. A smaller font size would make the document unreadable while a larger font size will make it look informal and hard on the eyes. This essay type tends to be around 400-800 words long.

Similar to other types of essays, a reflection paper outline includes an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. The introduction should give a brief overview of the topic and contain a thesis statement. The readers should know exactly what the author is writing about and how it affected them from reading the introduction. The body should explain and describe the author’s reactions, and realizations regarding the topic. The body should provide all the necessary information to back up the essay’s thesis statement. The last part is the conclusion which summarizes all the points provided in the body of the essay. The author may restate some of the points in the body and provide a reflection summary to end the paper.

Reflection papers: what to write about?

Another thing to note when deciding on a reflection paper format is the type of reflection the student will write. There are generally two kinds of reflection papers that students may write. First is the personal experience-focused reflection essay. This is where a student examines a personal experience and attempts to reflect upon it. The goal of this type of paper is to help a student realize an idea and develop a change in behavior. The other type is the literature-focused reflection essay. This type of document focuses on a piece of literature that showcases a certain idea or philosophy.  The students will then need to reflect on the ideas and philosophies that the literature presented to them. Their essay can be a simple realization of an idea. A student may also incorporate the idea into a previous life experience and reflect on how it provides them a newfound perspective.

How to Start a Reflection Paper

Before searching online on how to write a reflective paper or look for a reflection paper format, the first thing a student should do is decide on a topic that they would be writing about. For some students, their teachers may provide the topic and give a specific reflection paper outline, while other students may have the luxury of deciding what topic they will write and reflect about. If this is the case, consider looking at a reflection paper example. Take notes of the topics that previous authors have written about. There are many works of literature that a student can use as subjects for their reflective essay. Students may also look into newspapers or news articles and look for interesting events. Tragic events like terrorist bombings or a famous person dying can be a good topic for a reflective essay.

After deciding on a topic, students should proceed to study and read more about the topic. If the topic of a reflection essay is a personal experience, it may be a good idea to try and write down some key details of the experience. This should also be the time that a student begins to reflect on the topic. While reading an article about the topic, a student should be actively thinking about what to write in their essay. This will help a student create a mental reflection paper outline. This will make the writing part easier and flow more naturally. There are many outlines that students can find online and use as a reference when writing their papers.

Students should also try to make up some questions while reading and remembering experiences to help prepare for the writing process. The questions will help them take note of important details that they can include in their paper. Some helpful questions are:

  • What is the reason behind a certain action or event?
  • If I was in another person’s shoe, would I do the same?
  • What have I learned from this experience?
  • Can I relate this event to my own life?
  • Do my beliefs align with the ideas in this literature?
  • How does this event influence my life and other people’s lives?

Answering questions like these will help a student effectively reflect on the subject. The students can also use the question that they come up with as a guide for their reflection paper outline. Reflecting on the topic while reading about it is better than reflecting and thinking while writing a reflection essay. This is because while reading, the students will be answering the questions with the first thing that comes to their mind. It will make their answers honest and free from bias since some news writers construct their articles with bias. Still, reflecting while writing the essay is not a bad idea since by then the student would have read a whole article and achieved a deeper understanding of the subject.

How to Write a Reflection Paper

How to Write a Reflection Paper

Step 1 - Settle on a topic & list down ideas

As stated above, the first thing to do to write a reflection essay is to settle on a topic. It may also be a good practice to write down certain ideas that come to mind while reading and researching a topic. Also, students should write down the things they have learned and realized about the topic. Try to write a complete paragraph that contains all this information as it can act as a solid reference when writing the body of the essay.

Step 2 - Create a reflection paper outline

Once a student has chosen a topic, the next step is to create an outline for the whole paper. A student can use some of the questions that they used when trying to reflect as a reference for their reflection paper outline. Take, for example, the question: “Can I relate this event to my own life?” A student can use this question to come up with a reflection essay section that lists relevant events from their life that relate to the subject. Students should make sure that their reflection paper outline includes an introduction, body, and conclusion.

Step 3 - Write the introduction

Once there is a reflection paper outline, a student can proceed to write the introduction of their reflection essay. This part of the paper should include a thesis statement that provides the main point of the paper. It should state the subject or experience that the student is reflecting on. A student should write an introduction with the goal of grabbing the reader’s attention. They can do this by stating interesting information, such as a peculiar fact or idea.

Step 4 - Write the body & reflect

The next part of writing a reflection essay would be to write the body. This is when the student should also start analyzing and reflecting on the things they have learned about the subject. This is the hardest part of writing a reflection essay since this is where the bulk of work is located. The body should include all the information that will eventually lead to the paper’s thesis statement. The student can use the paragraph they made during Step 1 as a reference when writing the body. They should also follow the reflection paper outline that they created during Step 2.

Try to focus on one idea at a time when writing a reflection essay. Analyze this idea first and provide a written examination detailing one’s reaction to it. Students should connect some of the subject’s events or information to their own life experiences as it will help them better reflect on the subject. Citing down the things that a student learned and realized should be a key part of the essay’s body.

Step 5 - End with a strong conclusion

As with any other documents, a reflection essay should end with a conclusion. The conclusion should give a summary of all the points that the student discussed in the essay’s body. The conclusion should also contain all effects that the subject had on the student. It should state the changes in perspective and attitude that the student developed while reflecting on the subject. If a student is reflecting on a traumatizing event, such as a school shooting, they may have realized that they should avoid bullying others and learn to respect everyone. They may realize that life is unpredictable and they should use every moment of it to spread joy and love. The conclusion should provide the overall reflection of the student and the influence it made on their point of view.

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Reflection Essay Writing Tips

Writing a reflection essay provides students with an outlet to express their thoughts and opinions. Since there is no definite reflection paper format, students are free to follow any guidelines or even make up their own format. Planning and creating a reflection paper outline is a good start in writing the essay. However, if a student would like to produce better results, following some of these tips could help them create a compelling and interesting paper.

Tip 1. Read a reflection paper example

The first and one of the most important tips is to read a reflection paper example. Reading a reflection essay will help a student familiarize themselves with the outline and structure of the paper. They will be able to see how other authors analyze their experiences and communicate them through writing. Reading a reflection paper example can also help students decide on the topic that they will be writing about.

Tip 2. Use the first-person narrative

People can interpret a reflection essay as a personal document almost similar to a personal journal. Its contents should also provide readers with an insight into the author’s attitude and way of thinking. Due to this, students should use the first-person perspective when writing this type of essay. This makes it feel more personal since the reader will be imagining the paper’s narrative in the eyes of the author.

Tip 3. Freely express yourself 

To write a good reflection essay, a student should be fearless in their writing and articulation of thought. There are no wrong ideas when writing a reflection essay. Everything a student writes is their own opinion and anyone who reads them should respect it. A student writing a reflection essay should try to express all their realizations and judgments towards the subject. Students should use words that perfectly capture the emotions they are feeling during the reflection process.

Tip 4. Include references & proofread

Though a reflection essay contains the personal opinions and insights of a student, it may also be a good idea to back up some opinions with solid evidence. Not every reflection essay should have a reference list but if a student has an intriguing opinion, it may help make their paper look more professional. Citing sources can also reflect the logical and thorough attitude of an author. Finally, once a student has finished writing everything on the paper, it is time to proofread. Check for any grammatical and typographical errors. A reader may decide to put down a reflection essay if they find too many errors in the paper.

Reflection essay writing tips

Reflection Paper Example

Reflection Paper on Netflix’s Daredevil and Punisher Rooftop Argument

During the argument, Daredevil said to Frank Castle, “The people you murdered deserved a second chance.” In which Frank quickly replied, “What? To kill again? To rape again? Is that what you want?” As a writer who loves creating stories, watching this scene made me think about certain fictional characters, such as Batman and Spiderman. Their authors wrote them as heroes, as people who defeat the bad guys and bring peace to those who felt the cold hands of injustice. However, Frank Castle’s reply made me realize that the heroes were not solving the problem, they were just delaying the rate of crimes that the villains would commit.

The scene began with the Marvel hero Daredevil waking up on top of a rooftop. Heavy steel chains were wrapped around him, disabling his movements. His face was bruised and specks of blood were visible on his lower jaw. He just lost a fight against the vigilante known as Frank Castle, or the Punisher. Frank notices that Daredevil has regained consciousness and proceeds to approach the tied-up hero. “I’m not a bad guy, red”, Frank said with conviction. “Wanna explain that to the orphans and the widows of the men you killed”, replied Daredevil as he leaned his back against the wall. As a writer, this scene made me realize that the henchmen in movies and other stories must have a family. Therefore, characters like the Punisher, Hulk, and even John Wick may have left hundreds of widows and orphans. This can even be applied to our real world, humanizing murderers and rapists. That under the monsters that commit heinous crimes were fathers and mothers who forfeit their freedom and left orphans on the streets.

Frank Castle was defending his philosophy of killing bad guys so they won’t be able to harm anyone again. Daredevil, on the other hand, believes in people. He thinks that everyone has a light inside of them, no matter how evil they may seem. If this was four or five years ago, I would have been at the side of Daredevil. I always believed that everybody deserves a second chance no matter their background. I believed that murderers and rapists may realize the errors of their ways. Prisoners may reflect on the harm they have done and become better men. However, recent years have taught me that there are people who are innately harmful to others. So while watching the scene, I was right behind Frank Castle’s argument that evil men deserve to die, no questions asked.

As a person who has the hobby of writing short stories, this reflected on my works. Before, I made heroes that forgive their enemies and refused to take a life, equipped with ideas often bordering on Buddhism. I would write about protagonists that use persuasion and kindness to battle evil. After watching this scene over and over again, I began to design my works on Frank Castle - a violent one-man army relentlessly slaughtering evil in his wake. As a writer, the scene made me think that my previous goody-two-shoes characters were not really heroes. They refused to take a life because they believe themselves to be righteous and above killing. However, the scene made me realize that the real heroes are the characters like Frank Castle, John Wick, and even Thanos from Marvel’s Avengers. They take the life—the most precious gift of all—from their enemies, staining their name and soul. 

For me, the scene of Frank Castle and Daredevil arguing on the rooftop is one of the best philosophical debates in film history. The scene allowed me to think about certain ideas and philosophies that filmmakers and writers often disregard. The idea of the disposable henchmen having a family in the background and the idea that killing the villains is the only way to stop their evil acts. The scene helped me realize that the fictional heroes that I once liked were merely delaying the inevitable. If I want to write a compelling story that includes eradicating evil, I should create a flawed protagonist who is not doing righteous deeds for the sake of being a hero. Instead, they should be willing to do the dirty works. 

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