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How to Write a Reflective Essay: Definition, Outline, Examples

A reflective essay is a piece of writing in which an author goes through their personal life experiences to either teach a lesson or give life advice. The writer usually starts from an initial point and progresses using thorough details from the event(s), eventually bringing out some sort of conclusion to the story. The author’s main task in such texts is to explain how those life experiences influenced them as a person, and how it changed their lives. To make things clear, the goal of a reflective essay is to express how the progression of events influenced one’s thoughts and feelings about certain life events and what quality lessons they took away from those events!

What is a Reflective Essay?

Reflective essay definition is simple – a paper that dwells on the author’s experiences or opinions on chosen issues. Yet, to fully define reflective essay, one needs to learn primary types of writings and their specific features. For example, an analytical essay may resemble a reflective one at first glance. Papers of the first type analyze issues without any association with the writer’s personality.  In its turn, every reflective essay differs from other types due to personal pronouns and real-life examples related to the writer’s own experiences – this is exactly what makes an essay reflective. This type of writing is an essential part of many college disciplines as well as job interviews. Regardless of the writing circumstances, the essay format suffers few alterations.

Reflective Essay Format

Writing a reflective essay, the author explores different situations and uncovers their views on the issues and situations. Due to its nature, a reflective essay may look like a flurry of speculation. Generally, writings of this type form two subgroups depending on the focal points.
• Personal experience-based
Such writings usually reveal real-life facts about the writer. The key to success is making the author’s image and related stories sound relatable to the target audience to engage the readers. Here, the author needs to back all arguments and ideas up with relevant examples.
• Opinions on literary characters, public persons, events, etc.
Reflective essays of this subtype also allocate a lot of space for personal opinions, ideas, and reflections. Yet, the focus of the study here shifts from the author himself to literary characters and events.

For example, the title My attitude towards Holden Caulfield is a perfect example of a reflective essay dedicated to the literary character. Reflective essay formatting is probably the only essay where you can avoid any normal academic writing style. Of course, not unless your teacher requires you to use MLA or APA format.


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MLA Format

  • You should use Times New Roman, 12 font and double spaced.
  • 1” margins.
  • All of your titles must be centered.
  • Top right part of every page includes your last name, the page number.
  • The header on your paper should have your name, professor’s name, course number and the date.
  • The last page must include a Works Cited.

APA Format

  • You should use Times New Roman, 12 font and double spaced.
  • 1” margins.
  • Have a header on top of every page.
  • Make sure every page is numbered in the top right corner.
  • Your essay must be divided into 4 key parts – Title page, Abstract, Main body and References.

How to Write a Reflective Essay?

  1. As mentioned above, topics suggested for this type of writing differ depending on the writing circumstances. Job seekers often need to write personal reflective essays to make employers consider their candidature. At schools, children write reflective essays about their families, hobbies, and summer holidays. Define your purpose and target audience.
  2. Depending on the TA, pick the most suitable writing style and think of the relevant linguistic means to bring your idea to the readers.
  3. There are no limitations on what you could write. Yet, to maintain the smooth flow of the text, every essay writer needs to see the ultimate goal. What it would be is up to you: a thought-provoking story, a mere reminiscence, a piece that aims to make people cry, or even an admonition.
  4. Read the instructions carefully. Some may come in handy for writing a preliminary plan.
  5. Thinking on how to write reflective essay, remember that there is no particular chain of logic required for a high grade. What counts is the ability to write your thoughts, stick to the main point, and notice life around you. Do not force yourself to follow the standard introduction-body-conclusion pattern. Some reflective essay titles are synonymous with thesis statements. They may even reveal the conclusions the author dwells on in the text.
  6. Do not overload the text with excessive explanations and petty details unrelated to the ultimate goal.
  7. Those who have troubles when thinking about how to start a reflective essay need to remember two tips:
    • Write the introduction last when the rest of the text is ready. This trick could help avoid clumsy unengaging sentences telling the readers as little as nothing about the matter.
    • If the text seems incoherent, try crossing out the first sentences of each abstract idea. Experience shows people tend to use long lead-ins in reflective essays to make the text appear more substantial.
  8. Remember that this type of essay requires a creative approach. For example, you may include your conclusion in the last body paragraph or end it with a cliffhanger. You could keep the suspense or reveal everything at the very beginning.
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Reflective Essay Outline

The order of abstracts in an essay is usually reduced to three main parts. Yet, just as stated above, in this type of writing, a traditional formula may suffer significant changes:


The introduction should intrigue the reader so that they can’t refrain from reading the rest. Writers achieve this goal through the use of contradictions, ironic instances, and suspense. A great example is “My first college frat party”.

Reflective Essay Introduction Example:

This weekend my friends invited me to my first college frat party, and the things I saw and experienced were just unbelievable.

That sentence up top is an amazing example of a captivating reflective essay introduction. In one sentence, you explained to the reader what you would be talking about and made it sound interesting. The first few sentences of your introduction should always contain a small glimpse of the big picture which you shall reveal in the body paragraph of the essay. The final sentence of the intro is the core point of your entire paper and is called the reflective essay thesis. In this sentence, you are clearly stating what effects came from the catalytic event and the overall significance of those changes. The thesis statement will be proven in the body paragraphs!

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Body Paragraphs

The body of the text should dwell on the matter introduced by the reflective essay thesis. The first problem students encounter when writing such essays is a complete freedom of thoughts expression. It is easy to lose the chain of logic and start jumping from one idea to another. So, practical suggestion – stick to the chosen narration line. Or better, make a separate structural plan for the body paragraphs.
There could be as many body paragraphs as you want. Depending on the topic, the text may, for example, have a one-sentence introduction and a hidden conclusion, but the body part will always be the biggest one. In this middle part, use as many opinion-showing words as possible. Introduce arguments to support your position or reinforce descriptions. Argumentative points may appear in the form of examples, facts, phenomena of public life, events, real-life situations and experiences, scientific evidence, references to scholars and scientists, etc. Do not use too many examples unless you want to sound unsure of your views. One piece of evidence would suffice for a personal reflective essay. Two reinforcing examples will be enough for reflective essays, engaging elements of literary analysis, or speculating about various phenomena. A reflective essay example with three or more sample facts will seem overloaded.

Reflective Essay Body Example:

After the frat party I went to this weekend, it became evident that almost every other college student can’t handle a drink whatsoever.

Up top, you will see a good body paragraph intro. The topic sentence of that paragraph already explains what you will be discussing in the paragraph. Just like in the introductory paragraph, the first sentence in your body paragraphs should make the reader excited about reading the entire story. During the body paragraphs, make sure to give vivid detail and examples so as to give the essay real life features. In other words, put the reader into the story by giving relatable examples of situations and meticulously describing minor details. The more creative each sentence is and the more it captivates the reader with its literary style, the higher the excitement and interest level of the reader will be.


The conclusion as a separate element is not mandatory for reflective essays. Yet, if you decided upon the essay structure that requires final notes to back up the body part of the text, make it concise. The main requirement for the conclusion: it should not be purely formal. This part should organically supervene the arguments presented in the body paragraphs. Looking for a reflective essay sample on the internet, you are most likely to find examples featuring a full-blown conclusion. Of course, you could use them as templates for essay writing. Still, if you want to impress your readers and make them think about your work a bit more, do not blatantly feed personal observations to them. Make people read between the lines and see your ideas and emotions in the body part of the text instead.

Reflective Essay Conclusion Example:

After looking back at that frat party experience, I have come to the conclusion that I will not support underage drinking.

As you may already know, your conclusion is where you sum up everything you have been speaking about in your essay. Using the information and events described in the body paragraph, bring everything back to a final concluding point in which you briefly reinstate how the experiences regarding this event molded and shaped your body physically and or mentally. Lastly, you should inform the reader of your final opinion on the topic.

Reflective Essay Topics

A reflective essay is without a doubt one of the only essays that this essay is all about you and your experiences. Here are some ideas that could potentially help you come up with a few good reflective essay topic examples.

Personal Topics

1. My first volunteer experience.
2. What strengthens my self-confidence.
3. Reflections on how I overcame life’s difficulties.
4. What I learned from a joint trip with my friends.
5. First experience as a public speaker.
6. What traits in people discourage a friendly attitude.
7. A time when I knew it was depression.
8. White lies. The one time I had to lie to make life easier for my friend.
9. My first month in therapy.
10. My favorite book in childhood.

Family Topics

1. What role do family traditions play in my life?
2. What is a perfect family?
3. Meeting my partner’s parents for the first time.
4. Story of how I separated from my parents.
5. Losing a loved one and how to cope with it.
6. Taking care of elderly relatives.
7. Relationships with younger siblings.
8. What holidays are most celebrated in your family?
9. Have you ever ran away from home?
10. The last time my parents and I went on vacation.

Nature Topics

1. A bike ride in the mountains.
2. The weekend I spent by the lake.
3. What thoughts do sunsets invoke in my mind?
4. From a seed to a tree. My experience in gardening.
5. Pondering nature’s beauty during morning power walks.
6. Out in the wilderness. My first camping trip.
7. What steps do I take every day to protect the planet?
8. How living in a village changed my perception of nature.
9. Reflections on my first encounter with a wild animal.
10. Five laws regarding environmental protection I find most efficient.

Significant Places Topics

1. A first visit to the capital city.
2. The first foreign country I visited.
3. A place described in a book that I want to visit.
4. Beautiful places I visited as a child.
5. Following the historical paths. A visit to old battlefields.
6. My family’s summerhouse and childhood nostalgia.
7. Places that bring up memories of the first love.
8. Visiting my grandparents’ house.
9. My Alma Mater.
10. The city I want to move to after graduation.

Topics about Hobbies

1. Why are hobbies important in children’s lives.
2. How I turned my hobby into a full-time job.
3. Reflections on how my hobby made me closer to my parents.
4. One whole day I dedicated to my hobby.
5. Can a hobby bring both joy and money.
6. How university gave me a new hobby.
7. Reading comic books.
8. How I learned to play guitar in one year.
9. Why I had to abandon my hobby.
10. How I used hobbies to reinforce my resume.

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Reflective Essay Rubric

A good reflective essay shows the following:

The essay showed the reader the “big picture” that you as an author tried to show. Focus on showing how your reflection of the event brought about new changes to your mentality or physicality!
Your essay has an overall  “Cause and Effect” notion. Something happened to you, and from that experience, you have changed.
You throughout the essay have shown the reader that you are capable of looking at your own actions from an outside perspective.
Preferably have a super interesting reflective essay topic. It should be unique, something you won’t read or hear about often.

A bad reflective essay fails to show the following:

The essay has failed to show the reader the author’s “big picture”.
Your reflective essay does not have even the slightest hint of a Cause and Effect Essay.
Throughout the essay, you have failed to show the reader that you are capable of looking at your own actions and decisions from another perspective.

Reflective Essay Examples

“My first day at work after graduation”

To grasp the idea of how all those tips above work when combined, our team prepared examples. One of the reflective essay samples to consider would be the following one:
Agitation. Excitement. Shock. Anger. Melancholy. Relief. Gratefulness. This list hardly covers half of the emotional spectrum I experienced on my first day on my first job.
As soon as I graduated from the University with a technical degree, I realized that people interest me more than machines. I passed a career aptitude test and found out that working with people suits my personality type better than dealing with mechanisms. So, right before graduation, I entered the HR-related internship program in a bank. In a month, I got my diploma, put it on a shelf and got a job as an assistant in the personnel department of a big IT company. This area caught my interest after watching one too many TV series.
And here it is – my first day. The air of importance and intricate business processes was so thick that I thought I could touch it. Strangers, most of them older than I was, seemed all-knowing and experienced. Excitement filled me to the top of my head. It was hard to keep a serious face while everything inside my head was shouting: “I did it! I am a big-shot HR manager!”. Finally, I got my first own workplace. It got everything a young green manager wants – a comfy chair, a set of office supplies, and a computer screen that took half of the desk. Pure happiness and bliss enveloped by naïve soul.
At a new job, everyone wants to show their best traits. When it is your very first job, you are ready to jump out of your skin to endear to your boss and colleagues. This approach puts immense pressure on the new employee.
At first, everything went well. My new boos gave me a task that seemed pretty simple, and I finished it in just a couple of hours. To my thinking, it should have been my first success. While I was walking across the room to show the result of my work, I painted a picture in my head where Mr. Smith (my boss) shook my hand and told me that I was a capable manager and so on. Should I tell you that nothing of the kind happened at that moment?
Mr. Smith did not share my enthusiasm towards the presentation I made. Long story short, instead of the expected praise, it received scads of criticism and I returned to my desk sobbing. And at first, I did not even know how to react.
A young HR manager named Tina from our department came up to me and offered to get some air. It was a real shock and a pleasant surprise. She was nice to me and explained that our boss was quite busy developing new recruitment plans for the upcoming meeting with the CEO, and my presentation was a part of the project. She said that it did contain mistakes Mr. Smith pointed out, but there was nothing to cry over. Later, she helped me fix it, and then I realized that justified criticism could become a stimulus for growth.
I accepted criticism and turned it into a new skill. From that day on, I started seeing that difference in approaches to work typical for top- and middle managers.

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