Pre-College Advising • Pre-College Planning Guide

A Comprehensive Guide to Reflective Essay Writing

POSTED ON 12/01/2022 BY The Red Pen

A Comprehensive Guide to Reflective Essay Writing | The Red Pen

When it comes to essays, there are various different types–descriptive, expository, persuasive and reflective essays. While you may have nailed how to tackle the first three through your school work, reflective essays may pose a challenge.

Reflective essays require you to examine your life experiences, describe your feelings and thoughts, analyse their impact and reveal what each one has taught you. Reflective essays not only get you to introspect, but through this process, they help you become a better writer while expanding your critical thinking abilities as well.

In the future, practicing reflective writing can prepare you to write the Common Application essay when applying to US colleges and universities, as it displays your ability to think deeply and learn from your experiences.

If you don’t know how to start, this guide will showcase the steps to composing an excellent reflective essay.

Brainstorming your reflective essay:

Reflective writing requires time. While the beginning is daunting, writing gets easier as you progress.

Here are some tips to help you begin.

1. Select the right topic:

The first step is to select the right life experience. This would be one that impacted you the most, both positively and negatively as the aftermath of your experience is crucial. If you’re wondering where you can find these experiences, your private diary or journal where you pour your heart out is a gold mine for reflective writing topics. If you don’t have one, you can make one by jogging your memory and writing down a few experiences from the past. The experiences can include moving cities or schools, losing a loved one, starting an initiative or joining a new club. It could even be a reflection on a song you heard, a person you met or an incident you witnessed–the world is your oyster! All you need to do is to ensure that you choose one with the most powerful outcome.

2. Introspect:

Reflective essays go beyond storytelling. Apart from merely recounting, you must reveal how an experience changed your life, views and behaviour. Use memories and feelings associated with it to show the implications on a personal level. Kickstart the reflective process by asking yourself questions that will help you delve deeper into the experience. They can include:

  • What did the experience teach me about myself?
  • Did it help me grow as a person? How?
  • Why did I make certain choices? Were they right or wrong?
  • In retrospect, what would I have done differently?
  • Was it a helpful experience? Did I acquire new skills or perspectives as a result?

Planning your reflective essay:

It’s easy to get lost while recounting experiences close to your heart, but resist the temptation to rush into writing your essay without a comprehensive plan. Having a plan will help your essay be coherent, clear and more likely to get a better grade.

Here’s an outline that will help you write a beautiful reflective essay.

1. Summarise your thoughts:

From recounting an experience and its impact to bringing an argument to the table with supporting evidence, jot everything down in bullet points. Doing so will prevent you from forgetting nuances that can elevate your essay.

2. Create a structure:

Remember that segmenting the essay into sections makes writing easier and helps to stick to your word count. Writing 200-250 words per section is far simpler than writing a block of 1500 words.
You may also divide your bullet points under each section–think of it as your essay’s skeleton.
Here are the essential components of an essay, along with examples of bullet points, which you can include under each section:

A. The Introduction

  • The bullying I experienced in school
  • The name calling
  • How did it make me feel

B. The Body (part 1)

  • How I was bullied
  • The impact it had on me while growing
  • How it shaped my thought process

C. The Body (part 2)

  • The turning point
  • Student council elections and overcoming fears
  • How life changed after I overcame bullying

D. The Conclusion

  • What have I learned from my fight against bullying
  • How I have learned to deal with insecurities
  • How will it empower my future

Crafting your reflective essay:

Having content in place and the craft of writing an essay are two very different things.

Here are three tips to help you write an excellent reflective piece.

1. Hook the reader:

Arguably the most important part of any essay, the first few lines draw the reader into your story, setting the mood. There are many ways to showcase your individuality right from the start– fun facts, corresponding quotes, compelling questions and numbers that illustrate your point make for a good opening.

Elaborating on the example above, here is how you can use imagery to bring an essay to life:

Black. Fatso. Loser. The older girls in school would name-call and mock me in front of the whole class. I remember sobbing in the school bathroom. I weighed 80 kg in grade 8 and was extremely dark-skinned, even for an Indian. My parents were not so dark, nor were they obese and this is something that made me question myself–why was I different?

2. Elaborate on your experience:

The body of your essay allows you to take the reader through your journey and reflections from the beginning to the end in a systematic manner. Here, you get to showcase your chosen topic, your feelings and your thoughts. Don’t stick to a fixed number of paragraphs. Instead, allow each paragraph to reveal and elaborate on a nuance of your reflective journey. You may include what happened next, how you felt, what you learnt and what you would have done differently. Paint a vivid picture of your experiences to give your essay depth.

Taking the example from above forward, here’s how your essay can continue:

Every morning, I felt anxious before going to school. I would take my time to get ready or wake up late so that I could miss the school bus. My mother would push me to go and would have to drive me to school.

One day, the school counsellor spoke to our class about what we must do to get into college. The thought of leaving the bullying behind and starting afresh in an environment spurred me.

So when student council elections were announced, I mustered the nerve to run for middle school president. My speech included the mockery I faced because of my weight and skin colour, which was an outcome of an illness. I spoke about my physical appearance impacting my relationship with other students. I concluded the speech with my ambition to become a powerful but empathetic leader who will stand up for those who don’t have a voice.

I didn’t win this election, but running for it gave me confidence. It showed me how to keep calm and focus on goals instead of flaws.

3. Finish with a bang:

While the introduction draws the reader in, and the body of the essay conveys what happened in your story, it is the conclusion that tells the reader why it all mattered. Conclude your essay by telling the reader why this journey matters. Let them see what you’ve learned by giving tangible references to things you have changed due to your experience. Lastly, don’t forget to end your essay by connecting it to the point you made in your introduction.

Here is a positive and transformative note to end your essay:

The bullying finally stopped. I found respect along with acceptance. But more than that, this experience showed me the importance of accepting myself, which helped me to conquer my insecurities and identify my strengths. I may still be dark and overweight. But I wear my flaws like an embellishment and with pride.

Despite all the advice, reflective essay writing can still be extremely challenging. It doesn’t let you hide behind words and compels you to express yourself. The more you practice, the better you will become at expressing yourself using stories and emotions.

If you are looking to start working on reflective essays, sign up for our Mentorship Programme. Through this holistic programme, our experienced counsellors help you brainstorm ideas and point you in the right direction through exclusive workshops. To know more about the Mentorship Programme, get in touch with us.