What is a Reflective Essay? - Definition, Format & Examples

Lesson Transcript
Instructor
J.R. Hudspeth

Jackie has taught college English and Critical Thinking and has a Master's degree in English Rhetoric and Composition

Expert Contributor
Sasha Blakeley

Sasha Blakeley has a Bachelor's in English Literature from McGill University and a TEFL certification. She has been teaching English in Canada and Taiwan for seven years.

Reflective writing helps us to think more about ourselves, who we are, and how we have changed. Read on in order to find out more about what a reflective essay is and how reflective essays are written! Updated: 07/31/2020

Format of a Reflective Essay

A reflective essay is an essay in which the writer examines his or her experiences in life. The writer then writes about those experiences, exploring how he or she has changed, developed or grown from those experiences.

The format of a reflective essay may change slightly depending on who the audience is. For example, writing a reflective essay for a college course and an academic audience will have slight changes in how the essay is organized from writing a reflective essay for a magazine or a collection of essays, which has a broader audience, without people who have necessarily gone to college. However, some major elements go into a typical reflective essay: introduction, body and conclusion.

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Structure of a Reflective Essay

Reflective essays always have an introduction, where the speaker shares, either directly or indirectly, what the overall focus of the reflection will be. Many popular essay writers might be a bit indirect about their main topic, or about what part of their lives they will focus on. However, an academic writer should be more direct in explaining what aspect of his or her experiences that he or she will talk about.

The body of the reflective essay explains how the writer has changed or what the writer has learned. It also explains what things caused the writer to change. For example, many academic writers are asked to reflect on how they improved as writers over the semester or quarter. Those writers often share how different assignments and lessons made them stronger writers.

A strong reflective writer will not only share the change but also give examples as supporting details. For example, if a writer discusses becoming more optimistic in life, then examples should be given of what made this change, such as sharing an incident in which the writer took a positive approach to resolving the incident.

In the conclusion of a reflective essay, the writer sums up how he or she has changed or the effect of those changes. The writer also might look ahead or look backward. If looking ahead, the writer shares how he or she thinks the experiences in the essay will change him or her in the future. If looking backward, the writer will note how different he or she was in the past. Often, the writer will compare past and future selves to emphasize the difference.

Examples of Reflective Essays

Numerous essayists have used the reflective essay style to share ideas that are important to them or lessons that they have learned through personal experience. Examples include the following:

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Additional Activities

Reflective Essays: Explore Further

This lesson taught you what a reflective essay is and how it is structured, as well as giving you some important examples. In this lesson extension, follow the prompts below to examine this idea further.

Comparison

How do reflective essays compare to other kinds of writing that you're already familiar with? What do they have in common with, for example, prose fiction writing? How about with expository or persuasive essays? Draw a Venn diagram comparing reflective essays to one or more other types of writing.

Other Essays to Explore

This lesson gave you three great examples of reflective essays. If you want to see more examples to get a sense of the writing style and how it works in different contexts, check out one or more of the essays listed below:

  • ''Goodbye to All That'' by Joan Didion
  • ''Once More to the Lake'' by E.B. White
  • ''Ticket to the Fair'' by David Foster Wallace
  • ''Self-Reliance'' by Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • ''The Death of a Moth'' by Virginia Woolf

Write Your Own

Now it's time to write your own reflective essay. This should be about an important event or journey in your life. It should be about something that changed the way you see yourself and the world. Think carefully about what you want to say. Start by outlining your thoughts, and then write your first draft. It's always good to go back and edit your work to make it the best that it can be. Have fun learning this new style of writing!

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