Step by Step Guide on How to Write a Reflective Essay with Samples


Reflection is an activity that involves analyzing and evaluating experiences, personal skills, practice or response with the aim of learning and improving. Reflection is a natural phenomenon in one’s daily life and involves thinking about what happened, the reason, and whether we handled them well. It is also an important aspect of learning in academia where a student is required to formalize such reflection to examine their learning progress.

Graham Gibbs describes the reflective learning cycle as consisting of:

  1. Description: This is the first step that describes what happened
  2. Feelings: This examines what you were thinking or feeling during the experience
  3. Evaluation: At this stage, you evaluate the good and the bad about the experience
  4. Analysis: the analysis stage examines the sense you can derive from the situation
  5. Conclusion: This stage evaluates the alternative actions you have taken
  6. Action plan: at this stage you examine what you would do if it happened again


The figure below illustrates Gibbs Reflection cycle.



What is a reflective essay?

Deriving from the word reflection described above, reflection essay is a description of the experiences, events their meaning, and the lessons learned from them. However, writing a reflective paper does not involve a mere description of the events or experiences. It involves application of a clear line of thought and an analytical approach to illustrate the reflections. As such, it requires one to strike a balance between rigorous thinking, good academic practice and personal perspective of the experience. Unlike a book report where you recount what you experienced or saw, or read, reflective writing requires you to focus more on what you learned and how you can incorporate it in future undertakings.

What reflective writing requires of you?

  • You are required to develop a line of reasoning or perspective about an experience, event, a lecture or a reading
  • You should recognize that situations are rarely clear-cut and be ready to explore the complexities
  • You should demonstrate that you have relevant knowledge and well informed about the experience and able to prove its relevance to your development
  • You should be able to clearly describe the link between experience and your reading
  • You should demonstrate your ability to follow a structured writing style


Why is a reflection essay important?

  •  A reflective essay is an important written piece that enables one to express their thoughts and reactions to experiences or readings.
  • Reflective writing can enable you to thoughtfully present what you observed or experienced.
  • Reflective paper writing can also enable you present your feelings about what you experienced or saw (subjective discussion)
  • A reflection paper is also an important tool for analyzing what you experienced by examining its fairness or effectiveness

Reflective essay topics

Reflective writing involves giving personal encounter of an event, an experience or a reading. You can write about a lecture such us how it impacted your understanding of the topic, you can also write about a volunteer experience, your interaction with colleagues at work and how it contributed to your career development. Therefore, there is no specific topic to write about but a myriad of personal experiences and reactions. Here are examples of topics you can write about:

  • Your experience at a museum
  • A movie you recently watched
  • A very intense argument you had with someone
  • A date you had with a partner
  • A new place you recently visited
  • A new restaurant you recently went to
  • A holiday experience with friends or loved ones
  • An experience that completely transformed your life
  • A meeting with someone you look up to as a hero
  • A concert you attended
  • A scary interaction you had with someone on social media
  • How you overcame a difficult situation
  • A health condition you struggled with and overcame

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The guideline for a reflection paper

The following steps should guide you into writing a great reflective essay:

1. Choosing a topic

In reflective essay writing, you are likely to be provided a topic by the instructor. This could be writing about a book, a movie, or just a personal experience. However, if you lack a topic to write about, the above list of topics can serve as a guide for selecting an appropriate topic.

2. Subject study

Once you settle on a topic take time to have a vivid thought about it. If it is about a book take time to read and understand it from the author's perspective and how the knowledge can be applied in other situations.


This involves noting down important points about the subject. Write down all the key aspects of the subject based on your objective. This involves a clear description of what you saw, read, felt, or heard about the subject.

4. Reflection question

This is the stage where you try to reflect on the subject by identifying questions that relate to your objectives such as:

  • ·How has the experience influenced me?
  • Was it a bad or good experience?
  • What could I have done differently?
  • How does it relate to a similar experience?
  • How can it change my life?
  • How does it influence my way of thinking?
  • Why did it influence me in a certain way?
  • How can I apply it to change someone else’s life?
  • How has it changed my perspective?

5. Response to the selected questions

This is the point where you review the selected questions from the list above. Select about 4 questions and give your responses based on the experience or subject. Having understood the subject you can create a journal describing your responses to the questions which will act as a guide in your final reflective essay paper.

6. Meaning of the experience

This is the final stage where you prepare your final thoughts before beginning to write the essay. At this point, you have read, watched and understood the subject. Now you need to make sense of the experience and derive a lesson you learned. This will form a basis for the thesis of your reflective paper and a foundation for the body.

The structure of a reflective paper

A reflective paper follows a similar outline as other essays consisting of introduction, body, and conclusion.


The introduction part of a reflective essay is meant to capture the attention of the reader by giving them a preview of the subject. The introductory paragraph also consists of a thesis statement that highlights the experience and what you are going to write about. This is where you give a preview of how the experience influenced you and motivated new thinking and your action plan.


The body section makes the largest part of your reflective paper. This is where you describe the experience in details and the impression it made on you.

Start by describing your expectations about the experience or the phenomenon. For example, if it was a visit to an animal park you could write something like. "I thought the animals were less friendly”

Second, describe your first impression of the phenomenon followed by description of the entire experience, what you saw, and how it felt. Expound this with additional experiences, new discoveries, and new things you learned during the ordeal.

Finally, give a reason why the subject made such an impression on you and why it did. This is where you write about how the subject or the experience changed your mindset and why it did.


The conclusion part of the reflective essay is where you sum up your ideas by giving a recap of the thesis followed by how the body supported the thesis statement. Demonstrate how the experience or the subject changed your mindset or improved your understanding. This is also the section where you give future plans and a description of your final thoughts about the subject or the experience.

Generally, a good conclusion should consist of:

  • A recap of the story
  • State the main points
  • A logical conclusion stating your final thoughts


Do’s and don’ts in reflective essay writing


  • ·Always follow the classical outline of an essay which consists of the introduction, body, and conclusion. It allows the reader to easily understand the flow of your writing and the arrangement of thoughts. Moreover, the structure also gives you a clear guideline of how the reflective paper develops and builds on the subject or experience.
  • ·Always ensure that your thoughts are clearly stated for easy understanding by readers. Use of complex words or syntax may make it not only confusing to the reader but also difficult to understand thus deviating from the intended message.
  • Don’t
  • A reflective paper should not be a mere summary of your experience or what you have read. It goes beyond a description of an experience to include thoughtful analysis of the experience to derive lessons and how you can apply them in other situations.
  • A reflective essay is not a free write where ideas and thoughts flow freely about an experience. It is organized academic writing that involves analysis of experiences and reactions organized in a definite style
  • Do not make a reflective essay too personal, instead, focus on the main goal of analyzing the experience and giving your opinion.

Example of a reflective essay

Here is an example of a reflective essay about a book review


The two chapters of the book discuss two important aspects of website as a tool for communication and brand promotion. Using case studies, the author has elucidated these issues in a manner that has helped me understand the importance of making a website accessible to everyone despite their disabilities as well as a communication tool. This reflective essay will analyze Chapter 11 and 12 of the book, identify importance of website for communication, for ensuring accessibility to everyone, and how this information can be utilized to boost business branding and reputation.

In chapter 11, the author used the case of the airline he had booked to emphasize the importance and the manner of communication that companies needed to use on their websites. To satisfy his curiosity, he went to the airline’s website to check their views about the impending strike having been concerned that it could affect his flight. Unfortunately, the writer found no information about the strike on the website which led to the loss of his trust to the company.


From the observation in this chapter, the initial response is that the organization did not acknowledge the value of communicating to its customers in regards to developments that affected them directly. In essence, the airline’s failure to communicate about the strike was a disappointment that could influence its reception despite the quality of the website. Typically, a company loses a customer due to the broken goodwill and the attachment developed about the brand. It is worth noting that a business website’s communication is crucial because some clients are often highly skeptical of any negative news.


However, a good website’s message builds consumers’ confidence further making them more loyal. From my point of view, any information hidden from clientele can weaken their trust in a business. Further, it is important to understand that customers avoid visiting highly crowded sites because they are likely to experience difficulties in finding the specific information. Therefore, it is imperative that businesses build their clientele trust through continued communication and ensure that they have easy-maneuvered websites.


In chapter 12, the author explores the sensitive issue of accessibility for both ordinary people and those with disabilities such as sight impairment. Over the years, website developers and the companies that own and use the sites have known the importance of accessibility. However, some businesses have still failed to adopt the change citing the reason that the returns do not merit the expense. On that point, it is crucial to note that even for the person without any form of disability, noticing the accessibility features needed by people with disabilities leaves an impression of the company’s concern.


Another case comparable to the availability of website user-friendliness features is provisions for people with disabilities at a business premise, which communicates that the enterprise cares for everyone. From a carefully reflective perspective, it is inconsiderate of companies to develop websites that are inaccessible to different groups due to the lack of the exceptional features needed by visitors with special needs. On the same line of thought, every corporation should either aspire to create or update its sites to improve their usability and test them to ensure that they offer pleasant experiences to the users. Consequently, the people will see that individuals with disabilities are considered and that they can use the site in the same way the others do and draw similar benefits.

The features of an accessible website discussed in the chapter highlight the areas that every business should start addressing showing that it cares for all clients. Therefore, regarding websites being the digital error platform for building and maintaining clientele, every business should ensure friendliness and accessibility of its website.


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