A complete guide to writing a reflective essay

A complete guide to writing a reflective essay
Table of Contents
  1. A complete guide to writing a reflective essay
  2. What Is a Reflective Essay?
  3. Importance of a Reflective Essay
  4. How to Write a Reflective Essay Step by Step
  5. 1. Think of an important event
  6. 2. Make a mind-map
  7. 3. Introduce your topic
  8. 4. Develop your point - body paragraphs
  9. 5. Make conclusion
  10. Tips on Writing a Reflective Essay
  11. Reflective Essay Topic Ideas
  12. Places You've Been
  13. Impactful Experiences
  14. Important People
  15. Life-Altering Events
  16. Recurring or Significant Thoughts
  17. How to Start a Reflective Essay
  18. 1. Being catchy is the key.
  19. 2. Write the thesis statement in one sentence.
  20. 3. Stick to the first person POV.
  21. 4. Keep it brief.
  22. How Long Is a Reflective Essay
  23. Do’s and Don’ts
  24. Reflective Essay Example
  25. Basic Reflective Essay

Reflective essay is a type of assignments that is unavoidable in any college program. Some hate writing this type of papers and turn to a professional writing service while others truly enjoy the process. It depends on how much you like talking about yourself, because, in simple words, a reflective paper is an analysis of your experience and personality. So, let’s use this time wisely and learn why reflective writing is important, where to get inspiration for a great topic, and how to outline your paper like a pro.

In a reflective essay, you need to express your thoughts and emotions about certain events or phenomena. Writing this type of essay provides solid training to sharpen your critical thinking skills, as well as your ability to develop and express opinions on a particular topic - either chosen by yourself or assigned by your instructor.

What Is a Reflective Essay?

A reflective essay is a written piece of literature that focuses on presenting and narrating a person’s experience and how it becomes an instrument towards a change of perception in life.

It is a way for a writer to share an important event in his/her life and how it affected him/her so that others may learn something from it. Reflective writing root on life-changing events. The writer shares a specific experience, provides a narration of the incident including the material elements. It offers a realization so that others who may have had the same experience can draw out a shared mutual lesson from it.

Reflective essays describe an event or experience, then analyze the meaning of that experience and what can be learned from it. What makes an essay reflective is that the writer is analyzing a past event from the present.

Reflective essays require the writer to open up about their thoughts and emotions in order to paint a true picture of their history, personality, and individual traits. They should included a vivid summary and description of the experience so that the reader feels they have also experienced it. They should also include an explanation of your thoughts, feelings and reactions.

Importance of a Reflective Essay

In this era that we currently live in, personal reflection can be considered a thing of the past. Because of the gradual change and development of the things around us, we find it difficult to pause and reflect on the things that happen to our lives. You may also see academic essay examples.

The importance of writing an essay is to present to us the things that we rarely encounter in our day-to-day activities. In this time when material things are all that mattered, we have become unappreciative of the abstract things like love, compassion, and mercy. We cannot learn these things from those electronic gadgets that keep us busy.

How to Write a Reflective Essay Step by Step

To write a reflective short essay, you need to have the right disposition as well as the momentum. Remember that you are not just writing to say something but to share an important lesson in life.

1. Think of an important event

Think of an event which could become the topic of your essay. When you have chosen an event, ask yourself how you feel about it, how it affected (or did not affect) your life and why? This will help you create a thesis, which will serve as the focal point of your essay.

2. Make a mind-map

Write down your thesis and draw a circle around it. Now identify your main arguments and ideas which will support it and help readers follow the evolution of your thoughts and experiences, group them into paragraphs which you will write later, and connect them to your central circle. Creating this type of flow diagram will help you see the overall structure of your essay more clearly. Finally, decide on the logical sequence of these paragraphs and order them accordingly.

3. Introduce your topic

Write a strong opening paragraph. Your introduction must be eye-catching, so the readers become engaged immediately. In your introduction, write the concrete event or experience that you want to share. Pattern it in a story form.

4. Develop your point - body paragraphs

Write the main content of your essay with at least three to five paragraphs supporting your main topic. State your supporting arguments, ideas, and examples in the body paragraphs. Emphasize only one point or experience, as well as reflections on it, within each paragraph.

5. Make conclusion

In the first sentence of the conclusion, briefly summarize your thoughts. Think about what you have learned and how your experience might be useful to others. Finish your essay with a rhetorical question to your readers about how they might act in a similar situation. Alternatively, ask them to think about a related topic on their own.

Tips on Writing a Reflective Essay

Writing a reflective essay is not persuasive writing where you have to convince your readers to accept your opinion. You simply have to share an experience.

  1. Write a draft. Do not jump hastily onto formal writing. Write a draft where you can create a bulleted list of the things that you want to share.
  2. Think logically. When presenting a story, do it in a chronological manner so that your readers can understand the plot. Do this as well when presenting your ideas.
  3. Create a summary. Use a summary writing to briefly state your insights and to give your final thoughts of the topic.
  4. Your introductory paragraph could give a hint about the conclusions in your essay. For example, it could state: “When I first saw a desert with my own eyes, I thought it is was possibly the most lifeless place in the world. However, as I studied it in more detail, I found my surroundings were not quite so desolate as I had imagined.”
  5. Since a reflective essay is particularly based on personal experience, it is acceptable to use the personal pronoun “I.”
  6. Usage of one or more quotations in the introduction can make your writing more authoritative.
  7. In most reflective essays, apart from describing what went right, you may also describe what went wrong, or how an experience could have been improved.

Reflective Essay Topic Ideas

Since writing a reflective essay supposes you will write about a personal experience, you can choose whatever event you like. It is almost like a diary, where you write down your thoughts about a significant happening in your life. It can be about reading a special book, a difficult situation you faced, a person you encountered - the main point is to state your opinion. For example, you can write about:

Places You've Been

  • The beach, mountains, countryside, or desert
  • A special hideaway or special room
  • The house you grew up in
  • A relative's home

Impactful Experiences

  • A book, movie, T.V. show, song, play, or other form of media
  • Social media post
  • Magazine or article
  • A concert
  • A vacation

Important People

  • Your grandmother and/or grandfather, mom and/or dad, aunt and/or uncle, nephew and/or niece, or siblings
  • Your best friend
  • Someone who hurt you
  • A special teacher or life coach

Life-Altering Events

  • A special date
  • Failing or succeeding at something
  • A time you learned something new
  • A new experience
  • A time you overcame one of your fears
  • An important memory
  • A significant conversation

Recurring or Significant Thoughts

  • A dream or daydream
  • A conversation you wish you had or something you wish you had done
  • A story you've told about yourself
  • An embarrassing moment
  • The person you'd like to be
  • A strong emotion

How to Start a Reflective Essay

As mentioned above, a reflective essay presents and narrates the experience of a writer and how it changes the way he/she perceives life. In a simpler sense, it talks about how the author reflected on a certain adventure. As an essayist, since it’s you who bears the story and lessons, you are the one who is responsible for expressing it.

Just like any other composition, it’s your introduction that catches the attention of the reader. Thus, in order for your essay to be fully read, it is important to start your essay remarkably. If you find writing an introduction for your reflective essay challenging, don’t worry, you’re not alone. In this section, we are going to slowly tackle the ways to compose a compelling introduction.

1. Being catchy is the key.

In writing your reflective essay, you must start with something that would captivate the readers right away. Since the purpose of the introduction is to grab some attention, you may include some unique and interesting facts or beliefs. In this part, showcase your creativity by adding an introduction that is written in a bizarre manner and not those that depict cliche experience. You may also utilize a highly moving quotation or a dialogue that would also be appropriate for your reader.

2. Write the thesis statement in one sentence.

A thesis statement refers to the sentence that carries the topic being discussed in the whole essay. Therefore, it bears the central idea in which your essay revolves around. In writing your own essay, construct this statement in a clear and concise sentence. In this way, the reader will have a better grasp of your topic and would be clearly oriented on what you want to convey. In most cases, thesis statements are written at the end of the introduction.

3. Stick to the first person POV.

Remembering that this essay is subjective and depends on the author’s interpretation, it is important to use the first person point of view. By using this POV, it would be easier for you to convey your thoughts and opinions, and it would engage you to the readers like you’re telling a story in person. The first person involves the pronouns I, me, my, and mine.

4. Keep it brief.

When it comes to writing your own essay, you must perceive what your readers feel or see in reading your composition. Always put into mind that readers also have their own time to spend, and without a mark in the writing industry, people won’t invest much time on reading your essay. Thus, it is important to keep your composition concise. You can utilize a paragraph of five to ten sentences in your introduction. Using this number of sentences, you must already express a complete and clear thought of an essay that is worth reading.

How Long Is a Reflective Essay

Students often ask how long a reflective essay should be. There is no specific answer to this questions. The length of your essay depends on the essay intructions. Always check them before starting writing your essay to make sure you follow the requirements.
The classicall essay length is five paragraphs, including introducton, at least three main body paragraphs and conclusion. Each paragraph should include at least 3-4 sentences to be balanced.

Do’s and Don’ts


  • Do write your ideas in a descriptive manner. Your thoughts must be stated clearly, so your readers understand exactly what you wanted to say.
  • Do remember: despite your essay being of a reflective type, it is still an academic paper, so try to keep it as formal as possible.
  • Do follow the classical structure: an introduction, main body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
  • Do keep in mind: you should write your essay basing it not only on a personal experience, but also using some factual material.


  • Don’t be too personal. Despite the fact a reflective essay is based on personal experience, remember you are writing an academic essay, not a letter to a friend.
  • Don’t try to cram all your experiences into one essay; choose the most important and significant moments.
  • Don’t try to write everything at once. Compose a mind-map and create an outline which gives a clear direction to your writing.
  • Don’t make your essay a free-flowing analysis, including all your unstructured thoughts, insights, and ideas. Sort your ideas in a logical order.

Reflective Essay Example


Basic Reflective Essay

Reflective Essay

Janice Leung

“Recent Advances in Nanoparticle-Based Cancer Drug Delivery” was written as a literature review paper for UWP104F, Writing in the Health Sciences. Presenting and evaluating the current state of scientific knowledge on a single topic, I highlighted important findings and examined the methodologies used in a total of 31 research articles. While pointing to gaps in the literature, I eventually developed my own stance by suggesting directions for additional research and application of the research. By utilizing search strategies and various research tools and sources provided by the UC Davis Library, I came to the conclusion that major hurdles such as nonspecific toxicity and controlling penetration of biological barriers still need to be overcome before nanoparticle carriers can be FDA approved and used in clinical cancer treatment.

I relied heavily on the UC Davis Library Website to access and learn about the various research tools and sources that were available to me as a student. Under the Guides & Tutorials section of the webpage, I utilized the “Quick Guide: 5 Steps to Better Library Research” to help narrow my research topic. This guide helped me identify key terms (nanoparticles, cancer, drug delivery, stimuli-responsive drug release, adverse effect) and the specific types of information needed in my literature review.

My original idea for the paper was to evaluate all of the current Stimuli-Responsive Drug Release methods; however, I quickly realized that Nanoparticle-Based Cancer Drug Delivery is such a trending topic in the field of oncology research that a preliminary “Nanoparticle-Based Cancer Drug Delivery” search in Google Scholar provided me links to over 10 current Stimuli Responsive Drug Release methods. I focused my review to only evaluate control drug release in response to external magnetic fields, ultrasound, and internal pH stimuli because I noticed that the majority of the articles published within the two months prior to writing my paper focused mostly on those three areas. This indicated that the experts in nanoparticle research may have realized more potential in magnetic fields, ultrasound, and internal pH compared to alternative methods which were researched only six months prior. Therefore, I determined that even though temperature, light, electric pulses, enzyme concentration, or redox gradients are also being researched, those responsive systems were beyond the scope of my review.

I then navigated to the Course Guide section of the library website and browsed the UWP104F listing in which I learned about databases such as PubMed, BIOSIS Previews, and PsycINFO to find relevant journal articles. To accesses the library’s resources off campus, I learned how to connect to the Library’s VPN by downloading Pulse Secure and utilizing the UCD-eLinks in order to access full text links from home. After exploring the UC Davis Library Catalog, the UC Melvyl Catalog, and Health Sciences eBooks, I found that the PubMed database best suited my research needs. Because my review depended on very specific nanoparticle research trials and laboratory studies, PubMed’s publication sources of almost exclusively journal references provided me with the most relevant research articles. Because there are an overwhelming number of published articles on the topic of nanoparticle use in cancer therapies, I only used sources that were published after 2014 and gave priority to articles published most recently.

My preliminary searches included “nanoparticle drug delivery” in the title, and I expanded the search to include narrowed topics such as “magnetic fields” and “adverse effects” when I was writing about the shortcomings of the different nanoparticle delivery methods. After I found an article that was relevant, I utilized the Similar Articles section on the right-hand side of the abstract page to review articles of the same subject. It was from the Similar Articles section that I was able to find additional research articles that often either supported the original claim or provided me with alternative viewpoints. I made sure to identify any overlap and dissimilarities of the individual cases and their results. For example, I evaluated six different articles regarding ultrasound stimuli before determining that although ultrasound irradiation produces efficient tumor suppression, different studies apply different particle formulations which can lead to inconsistent and unreliable results. Another way I gathered various viewpoints and expanded my sources was to examine the author’s references of each article. This combined strategy of using multiple sources allowed me to cross reference my research to ensure that I was providing accurate information in my paper and maintaining my own credibility.

There were times in which I ran into difficulties finding detailed information on a very specific subtopic. When this occurred, I would take advantage of the MeSH section of the NCBI platform. For example, after typing in “nanoparticles,” I then selected the precise topical subheadings I was interested in such as “metabolism” or “therapeutic use.” The “organization and administration” subheading proved particularly useful when I wanted to investigate my three main areas of stimuli-response drug release. In addition, the Expandable Subject Hierarchy provided me with more opportunities to find particularly focused topics such as going from a broad search for “nanoparticles” to a specialized search for “dendrimers.”

Oftentimes, I would have to be flexible and creative with my search terms and strategies. To find additional sources on “adverse effects,” I brainstormed related key terms to optimize my searches. By imputing phrases such as “oxidative imbalance,” “DNA damage,” or “immunological damage,” I was able to find many more research articles that addressed multiple facets of potential harmful effects of nanoparticle-based drug delivery.

During the process of gathering and citing my sources, I relied heavily on EndNote to store citations and quickly insert them into my literature review. After installing the software, I watched the training videos provided by the UC Davis Library website so I could use the bibliographic reference manager more efficiently. One of the things I found most useful was organizing folders within EndNote so that I could easily find references to each of my subtopics of my paper. I eventually constructed a folder for each category and was able to quickly find each of the 31 references when I needed them.

In summary, the goals of this literature review were to evaluate the current state of nanoparticle-based cancer drug delivery and assess gaps in the current literature. With extensive use of search strategies and the UC Davis Library research tools and resources, I was able to develop a comprehensive review that demonstrates the need for further research on the long-term side effects of nanoparticles in the body. Proper standards should be established for the examination of safety and efficacy issues before expanding the newly developed nanoparticle carriers into preclinical and clinical testing.