Reflection papers occupy a special place among other types of academic writing. While normally professors emphasize the importance of being completely objective and eschewing your personal opinions when writing, reflection papers embrace them. Reflective writing is supposed to be subjective, and your tutor will evaluate your work based on how well you manage to express your opinions, explain where they come from and demonstrate that these are your own thoughts, not just a rehash of something you read somewhere.
Reflective writing is especially important in disciplines like human resources management, where your ideas and opinions will heavily influence what kind of decisions you take and how they will affect the performance of a team.
Such a departure from what is usually expected of you can be disorienting. It is no wonder that many students experience problems with reflective writing – they have to go against everything they have been taught for years. To help you understand how to write this kind of papers and do it without making many unnecessary mistakes, we wrote this guide. It will lead you through the entire process, from the pre-writing stage to editing and adding final touches.
Different experts classify reflection papers differently, but most commonly, they single out papers that reflect on experiences and those that reflect on readings. Clarify what type you are writing with your professor and do not mix them up.
In some cases, your professor will define your topic for you. However, quite often you will be relatively free to choose whatever you want to write about. In fact, the latter may be even more difficult, because nothing protects you from choosing a topic that will be a pain to cover. However, you can improve your chances of choosing something that will be easy to work with:
Eventually, you should end up with a topic like one of these:
Whether you write about a reading or an experience, a reflection paper is primarily about your impressions. This means that before you proceed, you have to identify what parts of your experience/reading were most important to you, which of them determined your overall impression of the subject matter. Decide why they played such an important part.
In a thesis statement, you specify the primary idea behind your paper. In a reflection paper, it is usually the most important effect your experience or reading had on you, a conclusion you formed as a result, the direction in which you intend to move your further activities. A well-formulated thesis statement is:
While students often believe writing an outline to be a waste of time, do not be tempted to skip it. Having a plan will give structure to your effort – you will know what to do next at every stage of your work, without being afraid to miss anything.
Be as detailed or as concise in your planning as you want – it depends on your writing style. Some students jot down only the most basic details about each section of the paper, while others even specify how they are going to connect specific paragraphs to each other. Both approaches and everything in between works fine as long as it meets your needs.
The purpose of a reflection paper is to identify and analyze how a personal experience or a course reading influenced you, how they changed your views and practices. To show this influence, you have to study the experience in the context of what views and ideas you held before it. It will help you establish your starting point.
Unlike most other types of academic writing, reflection papers encourage you to be more personal and subjective. You do not write based on authorities – you reflect on your own experiences and thoughts, so using the first person singular is only natural.
The usual way to structure a reflection paper is to divide it into an opening paragraph (introduction), a main body and a conclusion.
The opening paragraph is typically used to provide a backdrop for the rest of your analysis. It starts with a hook – a sentence aimed at grasping the reader’s attention, usually a catchy quote, an important fact or an unusual statistic. After that, you introduce the background information necessary to understand the rest of the paper. Point out what you knew about the subject matter before your experience, how you formed your opinions, what were your practices as a result. After that, you have to introduce your thesis statement, demonstrating how the experience influenced you. You will spend the rest of the paper explaining and analyzing this influence.
Your paper’s body paragraphs should cover the direct influence of the experience/reading in question on you and your views. Ask yourself:
When you read academic papers, it may seem that the main body is written haphazardly, without any particular order. It is, however, only an impression – in reality, any well-written paper follows a relatively strict structure. Therefore, you should divide the body of the paper into paragraphs not randomly, but following its contents. Each paragraph should deal with only one point – if you feel that you drift between two or more points within a single paragraph, your paper may need restructuring.
Each paragraph consists of:
Conclusion usually does not occupy a large part of a reflection paper, as by that point you have already said most of what you had to say, and the format of the assignment does not presuppose any innovative research findings. A few short sentences detailing what you learned and how you intend to use this new knowledge in future is enough. Alternatively, you may finish the paper ambiguously – e.g., stating that you do not believe the practices you witnessed/were taught are effective, but will try using them in future to see if they can positively influence your situation.
Review your readings you reflect on, your class notes, notes related to the experience – in other words, any materials that have something to do with the current task – and check if you included all the relevant information and made all the possible connections between different factors.
Check which format your college or professor wants you to use for your paper, and make sure you consistently use it throughout your assignment. It may seem like a superfluous detail, but failing to comply with these rules can mean a poor grade for an otherwise excellent paper.
The best practice one can apply when editing his/her writing would be to remove everything that is not necessary. If on rereading the paper you see that a particular word, sentence or paragraph does not move your argument further but simply occupies space, cut it. It does not matter how much you like a particular turn of phrase or how well a particular fragment accentuates your erudition. Your paper has a purpose, and anything that does not serve this purpose, interferes with it.
Some good candidates for elimination:
While reflection papers are more personal than most other types of academic papers, it does not mean you can use whatever language you please. Basic demands and recommendations concerning style remain in effect. Avoid using:
While reflection papers leave much space to expressing your individuality, following these principles is crucial for achieving good results. We hope this guide will help and speed up your writing the next time you deal with such a task.