A reflection paper deals with your reactions to and impressions of its subject matter, which can be anything: an article, an experience, a theory of nutrition you just learned, anything. It occupies a middle ground between less formal/more superfluous types of academic writing of this kind (like a reaction paper or a review) and more formal and detailed assignments (like a research or analytical paper). You are free to reflect on the subject matter, cite your experiences, use the knowledge you already have, but the focus is on your personal impressions, not the information you can find or produce through detailed analysis. In other words, you can (and are even encouraged) to be subjective, but you should lay a firm foundation for your subjectivity.
This type of writing is quite important for a discipline like nutrition and dietary studies. As it is permanently divided between the representatives of conflicting theories, you have to be particularly careful about understanding where your own ideas come from and to what degree they are based on personal predispositions and assumptions rather than facts.
Writing a reflection paper may seem like quite a complicated task, especially the first time you do it. To ease your way into it, we have prepared this guide.
Unless your professor already gave you a specific task, you will have to think of a topic for your reflection paper on your own. However, choosing what to write about when nothing narrows your scope down can be difficult and time-consuming. Here are some practices that can make this process faster and easier.
The topic you eventually settle down on should be:
You should end up with something like this:
Some students prefer to form a general idea of the paper in their heads and simply jump into action without bothering to further organize their thoughts before writing. This approach may work for smaller and less complex assignments, but it may not be the best choice for a reflection paper. While it is a more personal type of writing than most other academic papers, you cannot just spill the contents of your head onto paper and expect it to form a meaningful flow of reasoning. You have to follow a structure.
In an outline, you list all the important parts of your future paper and specify what you write in each of them: how you grasp the reader’s attention in the first sentence, what amount of background information you provide, what points you cover in body paragraphs, what conclusions you make and so on. The amount of detail does not matter – the important thing is to know ahead how to proceed at each stage of writing.
A thesis statement is a short, straightforward, unambiguous statement of the primary idea you want to express in your paper. It is usually placed in the introductory paragraph, providing focus for the rest of the paper. In case of a reflection paper, it describes what you learned from your experience/reading, why you agree or disagree with the idea you reflect on, with what expectations you entered the experience and how your expectations compared to reality.
The first paragraph of your reflection paper should lay the groundwork for the rest of the text. Try making the first sentence interesting and attention-grabbing to ensure that the reader gets invested in reading the paper to the end. In a reflection paper, the introduction is typically used to describe your expectations before the experience and to specify your views, beliefs and ideas before it (especially if you had to review them in the light of what you read/saw/took part in). Introduce your thesis statement in the end of the introduction.
Body paragraphs in the reflection paper are structured the same way as in most other academic papers:
Here you sum up everything you got from your experience and how it influenced your outlook on things. You may connect your conclusions to the original expectations you went in with. Specify what you learned and how it will change your thoughts, actions and practices in future.
As reflection paper is your reaction to something, and the reader does not necessarily know the details of your subject matter, you should not only provide the background and context for what you describe, but also present what you observed before you tell what you think about it. Facts, statistics, reports, quotations from the source material will be a part of your objective discussion, while the conclusions you draw from them, impressions and reactions will constitute subjective discussion, and these two parts should not intermix.
One of the most common mistakes students make when writing a reflection paper is drifting off to one of the two extremes. They either simply report their experience, making only a token effort of analyzing it, or take the term ‘reflection’ a bit too literally and turn the paper into a free flow of consciousness, not bothering with structure.
Both approaches are fundamentally wrong. You have to recount the experience, but the focus is not the experience itself but rather on what you learned from it and how it will influence your thoughts and actions. Expressing your ideas is an integral part of reflective writing, but it is not an informal essay where you just dump your thoughts on paper without organizing them.
You may be encouraged to refer to yourself and your personal experiences in a reflection paper, but you still have to stick to formal style and language. Do not use:
The word count of your paper should depend on the instructions received from your professor, but usually the length of a reflection paper is between 250 and 750 words. Use this space wisely and be critical when rereading your text:
A reflection paper may be more personal than other types of academic writing, and you may deal with experiences that are less formal than what you usually discuss in this sort of texts, but you still have to maintain a professional tone. Avoid colloquial language, slang and confusing jargon. Remove deviations from the right style whenever you find them.
Now that you are sure you only have what you need and use the right tone to express your thoughts, check if your paper is structured properly. Reread the paper in its entirety, intentionally paying attention to the bigger picture rather than smaller details. Skip over mistakes and imperfect wording: focus on how individual parts flow into each other, how you connect your ideas. Are there any gaps in your logic? Did you miss anything? Do you repeat yourself?
Even if your writing is brilliant, your professor can and will give you a poor grade if it contains mistakes, especially those related to grammar and spelling. Proofread the paper several times, each time focusing on a specific type of errors (e.g., once for punctuation, once for sentence structures, once for wrongly used homophones, etc.). If you are prone to specific types of mistakes, pay extra attention to them. For better results, ask a reliable friend to proofread the text for you or hire a professional proofreader.
Or, better yet, outside. Even if the deadline is looming close, you have to find some time to leave your writing alone and switch to a completely different activity. It does not matter for how long – you can make a break for an hour, a day or even a week, as long as you can afford, the longer, the better. It allows you to see your writing from a fresh perspective, notice the mistakes you previously missed or even find a better way to express this or that thought.
Writing a reflection paper may be different from most other types of academic writing, but one thing remains the same: if you approach the task in an organized, collected manner, you will finish it faster and achieve better results than if you do it haphazardly. We hope this guide will help you find your own best way to do this job!