How To Write A Reflective Essay, Step by Step Guidance

what is a reflective essay

What Is a Reflective Essay?

A reflective essay allows you to provide readers with your personal experience of an outcome, event or occasion that happened in your life. It gives account on how the experience occurred and consequently changed your attitude and behavior. What makes a reflective essay differ from an ordinary essay is that you are giving a personal reflection or a recount of an event that happened to you and how it affected your perspective, attitude, thought as well as your personality. The effect of such an account may have positively or negatively impacted you. Therefore, when writing a reflective essay, you have to show the audience the impact, feeling or emotions by vividly creating a picture of the event on them.

Purposes of Reflective Writing

The aim of reflective writing is to provide you with a chance to express or recount an experience, memory or feeling as well as how it changed, affected or the lesson you learned. It also helps you to better understand yourself by focusing on improving your life shortcomings as well as enhancing personal strengths in fulfillment of self-goals and aspirations. Writing reflective essays also help you improve your critical thinking skills by enabling you to adopt a brooding stance in analyzing personal experiences.


A reflective essay is the writing practice of self-examining, self-observation, and self-evaluation to determine and tell readers of experiences, occasions, events, and memories that have happened in one’s life as well as the impacts, consequences or effects they had.

What Is Reflection?

Reflection is the process of self-analyzing, self-imagining, thinking, remembering and self-visualizing and recounting of the incidences and events that have happened in your life. Therefore, when writing a reflective essay, you will have to focus on the memories, emotions, and feelings that you have experienced in the past as well as the implications they brought in your life.

How to Start Reflective Essay Writing

The format of writing reflective essay depends mainly on the target audience, for class assignment essay your lecture will expect you to write about an experience and how it shaped your attitude or the how the outcomes impacted you positively or negatively. To start with you should brainstorm and think of ideas or events of the past that vividly reflect on your mind. You can also refer to your personal diary or journal to check your life accounts and events that you have recorded. After brainstorming and deciding on which experience, occasion or topic to write about, start by writing the thesis statement describing the basic point you want to convey to your readers. Reflective essays are structurally similar to other essays such argumentative essay and should start with an introduction. Sometimes you may struggle to come up with a strong debatable introduction and thesis statement. During this point, you can write your story and let the thesis develop as you work on your essay. You can later recap all your ideas and create a solid thesis and introduction that will entice your audience.

Tips on Thesis Writing

  • Use a single sentence for your thesis statement, highlighting your broadest emotions and feeling about the choice of your subject.
  • Create an interesting main idea or thesis statement that will not put off the readers. Your entire essay depends on the attention provided by the main idea.

Tips on Introduction Writing

  • Start your introduction with a catchy or hook statement to grab the readers’ attention
  • Write the thesis statement on the introduction using a clear and concise sentence
  • Write the introduction using the first-person language to express your opinion.
  • Incorporate your thesis with brief background information or personal opinion concerning the topic.

How to Write the Main Part of a Reflective Essay

A body structure of your essay is a vital part for it is the area in which you provide the readers with the detailed occurrences, ideas or information concerning the experience as stated on the thesis statement. The information should be relevant as well as resonate to the topic. Writing a reflective essay is similar to telling your personal story. Therefore you should ensure that the events and ideas you give have a chronological flow. This means that each body paragraph should contain a reason, impression, idea and how it happened. You can give further elaborative details without conflicting the thesis statement of your essay. This is because the information and details you are providing are to support and give more insight into the main experience. You can use this model of allocating major supporting points to a paragraph each.

Tips on Body Paragraphs Writing

  • Do not write traumatizing accounts to you or your audience.
  • Ensure that your sentences have a coherent and logical flow.
  • Use transitional phrases to recap ideas as well as when introducing details.
  • Use short, clear and concise sentences when describing your experiences.

How to Finish a Reflective Essay

For the concluding paragraph of your essay, summarize and recap the main idea with the major points. Provide your audience with a personal opinion, effect or the impact that you gained from the experience. You can also express the importance of such a lesson and how it has shaped your character, personality, and attitude as well as how it will help you in the future.

Tips on Conclusion Writing

  • Restate the thesis statement using without rewriting it directly
  • Be attentive not to introduce new experiences beyond the ones you have indicated.
  • Your conclusion should not be detailed but rather summarize the message using clean and concise sentences.
  • Since it is a reflective essay, give your opinion using the first-person narrative.

How to Make an Outline for a Reflective Essay

For you to write an outstanding reflective essay, you will have to develop a plan or a roadmap on how to structure your thoughts and ideas in a coherent and logical manner. With the help of an essay outline, you will easily be able to structure your content, ideas as well as the information in a sensible and organized way. An outline will also help you to plan and manage your time properly when writing as well to complete and submit the work before the deadline. Most importantly a reflective essay outline will help you to clearly present your events, memories, imaginations as well as the experiences and lessons gained. Moreover, it will help you structure and link the experiences with options available and plans.

An example of a well-structured reflective essay should have an outline with an introduction part containing a catchy statement to grab the readers’ attention, a topic overview as well as the thesis statement. It should have a body part with several paragraphs detailing experiences, feelings, and thoughts about the topic. Finally, a conclusion part highlighting the events as well as providing personal lessons, options and plans in line with the experiences.

Tips on Outline Writing

  • Your essay should have a chronological structure starting with an introduction, followed by body paragraphs as well a conclusion.
  • List the ideas and experiences as you brainstorm and arrange them in a logical manner later when writing a final draft.
  • List questions on what you intend to achieve and who the target is.
  • List changes and impacts that the experience has brought in your life.

Example of an Outline


  • Hook or catchy statement
  • Thesis statement
  • Brief background information

Body Paragraphs

  • The first paragraph providing the first major point to support the thesis statement plus detailed experiences.
  • Second paragraph giving account on how and how the experience affected you.
  • The third paragraph showing further support on the thesis statement.


  • Summary of the experiences, ideas as well as the thesis statement recount.
  • Lessons learned as well as steps taken to mitigate such experience in the future.

Reflective Essay Sample on “The Most Unforgettable Embarrassing Moment In My Life”

Life is full of ups and downs as well as good and bad experiences. Everyone has that moment in life that they wouldn’t like to be reminded due to the embarrassment they experienced. I am not an exception, and I too have my moments of embarrassments. Some of these occurrences do not happen always, but when they do, they leave permanent memories, shame and emotional distress that you wouldn’t prefer to experience again. My most vivid embarrassment moment happened in the year 2015 in June. And to make the matter worse, it was my birthday. What the worst and most shameful gift to receive as I turned 19.

The fateful day it dawned like any other birthday days where I had expectations of having an epic day full of joy, merry and gifts. Little did I know what mother nature had in store for me. It was during the summer holiday and a weekend in that matter, and I woke up late. I went downstairs only to find one of my best friends and my elder brother waiting for me with their gift. They handled the gifts to me but made me promise not to open them until later in the day because they had another big surprise for me.

I was informed that my family, friends and I would go to the amusement park to have some fun and have the birthday ceremony later. I was not a fan of amusement rides due to my phobia of heights, and I had always feared to ride on some rides such the drop tower and the pendulum. On this particular day, I wasn’t going to give excuses since nobody would listen, remember it was my birthday. To add insult to the injury, I was told that I must ride on the slingshot. I had watched some videos of people passing out on slingshots, and the experience devastated me. It was my turn and whatever I experienced was nothing short of just passing out several times but I also wetted myself. On top that everybody decided that I was to slingshot twice since it was my day, and this made me freaked out and I vomited.

The experience of passing out was not new, but peeing myself and vomiting on my birthday was not only embarrassing but also humiliating. I later learned these experiences are brought by a disorder called Vasovagal syncope which is a reaction of the body to extreme emotional discomforts. However, it was an embarrassing moment that will not get erased in my mind. It has also helped me overcome my height phobia since currently I am focusing on cliff and mountain hiking and climbing. On top of that, I have become a frequent visitor at slingshot and drop towers which I feared in the past.