Reaction papers and reflection papers are two types of essays that are often considered synonymous. Both types of papers feature a student's reaction or thoughts regarding a certain topic, book or film. The primary difference lays in the type of focus the student places on the topic about which he is writing.
Teachers often have students write reaction or reflection papers after studying a certain topic. This might be a topic studied throughout the semester or a topic from a book, movie, event or debate. Both types of papers should be organised into three sections: an introduction, the body and a conclusion.
A reaction paper, also called a response paper, is designed to allow the student to share his feelings on a topic. The student answers several different questions in a reaction paper, including how she feels about the topic, if she agrees with it, if she identifies with it and her evaluation of the topic. After a brief description of the topic, a reaction paper contains the student's personal reaction to the topic or idea. It focuses primarily on how the student feels about the topic and whether the student agrees with the idea.
A reflection paper is similar; however, the student focuses on what he has learnt rather than his feelings on the topic---although personal feelings are still a major component of a reflection paper. A reflection paper focuses on statements and feelings, answering questions including what the student thinks, sees and feels. It also explains the student's opinion and the main points of the topic. A reflection paper is a way for the student to reflect on the topic of the paper, sharing the ideas the student learnt from the topic and his thoughts on the subject.
Because the two types of papers are very similar, when writing one or the other, students should always follow the instructions given by the instructor of the course. Both a reaction paper and a reflection paper begin by highlighting the main points of the topic. The student should then narrow down his feelings and organise the main points into a cohesive essay.