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How to write a reflections paper

Updated April 17, 2017

A reflections paper, also known as a reflective essay, is a writing style that recaps and evaluates a personal experience. An effective reflections paper not only restates the entire experience -- whether it be a summer internship or a challenging class -- but also evaluates the lessons and ideas learnt through the experience. A reflections paper is usually about 500 words, depending on the nature of the assignment. A writing assignment, such as this one, should be highly personal but also well-edited and well thought out.

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  1. Brainstorm your personal experience. Use a scratch piece of paper to note the largest milestones and highlights of the personal experience. A student in a challenging class could reflect upon the first time they were able to contribute to a class discussion as a highlight of their experience. A common way to organise these main points of the experience is to write them chronologically.

  2. Construct an introduction. The introduction should include a short explanation of the experience you will discuss in the body of the paper. A fantastic way to begin a reflections paper is to open with a short anecdote or description about your experience. For example, "I entered the crowded classroom, my palms sweaty and my fingertips tingling, ready for my first day of an intensive creative writing workshop. I had never attempted taking a class like this before." After the short description, add the details about the length of the experience and any other circumstantial details.

  3. Write the main body of the reflections paper, using one paragraph for a single experience or milestone. Organise the body of the paper in chronological order, using the highlights you noted in Step 1. Each paragraph should discuss the most influential moments of your experience, such as meeting a meaningful mentor or accomplishing a challenge. A paragraph can also be used for an exceptionally difficult challenge in the process. Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence, which introduces the reader to the new topic you will discuss in the paragraph. For example, "I began to make progress in my writing style by the sixth week of class when I met Brian Smith." This sentence introduces the reader to the setting, time and the people involved in your story. The body of the essay should only be about three paragraphs for shorter reflections essays.

  4. Write a conclusion that reflects on the importance of the event or experience. This paragraph should focus on the information and lessons you leant from the experience, rather than a recap of what you experienced. For example, "I could never have guessed how influential the intensive creative writing workshop I took over the summer would be in my future writing process. I am now writing clearer prose because of my work with Brian Smith. I also made emotional connections with fellow writers who gave me the support to continue working on my manuscript."

  5. Write clear sentences and never use contractions in your writing. Avoid using slang or bad language in the reflections paper.

  6. Tip

    Edit your work a few times. Read the paper out loud to yourself and look for awkward sentences. Have a friend or peer read your essay and give you suggestions.

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About the Author

Sarah Vrba has been a writer and editor since 2006. She has contributed to "Seed," "AND Magazine," Care2 Causes and "202 Magazine," among other outlets, focusing on fashion, pop culture, style and identity. Vrba holds an M.A. in history with an emphasis on gender and fashion in the 19th century.

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