How to Write a Reflection Paper Guide for Students

August 31, 2023

Learn How to Write a Reflection Paper and Express Your Thoughts

Not a day passes without multiple students looking for tips on how to write a reflection paper. This task is extremely common in colleges and universities — even school teachers like assigning it, hoping to instill reflective skills in their pupils. But what’s so important about it, and how to write it in a way that will help you boost your performance?

This guide will answer these questions. It won’t simply explain what a reflection paper is and how to write it, it’ll illustrate this process in its entirety, inch by inch. The TopEssayWriting team works for students’ benefit, so you will see both theory and practical examples here. We guarantee that after reading every section, you’ll be able to write a great reflection that will bring you the highest praise from your professor.

What Is a Reflection Paper and Why It Can Become Your Favorite Task

To create a well-written paper, you need knowledge in addition to skills. Every professional essay writer must understand their task if they want to do well, and college homework isn’t an exception. That is why we are going to start with definitions. Reflection paper is a piece of writing where you express your thoughts & feelings on a specific subject. Students could use different approaches depending on their level and instructions. Some might simply present their subjective views on a topic, not caring about objectivity, while others will attempt to track the origins of their thoughts, dissecting their own opinions and showing deep self-awareness.

Whatever approach you choose, the principle of knowing how to write a reflection paper is the same. Your work has to be based on your personal experience with something. What other researchers thought doesn’t matter — they have no place in your reflection. This is a project where only you and your worldview matter. There is no need to cite anyone or try to limit yourself to generally accepted facts: be as daring or weird as you’d like as long as you stay genuine. Reflection is your chance to shine because whatever you write about, there won’t be a wrong answer.

Understanding Nuances that Make a Reflective Paper

Reflection paper writing is fascinating because it has a dual nature. It combines academic and personal styles. On the one hand, writers are invited to discuss their perception of a subject. They must share their thoughts, experiences, concerns, and conclusions, combining all ideas coherently and building emotional & logical bridges between them. On the other hand, it’s crucial to follow standard academic rules. If students were to order dissertation help online from experts, it’s obvious that they would use formal language and appropriate vocabulary. Do the same in your college reflection papers.

Never use contractions; first-person pronouns are allowed because you’re writing about yourself, but you must avoid idioms or phrasal verbs. Keep your tone respectful and educational. The writing process can be as simple or difficult as it gets, and your understanding of it is what determines the outcome. Read through the tips our professionals developed, and you’ll know what to write at which point.

Three Common Types of Reflections

A single task could have different variations. If students buy nursing essay or buy reaction paper from a specialist, they must clarify whether they want a case study, a term paper or a simple exploration of their topic. Reflection papers are the same. They could be academic, personal, or professional— all three are common, meaning that students should know everything about them. In academic papers, a writer must reflect on a book, an article, a lecture, or a similar source they were told to read or watch. The purpose lies in studying this assigned material and sharing their thoughts on it. The tone must be serious and thoughtful. Personal essays are more fun: they can cover any event from your life. You could reflect on how you learned about true friendship, loss, grief, or love; you could describe something that changed your life or pushed you onto a path you’re currently walking.

Out of all three types of reflection paper, the professional one is the most complex. Usually, only older students preparing to graduate have to work on it. It mostly involves an experiment where a person observes a scientific phenomenon or someone’s behavior and then offers a thoughtful reflection on it. For obvious reasons, the tone should be 100% formal and educational. In all other respects, these three types are similar, so this is what we’re about to cover next.

The Intricacies of Reflection Paper Format

The typical length of reflections is around 900 words. They rarely exceed 1200 words, and they’re almost never shorter than 600 words. Follow the guidelines of your professor, and you should be set. But how to write a 1000 word essay accurately? The structure has a pretty flexible format: reflection is a creative task, so you can choose your flow and length of paragraphs. Just don’t make them longer than 200 words, and don’t write less than at least 3 sentences. As for the formatting style, listen to your professor again. Most papers of this type come in APA or MLA, but depending on your college requirements, you might need Chicago or Harvard. Read your instructions closely in case there are any other moments you might have to include in your reflection.

Pre-Writing Stages: How to Start a Reflection Paper

Like other students, you might feel eager to start writing already because the sooner you do it, the quicker you’ll be done. But if you want to create high-quality work, you need to have patience. First, study the research paper topic you’ll be reflecting upon. If it’s a book or a short story, read it. Take notes about moments that seem the most interesting and that provoke the strongest emotions. Highlight key concepts and major ideas: This is essential because you might forget half of them by the time you start writing. Add them to your notes, too, and develop them into a proper reflection essay.

If you’re writing an educational reflective paper on a complex topic, prepare to summarize the concepts you outlined in your notes in clear language. Remember that you need a reflection, so you should only convey the basics. The rest should be your thoughts, not descriptions of subjects or topics. To make everything more comprehensive, look for good visuals and add them to your paper after you start working on it. Use the same tactic with other mediums: whether you’re reflecting on a movie, lecture, or life experience, note-taking and search for visuals are great additions.

Gathering Ideas for Your Reflection: Brainstorming & Outlining Stage

You familiarize yourself with the subject you’ll be writing about; you take notes and decide on the concepts you’ll mention. That’s great, but now it is time to brainstorm. It’s an important technique for writing reflection papers because it helps you think of the most useful ideas that will look great after you write them down. These questions might inspire you: How did the book you read (or whatever medium you’re exploring) earn your attention? Was it boring/exciting? Did it make you question yourself or your previous perceptions? Did it leave you with any questions at the end? Did it feel complete, or were there issues that an author should have explored better? Can you relate to the content, or was it something completely new?

After brainstorming, start writing a reflection paper outline. It could have full sentences or an alphanumeric format. In fact, students could make a simple table where they mention the main pillars of their future work. One column could include concepts, events, or lines from the text you’re reflecting on. The second column should include a brief summary or background, and the third one should list your impressions. There are no strict rules here, as this outline is for your eyes only. Its aim lies in simplifying your writing process. If the professor asked students to develop this outline, though, then they would need to make it more defined. See tips below.

How to Write a Reflection Paper Outline Officially

When students create outlines for submission, they need to follow the standard outlining the model. List all parts of your essay’s structure, such as the introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. This is what you should include in them:


Specify your theme. Mention the title or concept you’ll be discussing. It could be the name of the book/movie/song, emotion, experience, etc. Simple example:

“The loss of my grandmother.”

Summarize it. Write a line that summarizes the topic you chose for reflection papers. If it’s a book, summarize its plot briefly; describe it if this is an event from your life. A few words would suffice: this reminds you about your plans when you reach the writing stage.

“I lost my grandmother in 2018 to cancer.”

Add thesis. The thesis should be the last line of the intro that discloses the reason for your reflection. Here is an example:

“After losing my grandmother, I went through a stage of severe depression; I realized how senseless most of our arguments were and how valuable every day was.”


The main idea of your paragraph. Including an opening sentence here would be ideal. Such a sentence should describe the main point of your paragraph. One of possible reflection paper topic examples:

“When the phone call came informing me about my grandmother’s death, I immediately plunged into depression: I could not eat, smile, or move for days.”


Summary of reflection. Restate what happened quickly.

“Losing my beloved grandmother was an excruciating process that made me reassess everything.”

Lessons learned. Underline how you changed as a result.

“I try telling my relatives I love them after every conversation; I stopped wasting time.”

The Entire Writing Process Step by Step: Repetition of Old Stages + New Insights

We already shared relevant steps for writing an essay in our reflection paper guide. But there are more. Let us present you with all the stages you’ll need to cover on your way to crafting a great reflection!

Step 1: Find a topic & explore it. Settle on a subject you’ll be doing reflection on. Read/watch/listen to it/refresh your memory about it.

Step 2: Make notes. Write down your immediate thoughts & impressions as you immerse yourself in your subject.

Step 3: Brainstorm to understand your feelings. Ask yourself questions to stimulate your reflection capabilities. Think about your feelings on a chosen subject.

Step 4: Consider the impacts. Develop connections between your experience, feelings, and your current situation. In other words, illustrate what event happened, how you felt about it, and how it changed you.

Step 5: Create an outline. Write an outline before writing a reflective essay. Make it brief and give it any shape if you’re doing it for yourself; if the professor demands it, follow the official model we suggested above.

Step 6: Write & edit reflection. Write a reflective essay; then re-read it, correcting mistakes and typos. For this, read it aloud or print it. This way, all errors stand out more vividly.

Extra Tips for Writing an Awesome Reflection

Hopefully, you know how to write a reflective essay now. You learned all the technical aspects. But there are some writing tips that could make this process flow even more smoothly.

  • See examples of professional reflections. There are multiple online examples of different reflections. Look at them: get an idea of what a perfect paper should look like.
  • Choose an interesting topic. If students can choose their topic, they should go for something they truly like. Pick a favorite book or the most impactful life experience.
  • Consult AI tools. While nothing is better than human work, you should discover essay writing AI tools and see what they can do. They could give you unexpected ideas that reflection could benefit from. 
  • Keep it relevant. Stay on topic, even when describing something personal. Avoid over-focusing on background or irrelevant details.
  • Write gradually. It is better to write a reflection in several sittings when there is time. The topic might be emotional, but you need to keep everything concise and professional. Distance stimulates objectivity.
  •  Maintain an academic tone. Use a typical academic tone: no informal phrases or contractions.
  • Cite credible sources if needed. Cite articles if you take their info, but make sure they’re academic.
  • Hire editors. If English poses a problem, consider hiring professional editors who’ll proofread your reflection.

Example of a Good Reflection Paper Based on a Quote

We decided to share a brief reflection paper example to strengthen your understanding of this type of essay. It is written in response to a quote by a guest lecturer who visited students majoring in Psychology. This quote: “Even if it is strong and consuming, even if it is based on wonderful memories and history, sometimes love is just not worth it.”

Love is the most powerful feeling in the world, or at least this is what children hear as they mature. I always believed this sentiment, but then the guest lecturer said, “Even if it is strong and consuming, even if it is based on wonderful memories and history, sometimes love is just not worth it,” and my world turned on its axis. Looking at my parents, who never stop snapping at each other, I realized how toxic it is to believe that love can do anything. This quote helped me see the relationship between my parents in a new light and changed my perception of love.

The lecturer was a psychology major like me, and their view on love showed me the problem in my family. My parents love each other, I never doubted it: They have been together for twenty years, and they stayed together despite poverty, cheating, and illness. However, they are unhappy and have not been in a long time. They argue daily about trivial things; they are not interested in each other’s hobbies, and they cannot help but antagonize one another. For as long as I remember it, our home has been full of shouting, tears, and arguments. There are good moments, too, but as Jenson (2019) said, “If you are not happy, what is the point?” (p. 13). I never wanted my family to be separated, but as I reflected on it, I realized that this would be the best solution.

The lecturer made me reassess the situation with marriages on a global level, too. Over 70% of people admitted they are unhappy with their partners (Erikson, 2020, p. 55). Still, they stay in relationships despite this fact. From my own example, it only makes all parties involved miserable, including children. Love is not the most important thing when it mostly brings misery, and if more people realized it, the world could be healthier.

I am grateful for the opportunity to hear what the guest lecturer had to say. She made me understand that love is not always good and that it is better if people separate instead of staying and hurting each other. The lesson I learned after my reflection is that I need to talk to my parents and expose our unhappiness as a family unit. I am also going to be decisive in my own future relationships. If I love someone, but they do not make me happy, I will not suffocate myself because love is not always worth it.

Use Our Guide for Creating the Most Impactful Reflection

You learned what a reflection is and saw practical examples; you discovered which steps to write it and how to facilitate your writing process. If you pick a good topic, this essay could be extremely interesting to work on as it is your chance to express your thoughts about something. No wrong answers are possible: it’s a seductive perspective. Follow the tips we outlined in this guide, re-read our professional reflection paper sample, and start your project! Never hesitate to ask for help if you have more questions.