A college reflection paper allows you to communicate your thoughts and reactions to a book, an article, a film, a lecture, or any piece of course material. This type of essay may also describe and analyze an experience – volunteering, internship, observation, or learning. For example, a course reflection paper can be assigned at the end of a course to determine how impactful and useful it was for you.
Just as it is with any other new type of paper, it may sound a bit confusing. How is a reflection paper different from a review or a response paper? Analysis essay? This blog will answer these questions and show you how to write a college reflection paper on all sorts of things – from a book you have read to your own personality traits.
What is a reflection paper?
To better answer this question, let’s try to define what reflection paper isn’t:
- It isn’t a summary or a book or film (you must also provide your thoughts on it)
- It isn’t a review (you only tell about your experience – not make assumptions about how others may react to the same)
- It isn’t a mind dump (there must be a central idea behind accounts of your impressions and a structure to your writing)
The main goal of a reflection writing paper assignment is eliciting your informed opinion on the course materials and see how they have influenced your interpretations. That is why reflection essays contain three levels of discussion:
- Objective – you recount what you have observed and analyze it.
- Subjective – you give a personal account of how the experience/reading has influenced you, how it made you feel and what you have learned.
- Metacognition – you analyze why you felt what you felt, how you processed the new information, and how it transformed your way of seeing the subject.
General Recommendations on Writing a Reflection Paper
- A reflection paper is a type of academic essay, so it should be organized accordingly. Write an introduction giving some context to your reading/experience and explaining your expectations. In the body, detail the experience and your response to it. Use the conclusion to summarize how the text/experience has changed (or reinforced) your perceptions.
- Your paper should be centered around one main idea, expressed in the thesis statement. Summarize in one sentence your transition from expectation before the experience to your thoughts on it afterward. Put your thesis at the end of the introduction.
- Describing your experience, don’t focus on summarizing it. Put an emphasis on your response to it: how did it change the way you think about certain things, what ideas have you take out of it, and how you intend to apply them in the future. Otherwise, you risk writing a narrative essay recounting the events.
- As with any other academic paper, it’s necessary to maintain a certain level of formality. That said, it’s okay to use personal pronouns and write in the first person since you will describe your experiences and response to them. However, refrain from colloquialisms and casual language. For example, write, “I enjoyed it very much” or “It was an unparalleled experience” instead of “It was terrific.”
- For experiential reflection (about an internship, volunteering, course, etc.), it is vital to maintain the anonymity of the people involved – clients, colleagues, classmates. Use aliases instead of real names, and be careful not to give away identifying details about people.
How to Write a Reflection Paper Example by Type
Now let’s look into the particulars of writing certain types of reflective papers since they all have unique characteristics.
How to write a reflection paper on an article
Article reflection is probably the most popular assignment in the college, and for a reason. A scholarly article can be naturally incorporated into the curriculum. It’s also relatively easy for students to integrate main themes from the article into their classroom experience since they are closely related. Moreover, an article doesn’t take much time to process, so several such assignments can be made within a semester. Here are some tips:
- In the introduction, give some necessary information about the article: its title, name of the author, date of publishing, the course, and the purpose of the reading.
- Don’t overuse quotes. Try to describe the main ideas as terse as possible and instead focus on your understanding of them.
- If you have to quote, cite the article properly in APA format or any other recommended by your instructor or your school’s writing center. Remember, it’s a formal paper, not a blog.
How to write a self-reflection paper
Self-reflection (or personal reflection) paper looks at the experiences that shaped your character, made you realize something important, or instigated growth. This is what you should remember when writing a reflection paper about yourself:
- This is not an autobiography, so be very selective. Focus on one event that has radically changed your perspective. Alternatively, you can describe several events spanning years, if they all contributed to forming a particular character trait relevant in the context. For example, if you analyze your tendency to risk-aversion for a psychology class, you can write how it amalgamated from a variety of your life experiences.
- Describe the essence of the events briefly. Otherwise, you risk getting into narrative territory. Remember that it is an analysis rather than a story.
- Try to be as concrete as possible. Instead of saying that the event was “life-changing,” demonstrate how you started handling certain situations differently due to the insights this experience has brought you.
How to write a reflection paper on a movie
This type of reflection paper is probably the most challenging for students. They tend to write reviews rather than reflections and even rate the movie, instead of exploring their impressions. Here is how to avoid it:
- Start with the assumptions you had before watching the movie based on the genre, the cast, the director, marketing materials (poster, trailer, tagline, etc.) With what expectations have you started? Were these expectations met? Why? Why not?
- Remember that you should analyze your thoughts and responses to the movie rather than the film itself. If something shocked, irked, or delighted you, ask yourself, “Why?” What life experiences underpin your response?
- Even a light entertainment can be an invitation to philosophy reflection that will spark a meaningful conversation, so don’t be dismissive. Even if the movie in question doesn’t raise any timeless questions, you can still mine for things to analyze based on your response. For example, it perpetuated some harmful misconceptions, and it bothered you. Alternatively, a movie has left you indifferent; it was boring. How should the audience react to this genre, in theory? Why do you think your response was different?
How to write a reflection paper on a book
A reflection paper on a book has more to do with you than with the book analysis, regardless of whether it’s a monograph exploring a scholarly topic or a work of fiction. To avoid this confusion, some instructors ask students to write a reflection on a chapter taken from the book at random rather than the entire piece. Here is how to approach this assignment:
- Give only the essential information about the book: title, author, publishing date, genre, main themes it explores.
- Briefly describe with what expectations you approached the reading based on the title or other works by this author.
- Use your expectations as a starting point for the analysis of your impressions. Were they met? Were you surprised instead? If you have found the book entertaining/disturbing/bland, think why it was so. What does it say about you? And so on.
We have covered several most popular types of college reflection papers, but there are many more. If you want to learn about a particular type not covered here, consider ordering a sample.