Your instructor just told you that your next writing assignment will be a reflective essay.
Reflective essays are about you, so you go home and take a good long look in the mirror.
Before you start writing about what you see on the surface, keep in mind that a reflective essay involves more than just a cursory glance. It requires taking a deeper look at yourself, stepping through the looking glass, so to speak, to discover and show important parts of yourself to your readers.
Image by sammydavisdog via flickr
Below, I’ll show you how to create a killer reflective essay outline, and I’ll even give you a downloadable template you can use to make your own outline.
What Is a Reflective Essay and How Is It Different from Other Essays?
So you may be asking yourself what a reflective essay is exactly. You’ve written many other types of essays for many different classes, so how is this any different?
First things first… a reflective essay is one in which you reflect on your personality, places you’ve been, people you’ve met, or experiences that have influenced you. This type of essay lets you tell the reader who you are and what/who has made you that way.
Unlike most other types of essays you may have written, reflective essays typically don’t deal with researching facts and figures. They are much more personal in nature and can be more fluid in structure and style.
It can be tempting to just jump right into writing, but hold on! A good reflective essay can be a great reflective essay with the proper planning.
Using a Reflective Essay Outline to Organize Your Thoughts
The goal of any essay is to write clearly and concisely about whatever topic you choose or are assigned. Unfortunately, with reflective essays, some people tend to get a little disorganized and start sounding like the Walrus, talking about anything and everything in no particular order.
Don’t be like the Walrus!
Using a reflective essay outline can help your writing in a few ways
- An outline can help lay out exactly what details you want to use before you start writing. This is tremendously helpful because you won’t end up on your last paragraph and suddenly realize that you forgot to include a crucial element or two.
- An outline gives you a clear roadmap instead of curvy paths and dead ends. You don’t have to wonder what’s supposed to come next because it’ll all be in the outline. In other words, you won’t have to spend time “in Wonderland.”
- Because you can look at your reflective essay outline and follow it as you’re writing, ultimately you’ll save some time in your writing. Second-guessing what comes next, in what order the supporting details should go, or going back for big revisions because you forgot something important are all wastes of time.
Are you convinced yet that creating a reflective essay outline is the best option?
Good! Now let’s get to actually making that outline!
How to Craft a Good Reflective Essay Outline
Because the subject of reflective essays is different from that of, say, an argumentative essay, the structure and organization can also be quite different. However, some rules still apply. To start organizing, your reflective essay outline should include sections for the introduction, body and conclusion.
For the purposes of giving examples, let’s say Alice just got back from her adventures in Wonderland and is working on a reflective essay outline to tell about her experience there.
Image by Jessie Wilcox Smith via Wikimedia Commons
As with any essay, your reflective essay should begin with an introduction. The parts of your introduction to include in your outline are:
- The hook: you want to grab your reader’s attention from the very start. If you’re telling about an experience, give a quick preview of the most exciting part of that story.
- The thesis statement: In a reflective essay, the thesis statement will usually include a brief statement of what your essay is about as well as how the specific person, place, or experience has influenced you. You will expand on this later, so don’t give away too much in the beginning.
Alice’s introduction might go something like this:
I don’t know how I had gotten myself into such a mess, but I found myself running down a seemingly endless path with the Red Queen’s entire court shouting, “Off with her head!” I had long yearned for adventure and excitement, but my time in Wonderland made me realize that adventure comes with some serious risks.
The next part of your outline is perhaps the most important. Without your reflective essay outline, the body can get muddled and confusing. I can’t tell you exactly how to organize the body of your essay because every essay is going to be different. However, I do have a couple of tips.
- If you are writing about an experience or an event, use a chronology that makes sense. It doesn’t have to be completely linear, but if you jump around in the timeline too much, it can confuse both you and the reader. Laying out the important parts in the outline will help you figure out in what order to put everything.
- No matter what you’re writing your reflective essay about–an experience, person or place–you should include the impact it has madeand what, if anything, you learned. This should be at least as long of a section as the description of the event, person or place. It’s what shows off who you are and it’s what the reader will be most interested in.
The body paragraphs of Alice’s reflective outline may look something like this:
- Following the white rabbit down the rabbit hole
- Description of what happened
- Learning to look before I leap
- Meeting the Caterpillar
- Description of what happened
- I learned how to control my size
- I started to realize just how strange the people were in Wonderland
- Mad Tea Party
- Description of what happened
- Although a lot of fun, the tea party was very stressful
- The people I met were progressively crazier
- Croquet with the Red Queen
- Description of what happened
- It’s very hard to play croquet when the other person is cheating and threatening to behead you
- It was at this point when I realized that Wonderland had no rules, and that a world without rules is insane
As you can see, Alice’s timeline includes different events within the entire experience and with a moment of reflection on each. The final lesson learned is the epiphany–the aha! moment.
Your outline does not have to look just like this. It could be a summary of the entire experience, followed by what you learned from it. Like I said, every essay is different.
The conclusion of your reflective essay should be the finishing touch that brings the whole piece of writing together nicely. Include a brief summary of your main points (as stated in the body paragraphs), as well as the overall takeaway from your reflection.
For example, Alice’s conclusion would be similar to this:
The White Rabbit, Caterpillar, Mad Hatter, and the Red Queen are certainly faces that I’ll never forget. They each contributed to the sheer madness of Wonderland. But those people–that madness–made me thankful for the peace and security of my own home and family and its rules.
More Resources to Help with Your Reflective Essay Outline
I hope you have a better understanding of why and how to draft a good outline. To give you a bit of extra help, here’s a downloadable reflective essay outline template.
Reflective Essay Outline Template.
This outline template follows a 5-paragraph format, but you can add paragraphs and rearrange the body paragraphs to fit your needs. Just fill in the blanks with your own information, and you’ll be one step closer to a stellar essay.
Need more inspiration? Check out these reflective essay examples.
If you’re looking for topic ideas, check out 15 Reflective Essay Topics to Inspire Your Next Paper.
Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.
Reflective Essay Component of the Senior Thesis Exhibition 2018
Guidelines for Seniors
The capstone experience for the studio art major is the Senior Thesis Exhibition (STE). For the exhibition, each senior major selects and presents a body of work representing the culmination of study in the studio arts. Effective with the class of 2012, the department has added a writing requirement to the STE and thus to the major: a short essay.
The process of formulating the essay will encourage each student to reflect upon their experiences and growth as a studio art major and provide a means for them to think seriously and communicate effectively about their own artwork as they prepare for their exhibition. The essay will be used, in coordination with the exhibition of work, as a tool for evaluating the student’s capstone experience.
Content. Artists’ writings cover a wide range of styles and intents including a cryptic stream of consciousness, a politically charged manifesto, a delicate poem, a humble statement of intent or a scholarly essay. In art, writing may be highly structured–as in a theoretical paper–or much more informal. Members of the art department agree that the reflective essay is seen as a culmination of the writing experience in the major and may take many forms. Throughout the studio art major students may write statements of intent, critical evaluations, analytical papers, response papers, journals and/or descriptive or expressive essays. Because there is no standard convention of writing within the arts, students may explore a broad variety of writing in context to their work, including, but not limited to the following examples:
An artist statement explains, justifies, and contextualizes an artist’s work. Artists often maintain and revise these statements throughout their career and may be required to submit the statement to apply for graduate school, residencies, exhibitions, or grants. An artist statement is not a biography but might include biographical information pertinent to the concept/process of the work.
A self-reflective essay critically analyzes the experiences of why and how:
- the student’s choice of classes or faculty has influenced or impacted their artwork.
- the student’s ideas may have changed over the course of four years due
to exposure to new tools, mediums or ideas.
- the influence of art historical perspectives, information and ideas are manifested in the student’s work.
A process essay may focus on the tools, processes and/or techniques a student has chosen and the impact those choices have had on the student’s work.
It is expected that students will write papers that are well-crafted, concise, clear, consistent in style and grammatically correct. The Writing Center is available to students for help with these issues and students are encouraged to take advantage of this service.
Length. The essay should be 100 to 1000 words on one or two sheets of 8.5 x 11-inch paper, typed, and in 12 pt. legible type. This format requires that you be concise with your thoughts and words. (for example, this document is approx. 1200 words.)
Timeline. During the first senior meeting in the FALL the faculty will present and discuss the reflective essay component of the capstone experience. Within the two weeks following the meeting all senior art majors must confer with a potential faculty advisor for the essay. Essay Advisor Forms will be available at the meeting and must be returned to the art office with the faculty member’s signature (by the date specified at the meeting). Faculty are advised to work with no more than five seniors each year. The faculty member’s primary role is to help students with content and effectiveness. Meetings between advisors and students will be dictated by individual progress and requirements. The department recommends that outlines are completed by the end of the fall semester and first drafts are completed by February 23. The final essay is due to the faculty advisor by April 23. Students should make use of the Writing Center for help with structure and grammar. Label information is due to the Art Department Office April 30.
Grading. A single grade of pass/fail will be assigned for both the essay and the exhibition since the STE is a noncredit bearing requirement for graduation. Essays will be read and evaluated by the faculty advisor. Any essay considered failing would be discussed with the student in time to rework and improve it. If a student is unsuccessful, the advisor will notify the department Chair by April 30. All pass/fail essay grades will be documented during the grading of the Senior Thesis Exhibition. Some essays may be discussed at the grading of the STE.
START YOUR ESSAY AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. As you make your work take notes, write outlines, do research, keep a journal. Allow yourself time to develop, alter and correct your writing as your work changes and progresses. Your Faculty Essay Advisor will advise on content. Mechanical/structural problems should be discussed with the Writing Center.
Consider the following rubric as you work:
FOCUS, PURPOSE, THESIS - The essay should contain:
- a major, easily identifiable and sophisticated idea that relates to your art
- in-depth understanding and thoughtful, unique explorations of the topic
- inventive, original content which is colorfully and thoroughly articulated
- a strong voice which demonstrates a full understanding of the ideas and how they are essential to your work
- evidence of research that is integral with the student’s own interests
A problematic essay might be confusing in its major ideas, lack insight, clarity or originality. Ideas may be general, not explored to full potential or predictable. There may be a simplistic view of the topic, be difficult to understand and lack effort or comprehension.
STRUCTURE AND ORGANIZATION of the essay should:
- be evident, understandable and appropriate for the thesis
- set up an introduction and bring thoughts to a conclusion
- move logically from idea to idea and point to point
A problematic essay might have passages that are unclear or lacking insight. There might be too much or too little information. The structure may wander, jump around or be non-existent.
SUPPORT AND DEVELOPMENT of the essay should:
- use examples to support ideas without factual errors
- clearly synthesize knowledge from other fields into studio practice
- carefully document ideas and quotations
A problematic essay might only refer to sources common to studio arts and use weak or too few examples. Documentation of ideas and quotations may be lacking or only occasional. There may be no references or examples to support opinions and ideas.
MECHANICS AND PRESENTATION of the essay should:
- use appropriate and sophisticated vocabulary and terminology
- have correct grammar, sentence structure and punctuation
- show evidence of editing and proofreading and formatting
- use active voice where possible
A problematic essay might use limited and inappropriate vocabulary.
There may be errors in grammar, spelling or punctuation. There may be run-on sentences.