Identify the main themes. In your notes, summarize the experience, reading, or lesson in one to three sentences. These sentences should be both descriptive yet straight to the point. Jot down material that stands out in your mind. Determine why that material stands out and make another note of what you figure out. For lectures or readings, you can jot down specific quotations or summarize passages. For experiences, make a note of specific portions of your experience. You could even write a small summary or story of an event that happened during the experience that stands out. Images, sounds, or other sensory portions of your experience work, as well. Chart things out. You may find it helpful to create a chart or table to keep track of your ideas. In the first column, list the main points or key experiences. These points can include anything that the author or speaker treated with importance as well as any specific details you found to be important. Divide each point into its own separate row. In the second column, list your personal response to the points you brought up in the first column.
Mention how your subjective values, experiences, and beliefs influence your response. In the third and final column, describe how much of your personal response to share in your reflection paper. Ask yourself questions to guide your response. If you are struggling to gauge your own feelings or pinpoint your own response, try asking yourself questions about the experience or reading and how it relates to you. Sample questions might include: Does the reading, lecture, or experience challenge you socially, culturally, emotionally, or theologically? If so, where and how? Why does it bother your or catch your attention? Has the reading, lecture, or experience changed your way of thinking? Did it conflict with beliefs you held previously, and what evidence did it provide you with in order to change your thought process on the topic? Does the reading, lecture, or experience leave you with any questions? Were these questions ones you had previously or ones you developed only after finishing? Did the author, speaker, or those involved in the experience fail to address any important issues? Could a certain fact or idea have dramatically changed the impact or conclusion of the reading, lecture, or experience? How do the issues or ideas brought up in this reading, lecture, or experience mesh with past experiences or readings? Do the ideas contradict or support each other?
PART II Organizing a Reflection Paper
Keep it short and sweet. A typical reflection paper is between 300 and 700 words long. Verify whether or not your instructor specified a word count for the paper instead of merely following this average. If your instructor demands a word count outside of this range, meet your instructor’s requirements. Introduce your expectations. The introduction of your paper is where you should identify any expectations you had for the reading, lesson, or experience at the start. For a reading or lecture, indicate what you expected based on the title, abstract, or introduction. For an experience, indicate what you expected based on prior knowledge provided by similar experiences or information from others. Develop a thesis statement. At the end of your introduction, you should include a single sentence that quickly explains your transition from your expectations to your final conclusion. This is essentially a brief explanation of whether or not your expectations were met. A thesis provides focus and cohesion for your reflection paper. You could structure a reflection thesis along the following lines: “From this reading/experience, I learned…” Explain your conclusions in the body. Your body paragraphs should explain the conclusions or understandings you reached by the end of the reading, lesson, or experience.
Your conclusions must be explained. You should provide details on how you arrived at those conclusions using logic and concrete details. The focus of the paper is not a summary of the text, but you still need to draw concrete, specific details from the text or experience in order to provide context for your conclusions. Write a separate paragraph for each conclusion or idea you developed. Each paragraph should have its own topic sentence. This topic sentence should clearly identify your major points, conclusions, or understandings. Conclude with a summary. Your conclusion should succinctly describe the overall lesson, feeling, or understanding you got as a result of the reading or experience. The conclusions or understandings explained in your body paragraphs should support your overall conclusion. One or two may conflict, but the majority should support your final conclusion. Part 3 of 3: As You Write
Reveal information wisely. A reflection paper is somewhat personal in that it includes your subjective feelings and opinions. Instead of revealing everything about yourself, carefully ask yourself if something is appropriate before including it in your paper. If you feel uncomfortable about a personal issue that affects the conclusions you reached, it is wisest not to include personal details about it. If a certain issue is unavoidable but you feel uncomfortable revealing your personal experiences or feelings regarding it, write about the issue in more general terms. Identify the issue itself and indicate concerns you have professionally or academically. Maintain a professional or academic tone. A reflection paper is personal and objective, but you should still keep your thoughts organized and sensible. Avoid dragging someone else down in your writing. If a particular person made the experience you are reflecting on difficult, unpleasant, or uncomfortable, you must still maintain a level of detachment as you describe that person’s influence. Instead of stating something like, “Bob was such a rude jerk,” say something more along the lines of, “One man was abrupt and spoke harshly, making me feel as though I was not welcome there.”
Describe the actions, not the person, and frame those actions within the context of how they influenced your conclusions. A reflection paper is one of the few pieces of academic writing in which you can get away with using the first person pronoun “I.” That said, you should still relate your subjective feelings and opinions using specific evidence to explain them. Avoid slang and always use correct spelling and grammar. Internet abbreviations like “LOL” or “OMG” are fine to use personally among friends and family, but this is still an academic paper, so you need to treat it with the grammatical respect it deserves. Do not treat it as a personal journal entry. Check and double-check your spelling and grammar after you finish your paper. Review your reflection paper at the sentence level. A clear, well-written paper must have clear, well-written sentences. Keep your sentences focused. Avoid squeezing multiple ideas into one sentence. Avoid sentence fragments. Make sure that each sentence has a subject and a verb. Vary your sentence length. Include both simple sentences with a single subject and verb and complex sentences with multiple clauses.
Doing so makes your paper sound more conversational and natural, and prevents the writing from becoming too wooden. Use transitions. Transitional phrases shift the argument and introduce specific details. They also allow you to illustrate how one experience or detail directly links to a conclusion or understanding. Common transitional phrases include “for example,” “for instance,” “as a result,” “an opposite view is,” and “a different perspective is.” Relate relevant classroom information to the experience or reading. You can incorporate information you learned in the classroom with information addressed by the reading, lecture, or experience. For instance, if reflecting on a piece of literary criticism, you could mention how your beliefs and ideas about the literary theory addressed in the article relate to what your instructor taught you about it or how it applies to prose and poetry read in class. As another example, if reflecting on a new social experience for a sociology class, you could relate that experience to specific ideas or social patterns discussed in class.
Sample Outline for Reflection Paper
The first section of the outline is the introduction, which identifies the subject and gives an overview of your reaction to it. The introduction paragraph ends with your thesis statement, which identifies whether your expectations were met and what you learned. The thesis statement serves as the focal point of your paper. It also provides a transition to the body of the paper and will be revisited in your conclusion. The body of your paper identifies the three (or more, depending on the length of your paper) major points that support your thesis statement. Each paragraph in the body should start with a topic sentence. The rest of each paragraph supports your topic sentence. Keep in mind that a transition sentence at the end of each paragraph creates a paper that flows logically and is easy to read. When creating the outline, identify the topic sentence for each paragraph, and add the supporting statements, evidence, and your own experiences or reactions to the subject underneath. The conclusion wraps up your essay, serving as the other bookend in stating and proving your thesis statement. In outlining the conclusion, identify the thesis statement and add the main points from the body paragraphs as a recap. Don’t add new information to the conclusion, and be sure to identify the closing statement of your reflection paper. A sample outline format should reflect the main points of your paper, from start to finish: 1. Introduction
1. Identify and explain subject
2. State your reaction to the subject
2. Did you change your mind?
3. Did the subject meet your expectations?
4. What did you learn?
3. Thesis Statement
2. Body Paragraph 1
4. Topic Sentence
5. Supporting evidence 1
6. Supporting evidence 2
7. Supporting evidence 3
3. Body Paragraph 2
5. Topic Sentence
8. Supporting evidence 1
9. Supporting evidence 2
10. Supporting evidence 3
4. Body Paragraph 3
6. Topic Sentence
11. Supporting evidence 1
12. Supporting evidence 2
13. Supporting evidence 3
7. Recap thesis statement
8. Recap Paragraph 1
9. Recap Paragraph 2
10. Recap Paragraph 3
11. Conclusion statement
Sample Reflection Paper
Country Music: The Second Time Around
I used to despise country music. I hated everything about it: the slow background instrumentals, the corny lyrics, the big hair. I didn’t know who the singers were and felt like I had nothing in common with them. I owned a dog, but I didn’t know anyone with a pickup truck. I had had my heart broken, but I didn’t cry any tears into my beer. Adding to the misery was the fact that I had a part-time college job at a radio station that played nothing but country music. Fast forward 20 years, and country music didn’t sound so bad any more. Did I change, or did the music change? The answer was both: the music improved, and I gained some life experience. As a college student, I had only lived in the Northeast, spending my entire life in Connecticut. As a bedroom community of New York City, my hometown was quiet yet somewhat sophisticated. There were small boutiques, family-owned seafood restaurants, and a couple of good community theaters that attracted some top-flight talent in the region. Everyone looked to Manhattan for their cultural inspiration, and ranchers, cowboy hats, and open spaces were absent from the music and general lifestyle. Western life was a continent away, and I didn’t think I could stand being a part of it. Following college, I had the opportunity to move to San Francisco, still a sophisticated city that had no open spaces or ranches.
Once I crossed the Bay Bridge and started exploring the East Bay, I discovered a bit of ranch life. Just a few miles away from my son’s school were several ranches, their locations made even more obvious by the ranchers who strode into the town’s smoothie store, wearing their 10-gallon hats, well-worn cowboy boots, and spurs. They were real spurs and a necessary part of their job. Surely, I thought, he was lacking in sophistication. I was wrong again. In talking with him, I learned he had a graduate degree in animal husbandry from a major university and ran his ranch at a profit, using as much technology to manage it as he needed. Myth number two was busted. Western life was not a bucolic way to hide from the real world. It was at the core of our world. This quiet rancher provided a good portion of the local meat for the region, a complex and ongoing responsibility. The last barrier to fall was revisiting country music itself. Granted, the genre had fused with rock and pop quite a bit, which made the transition a bit easier for me. The lyrics were modern, the rhythm was more infectious, and the singers were my age or younger.
My journey to musical Damascus was completed when stuck in a traffic jam in Berkeley. I wanted out. I wanted some fresh air, and I switched from the news station to the country station. I even opened my driver’s window, unashamed to share my musical choice with the hipsters of the college town. I became curious about the roots of country music and started exploring the legacy singers: Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, June Carter, Merle Haggard. Their songs, which I had spurned and muted while I worked at that country station in the late 1970s, had new meaning. I had met the people they sang about, saw the land, and had gained a new perspective and respect for the people who live in that wonderful, vast portion of the United States that stretches under the big skies of the West. Not only did they sing about Western life, but they also sang about everyone: people who hurt, loved, lost, and exulted in their lives. While the music had changed, I had changed more. In re-examining my view of country music, I had to take the long road. A change in residence, new experiences with people who represented the core of country music’s meaning and message, and reopening my mind all played a part in awakening a true appreciation for the genre. It was no longer corny; it was real. More than simply allowing me to add to my musical repertoire, it allowed me to be unafraid to take a second look at other preconceptions I carried.