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Reflection Papers

Reflection Papers

Author: Meghan Hatalla

This learning packet will review:
- The purpose of reflection papers
- How to reflect on personal experience in a reflection paper
- How to offer a personal perspective on the main idea
- How to incorporate insights into a reflection paper
- How to write for an intended audience
- How to incorporate examples and anecdotes

Reflection papers can be among the hardest things to write despite the subject being the thing you know best in the world--yourself, and your own experiences. This packet uses a series of writing exercises to pry out a reflection full of sensory detail, anecdotes, and which is placed in a larger context.

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What is a reflection paper?

Reflection papers are usually assigned for a few different reasons. They might part of a free writing assignment, or they might an assignment to review coursework, injected with your own experiences.

Whatever the reason you've been assigned a reflection paper, the common components include:

  1. Reaction to something (introduction)
  2. Feelings associated with that reaction (body)
  3. Analysis of why you reacted and felt that way (conclusion)

The purpose of a reflection paper is to dig deep into the subject matter, and see what comes out of it. Don't force any sort of absolution, or try to tie up your reflection in a neat package--as Judith Barrington says,

Don't shortchange the reality of life in which significant events are rarely put aside in a moment of insight, but continue unfolding into the future.

Source: Meghan Dusek, Judith Barrington

Reflective Writing in a Computer-Generated Nutshell

An alternative style of presenting some ideas for reflective writing. They talk a bit fast at times, but it gives great rationale for reflective writing as well as structural advice.

Your Gut Reaction

You've probably heard it during test preparation: you're first reaction is usually the right one. The same is true when writing a reflection paper--the difference is that there is no right or wrong reaction. As long as you can support your reaction by identifying your feelings and bringing those two sections together in the analysis section, you're on the right track.

When writing your reaction, it's important not to use this section to summarize what you read or have done. Reflection papers, at their core, are little more than formalized journal entries. Avoid informal language, but you don't need to keep it strictly academic, either.

Think of reflection papers like paintings (or, if you're a Shrek fan, like an onion). Paintings are completed and enhanced through layers (like onions); your reaction is just one layer of the reflection, to be enhanced by your feelings and analysis.

Getting at Your True Feelings

Your feelings for the paper can be hard to recognize--after all, you're drawing on your entire life for inspiration--and you have to analyze them as well.

The slide show contains a few ideas for how to look at your experiences from an out-of-the-box way to provide you with not only feelings, but a jumping-off point for analysis:

Slide 2: Graphing
Slide 3: Framing
Slide 4: Listing

While these prompts are personalized to an extent, keep your focus on the assigned subject. If it's a personal reflection, then delve into introspection. If you're reflecting on a certain subject, focus on a particular passage or quote that intrigues you--then apply one of the prompts, and see where it takes you.

Source: Meghan Dusek

Tying It Together

Once you've identified your feelings and what prompts them, the analysis section should explain why you feel the way you do in relation to the subject.  In most cases, you won't be downgraded for lack of breadth in your discussion, but rather a lack of depth. This is the part of the paper where you'll demonstrate a true understanding of the situation or material by displaying a wider knowledge on the subject.

Other tips:

  • It's important to let the subject drive this analysis portion of the paper rather than your feelings.
  • Don't assume that your reader will simply "pick up" your meaning.