In a previous article, we talked about narrative essays. A narrative essay is one which tells a story, and is usually written from the author’s point of view. Reflective essays are similar to narrative essays in that they’re typically written in the first person. But there are differences between the two. Let’s explore reflective essays a bit more, and look at a few examples.
What is a Reflective Essay?
A reflective essay is just that – a reflection. When you write reflective essays, your goal is to tell the world about something you’ve learned, or an experience you’ve had, whether you’re writing about remodeling your bathroom (and why not? Every house needs its own spa), leaving an abusive partner or achieving a major career goal.
However, these are slightly different from the narrative essay. The narrative will typically read like a story. You’ll have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and your narrator will usually serve as a protagonist.
A reflective essay is a bit more loosely defined. The essay may change depending on the audience, and there may not be a definitive end to the “story” you’re telling.
Reflective essays can be informal or formal. There are universities which list reflective essays as requirements in admissions applications. There are also opportunities to post reflective essays on blogs, for example.
Generally speaking, your reflective essay will briefly recount an experience, then will describe the lesson you learned from that experience. But unlike a narrative essay, the focus isn’t on telling the story. Instead, you’ll concentrate on the feelings you experienced, your outlook prior to the event and most likely how your outlook has changed as a result.
Reflective essays may sound simple, but they’re actually quite difficult to write at time. They’ll require deep thought and, you guessed it, reflection on your topic of choice. Properly written, though, they can be quite moving; writers of reflective essays can rival the most talented poets.
How to Write a Reflective Essay: Part One
If you’re tasked with writing a reflective essay, or if you just want to give it a whirl, there are a few ways you can get started. First, you’ll choose a topic. Your topic should be something that you feel emotion about. Writing a reflective essay about electric smokers just won’t work.
Dig deep. Was there something which caused you heartbreak in the past? Is there a scent which reminds you of your grandparents’ home? Have you experienced a coincidence which you couldn’t explain? Think of what evokes emotion in your own mind, and strive to pass that emotion along to your readers.
Next, you’ll need to think about your topic. And if we’re being honest, sometimes the best way to write a reflective essay is just to write. Sit down with your notepad, your tablet or your laptop – whatever will make your words appear. Now just write. You’re not aiming for MLA formatting here. You’re not even going for proper spelling. Translating your emotion to words is what’s important.
Once you’ve put your emotions into words, you’ll likely need to do a bit of editing. Read through your rough draft and correct all of those typos and double negatives. Ensure that your essay makes logical sense, and that the circumstances surrounding your experience are explained sufficiently.
Got it? Now it’s time to make sure that your reflective essay is, well, reflective.
How to Write a Reflective Essay: Part Two
In order for reflective essays to show reflection, they’ll need to answer a few questions. The beauty of these essays, though, is that you’ll get to choose what those questions are. There are many sites across the web which can provide ideas, but here are a few to get you started.
• How can my experience help others?
• How did my experience change my relationships?
• Did this experience translate to a bigger meaning in my life?
• What made this event so difficult?
• Why are my memories of this event so vivid?
• How did this make me realize that I was wrong?
• Would someone with a similar experience feel the same way?
• Why was this so unexpected?
Again, these are just a few examples of questions you may answer within your reflective essay. But it’s important to note that if you don’t answer these questions, your essay is likely a narrative essay.
Once you’ve written your essay and answered your questions, read your essay again. Then read it again, and one more time. Put yourself into the mind of your reader, and ensure that everything is explained. If you like, have a family member look it over.
Your thoughts should be clear and you should paint vivid imagery with your words. Your main point should be concise and apparent. And your reflective essay should aim to elicit emotion. It’s not easy, but you can do it.
What’s the Point of Reflective Essays?
Reflective essays carry much emotion and that’s part of their beauty. You can write about topics which are very personal to you; you can share your experiences and your knowledge with anyone you choose.
But you may be wondering why you’d ever need to write such a personal essay. As mentioned, you can use them in academics sometimes, or you can write reflective essays as part of a blog or even a private journal.
It may surprise you to know that many professions make use of the reflective essay. Therapists document patients’ progress through these, social workers can provide reflective essays as accounts of progress or digression in children, and there are many instances of reflective essays having been submitted as evidence by doctors or other professionals in a court setting.
That having been said, even if you have no professional or academic requirement to write a reflective essay, you may still choose to try it. They can offer many benefits to your own emotional growth. When you have a bit of free time, give it a shot. Writing reflective essays can be very rewarding, and who knows? You may learn something about yourself in the process.
Reflection in Global Health Essay Contest
What?An opportunity to submit an essay about your reflections in global health education and practice. This is the fifth annual CUGH Reflection Essay Contest that is co-sponsored by CUGH, Child Family Health International, University of Pittsburg Center for Global Health and Loyola University Chicago Health Sciences Division.
Who? Trainees from undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate levels and GH faculty/practitioners are eligible to submit an essay to the contest. We strongly encourage essay submission by trainees and global health practitioners/educators from low-middle income countries.
When? Submissions are due by midnight EST on November 20, 2017 (extended from Nov. 12)。 Decisions on winners and runner-ups will be announced on
December 20, 2017. A select group of winners will be invited to read their essays at the 2018 CUGH Annual Conference in New York, NY.
Where?Submissions should be emailed to email@example.com. Winners will be invited to attend and read their essays at the CUGH 2018 Annual Conference in New York, NY. However, attending the conference is not required to participate in the Essay Contest. Additional essays will be invited to submit for publication in the publication “Reflection and Global Health: An Anthology.”
How? Email essay submission with the structure and information in the instructions below to firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about how to write a reflective essay, additional resources can be found here.
Reflection is a powerful tool in global health education and practice. All current undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate trainees as well as GH practitioners are invited to submit essays to reflect upon the meaning and lessons learned from global health experiences. These may be in a research, educational, clinical, or service capacity. The impacts of these experiences on professional development and personal growth are revealed in new partnerships, insights into cross-cultural or ethical issues and ideas for change.
Click here for an example of writing prompts.
Click here to see essays previously selected for the Reflection in Global Health Anthology.
Requirements for Essays
- The essay must be written while the applicant fits into one of the three contest categories described below, must be the work of a single author, and must represent original work. Essays must not have been previously published in print or electronic format.
- Entries must be in English, at least 11 point font, doubled-spaced, and must not exceed 1,000 words.
- Essay should be written in Microsoft or OpenOffice document.
- Do not put your name or any other identifying information on the document. Mention of any other individuals in the document should conform to anonymity standards to ensure privacy.
- Include the title of your essay on all pages of your word document submission
- Only ONE submission per person.
- Essays not meeting all requirements will be disqualified from the contest.
Submissions will be judged in three separate categories:
- trainees (post secondary to post graduate levels,
- practitioner/faculty, and
- trainees for whom English is not the primary language.
Each essay is reviewed by two judges and scored on four criteria— originality/theme, composition, critical reflection, and impact. A third judge is asked to review the essay if there is a significant difference in the scores by the two judges. Authors will be anonymous to the judges. The finalists will be selected by members of CUGH's Essay and Education Committees. Essay finalists will be notified by January 15, 2018.
Monetary prizes of $500 and a waiver of the CUGH 2018 conference registration fee will be awarded to the three winners. A number of honorable mention essays will be selected for a special reading and recognition session at the conference.
How to submit
Send an email (including the below information) with your essay as an attachment to email@example.com
Please include the following information in the body of your email:
- First Name then Last Name
- Title of Essay
- Phone Number
- Email Address (reachable even after graduation)
- School/Sponsoring Institution/Training Program where enrolled or affiliated
- Degree Program (if applicable)
- Indicate category of submission (IMPORTANT!)
a. Trainees (undergraduate, graduate, post-graduate levels). Anticipated year of graduation
b. Practitioner/faculty. Please indicate years in practice and area of expertise
c. Trainees from low-middle income countries where English is not the official language
More information: Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
This contest is co-sponsored by Consortium for Universities in Global Health, Child Family Health International, Loyola University Chicago Health Sciences Division, and the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Global Health.