The Dos and Don’ts of a Reflective Essay

In college, many professors require a reflective essay, even if your course is not connected to journalism or literature. Such essays are used to further hone a student’s critical thinking and writing skills, abilities which may be of help should a student pursue further studies in the future.

Although the reflective essay is not as difficult as a term paper or thesis, it may still pose a challenge to certain students. If this is you, read on to learn what you should and should not do in your essay.

What to do

In a reflective essay, you are often asked to point out something of significance you learned from a particular lesson in class, movie watched, or experience (field trip, experiment, or something personal from the past).

  1. Add sufficient descriptive details

To make things clear to your reader, you need to include the important details of what affected you. This may be particular action sequences, dialogs, or feelings you had at the time. Without them, the reader might not be able to relate to what you are sharing.

  1. Organize and analyze your thoughts well

A reflective essay is still a formal one that should have an Introduction, Body, and Conclusion. It should not be in a diary form where you just write random thoughts, assuming that the reader can figure things out.

  1. Connect it to lessons learned in class

A reflective essay is often assigned because it connects to something discussed in class. Thus, in your essay, find ways to include information learned as part of your analysis.

  1. Focus on the most significant aspects to share

Although you might have a lot of insights to share, just focus on a few to give your paper more depth. If you try to explain everything, you will run out of time, and it will show in your paper. Choose between two or three main lessons and focus on them.

What not to do

  1. Do not include too much personal detail

Some students go overboard when narrating the events that happened. They might discuss the entire event from beginning to end, add in too much dialogue, or share unnecessary information that nobody needs to know.

Not only does this take a long time and create an excessively long essay, but your reader might also just be distracted by everything said.

  1. Do not write until you have planned things out

Another common mistake is to begin writing without planning. Doing so will cost you much more time as you will quickly realize that your paper is going nowhere.

You should first outline the significant things you want to share and the classroom lessons you want to include before you write. This will keep your writing focused, allowing you to finish faster.

  1. Do not use informal language

Even though it may be a personal reflection, it is still an academic paper. Ensure your language use is formal (no slang or cuss words).


Reflective essays are a chance to further elaborate your thoughts on a particular school lesson or experience. Though not as technical as other academic papers, there are still important things to do and certain mistakes to avoid so that your essay is worth reading.