A reflective essay is a type of paper in which the writer uses personal experience to reflect on an idea or past event. This type of essay can range from informal to formal, depending on the reason and context in which it is written. It is often used to mark the end of something: an event, a class, or a project, for example. The writer does not simply reflection on a past event, however; he or she interprets what the event means.
There is generally not a specific format for a reflective essay; however, the typical five-paragraph essay format may be useful as a way to organize one's thoughts. For example, the first paragraph could include the introduction, in which the topic of the essay and the thesis statement are introduced. This paragraph should usually be interesting enough to draw readers in so that they continue reading the rest of the essay. To illustrate, if the essay is being composed about the completion of a class project, the introduction should include an explanation of what the project was, and the thesis statement should then include what the student learned through the completion of the project.
The next part of the five-paragraph essay format is the body. This generally makes up the majority of the essay and provides supporting evidence for the thesis statement. Using the example of an essay written about the completion of a project, the body would include paragraphs that explain in more detail what was learned during the project. Examples of how the student learned may be presented, as well as interpretations of those examples. These paragraphs may include facts as well as personal insight.
The final paragraph of a reflective essay is the conclusion. In this paragraph, the thesis statement is generally restated. Following this, the conclusion summarizes what the rest of the paper has been about and may suggest implications of the experience. It should be also be a summary of knowledge the student has gained, as well as knowledge the student may recognize is still lacking after the experience.
Self-assessment may be another way to categorize a reflective essay. Another example of when a reflective essay may be written is when applying for a scholarship. In this case, applicants may be required to reflect on the reasons they deserve the scholarship. This may incorporate not only personal experience but outside data, such as statistics. A reflective essay may look inward, but its goal is still to persuade the readers of the writer's point of view.