How to write a reflection paper

Students studying in the library

What is a reflection paper?

A reflection paper is an essay that requires you to express your opinion on a topic. In the paper, you will analyse and reflect upon how a book, experience or academic lecture shaped your thoughts and opinions on a subject.   

It is one of the only academic essays where you get to discuss your own opinion and, the best part is, there is no wrong answer.  

Types of reflection papers

There are two main types of reflection papers. The first type is experiential – which is an analysis of a personal experience or observation. In the paper, you will summarise and highlight underlying principles that support your analysis of the experience.  

The second type is textual. This type of paper analyses a written text, which can be an article, essay or book. Your opinion, analysis and interpretation of the material will be backed up using specific quotations. 

Tips on writing a reflection paper

Choose an interesting topic

Having an interesting topic is important for both you and the reader. Having an interest in what you are writing about will make the paper more enjoyable for you to write. An interesting topic will also make the paper more engaging for the reader.  

An example of a reflection paper theme is: how my views on pop music have changed over time.  

Keep information relevant

Typically, reflection papers are between 250 and 800 words long, and because of the short length it is important to only include relevant information. Avoid tangents and lengthy summaries to ensure you get your points across in the allotted word count.

Keep your tone professional

Although you will be talking about your thoughts and opinions, it is important to remember that writing a reflection paper requires you to use a professional tone suitable for an academic environment.  

How to write a reflection paper

Before you can begin writing, it is important to understand how to start a reflection paper. These simple steps will take you from beginning to end through careful planning and thorough analysis.  

Select a topic and summarise the material or experience

To begin your reflection paper, you must first decide on the topic you want to write about. Once you have done this, write a short summary about what you have learned from your experience with the topic. This can include memorable information or specific quotes, pre-existing thoughts and feelings and ways in which it has influenced you.  

Review and analyse the material

Once you have chosen a topic, you need to review and analyse the material. This will allow you to form coherent themes by looking deeper into the meaning and thought behind the text.  

Some good questions to ask yourself when reviewing and analysing material are: 

  • How has the material affected me? 
  • What have I learned? 
  • How does the material catch the reader’s attention? 
  • Are there unsolved questions or critical issues? 
  • How will the material affect my future thinking? 

These questions will help to streamline your thoughts and opinions of your subject. They will also ensure that your reflection paper flows and is well organised. 

Select a theme

After analysing the material, you can use what you found to select a main theme for your paper. To do so, you should find common points and arguments that incited strong opinions from your analysis.  

Choosing an interesting main theme is important as it will set the tone for your paper and will also make it more engaging for the reader. 

Make connections between your opinions

To give your reflection paper a coherent structure, you should make connections between our opinions. Doing so will give you a clear outline of what to include in the body paragraphs and will ensure your paper flows well.  

Write the paper 

The last thing you will need to do is write the paper. This should be done in three sections: an introduction, the body paragraphs and a conclusion.  

Express your opinions in a concise and academic manner and remember to proofread multiple times to avoid factual and grammatical errors.  

Reflection paper format

Despite unlimited subject options, the typical format of a reflection paper is the same for every essay. 


The introduction of your reflection paper will contain the purpose and topic of the essay. You will state the thesis of the paper and give the reader an insight into the reasoning behind your choice of topic. 

The main purpose of a reflection paper is to discuss your thoughts and opinions, so make sure you clearly state your feelings towards your subject. This must be done in a professional manner. 

In the introduction you can include a brief summary of the book, article or experience you are analysing and the themes and topics you are going to explore.

Body paragraphs 

The body paragraphs are where you will present an in-depth analysis of your thesis statement. In them you can include direct quotations and references, examples and supporting arguments.  

If you are reflecting on an experience, use the body paragraphs to introduce the experience, talk about how it has influenced you and what you have learned from it.   

Each body paragraph should introduce a new idea. It is best practice to start each paragraph with a topic sentence. This ensures your paper will have good flow and organisation.  


Your conclusion should summarise the ideas and opinions you have described in the body paragraphs. You should describe what you have learned through your analysis of the experience or text and areas for further learning.   

It is important to never introduce new ideas in the conclusion of a reflection paper. This section should only be used to restate your original thesis statement.   


If you include quotes or information from secondary sources, you will need to correctly reference them at the end of your reflection paper. This list will need to be formatted accurately to your university/organisation standard.   

Writing a reflection paper can be a common part of your university experience. If you are an international student looking to study a degree in the UK, Royal Holloway International Study Centre has a range of pathway programmes to prepare you for university study. As well as pathway programmes, you can also study our introductory Prepare for Success programme to further develop your study skills.  


How can you include references in a reflection paper?

Including references in a reflection paper is not mandatory. However, if you want to support your arguments using secondary sources you can do so by citing them correctly within the reflection paper text and including a reference list at the end of the essay.   

How long should a reflection paper be?

Typically, a reflection paper is around 250-800 words. However, the length can vary depending on your level of study and what you are studying.  

What does a reflection paper consist of? 

The format of a reflection paper consists of three parts. These are: 

  • The introduction – this is where you will state your subject of reflection and thesis 
  • The body paragraphs – here you will describe your subject including your thoughts, feelings and how the material has affected you 
  • The conclusion – a summary of what you have found out, bringing your arguments and opinions together to restate your original thesis.