At first glance, academic and reflection can sound like contradictory concepts. Writing an academic reflection essay often involves striking a balance between a traditional, academic paper and a reflective essay. In order to find this balance, consider the terms that encompass the title of the assignment
The term “academic” suggests that the writer will be expected to observe conventions for academic writing, such as using a professional tone and crafting a thesis statement. On the other hand, the term “reflection” implies that the writer should critically reflect on their work, project, or writing process, depending on the assignment, and draw conclusions based on these observations.
In general, an academic reflection essay is a combination of these two ideas: writers should observe conventions for academic writing while critically reflecting on their experience or project. Note that the term “critically” suggests that the writing should not merely tell the reader what happened, what you did, or what you learned. Critical reflection takes the writing one step further and entails making an evaluative claim about the experience or project under discussion. Beyond telling readers what happened, critical reflection tends to discuss why it matters and how it contributed to the effectiveness of the project.
Striking the proper balance between critical reflection and academic essay is always determined by the demands of the particular writing situation, so writers should first consider their purpose for writing, their audience, and the project guidelines. While the subject matter of academic reflections is not always “academic,” the writer will usually still be expected to adapt their arguments and points to academic conventions for thesis statements, evidence, organization, style, and formatting.
Several strategies for crafting an academic reflection essay are outlined below based on three important areas: focus, evidence, and organization.
A thesis statement for an academic reflection essay is often an evaluative claim about your experiences with a process or assignment. Several strategies to consider for a thesis statement in an academic reflection essay include:
- Being Critical: It is important to ensure that the evaluative claim does not simply state the obvious, such as that you completed the assignment, or that you did or did not like it. Instead, make a critical claim about whether or not the project was effective in fulfilling its purpose, or whether the project raised new questions for you to consider and somehow changed your perspective on your topic.
- Placement: For some academic reflection essays, the thesis may not come in the introduction but at the end of the paper, once the writer has fully explained their experiences with the project. Think about where the placement of your thesis will be most effective based on your ideas and how your claim relates to them.
Consider the following example of a thesis statement in an academic reflection essay:
By changing my medium from a picture to a pop song, my message that domestic violence disproportionately affects women was more effectively communicated to an audience of my classmates because they found the message to be more memorable when it was accompanied by music.
This thesis makes a critical evaluative claim (that the change of medium was effective) about the project, and is thus a strong thesis for an academic reflection paper.
Evidence for academic reflection essays may include outside sources, but writers are also asked to support their claims by including observations from their own experience. Writers might effectively support their claims by considering the following strategies:
- Incorporating examples: What examples might help support the claims that you make? How might you expand on your points using these examples, and how might you develop this evidence in relation to your thesis?
- Personal anecdotes or observations: How might you choose relevant personal anecdotes/observations to illustrate your points and support your thesis?
- Logical explanations: How might you explain the logic behind a specific point you are making in order to make it more credible to readers?
Consider the following example for incorporating evidence in an academic reflection essay:
Claim: Changing the medium for my project from a picture to a pop song appealed to my audience of fellow classmates.
Evidence: When I performed my pop song remediation for my classmates, they paid attention to me and said that the message, once transformed into song lyrics, was very catchy and memorable. By the end of the presentation, some of them were even singing along.
In this example, the claim (that the change of medium was effective in appealing to the new audience of fellow classmates) is supported because the writer reveals their observation of the audience’s reaction. (For more about using examples and anecdotes as examples, see “Nontraditional Types of Evidence.”)
For academic reflection essays, the organizational structure may differ from traditional academic or narrative essays because you are reflecting on your own experiences or observations. Consider the following organizational structures for academic reflection essays:
- Chronological Progression: The progression of points will reflect the order of events/insights as they occurred temporally in the project.
Sample Chronological Organization for a Remediation Reflection:
Paragraph 1: Beginning of the project
Paragraph 2: Progression of the remediation process
Paragraph 3: Progression of the remediation process
Paragraph 4: Progression of the remediation process
Paragraph 5: Progression of the remediation process
Paragraph 6: Conclusion—Was the project effective. How and why? How did the process end?
- By Main Idea/Theme: The progression of points will centralize on main ideas or themes of the project.
Sample Organization By Main Idea/Theme for a Remediation Reflection:
Paragraph 1: Introduction
Paragraph 2: Discuss the message being translated
Paragraph 3: Discuss the change of medium
Paragraph 4: Discuss the change of audience
Paragraph 5: Was the change effective? Explain.
Paragraph 6: Conclusion
Remember that while these strategies are intended to help you approach an academic reflection paper with confidence, they are not meant to be prescriptive. Academic reflection essays are often unique to the writer because they ask the writer to consider their observations or reactions to an experience or project. You have distinctive ideas and observations to discuss, so it is likely that your paper will reflect this distinctiveness. With this in mind, consider how to most effectively compose your paper based on your specific project guidelines, instructor suggestions, and your experiences with the project.