Reflection Paper Basics
Like book reviews, reflection papers offer a critical investigation of or response to a specific topic. In addition to responding to an idea, reflection writing requires you to apply your learning to real-world situations or experiences. These papers ask you to explore how the topic has shaped or changed your thinking and how it might impact other people, social groups, or cultures. Professors often ask for reflections because they want to encourage you to wrestle with difficult topics and develop your ability to articulate what you have learned. Marks of good reflections include: clarity of expression, critical analysis of the topic, clear progression and development of your thoughts, and an application of your learning.
Reflection papers follow standard academic writing procedures (this does not mean boring). This means that the paper is written in your own words, with proper credit given when quoting or referring to words or ideas from any relevant sources. The paper should also be written in good English, which includes proper spelling and grammar as well as prose that is free from informal English (slang, appeals to the reader, contractions, etc.). The text should be clear, coherent, and as concise as possible—wordiness does not equal scholarliness.
Matters to Consider in a Reflection Paper
The following tips are for writing reflection papers for class assignments here at Covenant. Always ask your professor about format preferences.
- Start with your prompt. Often your professors will ask for specific details, so you will need to make sure you are aware of those expectations.
- Consider your pronouns. Ask your professor if he or she allows first-person pronouns (I/we) or would prefer third-person (he/she/they).
- Have a specific goal in mind. Before you start writing, take a minute to brainstorm or outline a few themes you have picked up. This will help you organize all of your ideas into a specific purpose.
- Avoid summarizing. Assume that your professor and classmates are familiar with the topic.
- Engage the ideas. Avoid saying simply, “I agree,” or “I disagree.” Be critical, but respectful. Explain how the idea has challenged your thinking. Why is this idea significant?
- Ask yourself questions. This will help you apply what you have learned. Consider the following ideas: what do you agree/disagree with and why? what does this idea mean for you/Christians/different cultures/fill in the blank? how has this idea changed you/your relationship with God? how should you respond?
- Address the topic’s relevance. Why was this topic relevant for this class? How does it contribute to other class readings and discussions? How does it apply to your future ministry?
Format of a Reflection Paper
Unless your professor requests otherwise, the following conventions are recommended.
- Reflections should be concise. Although the page assignment may vary, you want to remain focused on your topic.
- The paper should be typed and double-spaced using a clear, non-ornamental serif font. Examples of acceptable fonts include Times New Roman or Palatino. The text of the paper should be set in 12-point type with footnotes in 10-point.
- Margins are typically 1″ on all sides.
- Only one space (not two) should be placed after the terminal punctuation of a sentence.
- Titles of books and other longer works should be italicized, not underlined. Titles of articles, essays, parts of longer works, or other shorter works should be enclosed in quotation marks.
- Research and Writing in the Seminary: Practical Strategies and Tools, by Diane Capitani and Melanie Baffes (McFarland & Company, 2014).
- “They Say/I Say”: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing, 3rd ed., by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein (Norton & Company, 2017).