Integration Reflection Essay Thesis

How to Write a Reflective Essay

rodrigo | March 15, 2013

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This guide looks at writing a reflective essay. A reflective essay is a relatively new requirement in some subjects, and requires the writer to think about their experience in a way which relates that experience to relevant theory and which may also involve questioning how you typically do something. Such an essay should integrate theory with personal or group practice, and often involves identifying the learning outcomes of a situation. Reflective essays are generally written about an area of professional practice relevant to the author, for example nurses might look at how they interact with patients on a ward. Reflective essays tend to be shorter than standard academic essays, and the use of ‘I’ or ‘we’ is acceptable (in contrast to normal academic style).

This link examines the differences between standard essays and reflective essays.


The Link Between Theory and Practice

Reflective essays are a way of understanding how theory can relate to practice. This means you need to approach writing such essays in a particular way:

  • Be aware of the need to relate practice back to theory. How did events compare with the predictions made by theoretical models?  How can events help you to understand theory?
  • Learn to be selective: pick out those bits of theory which seem useful, and be prepared to identify the relevant parts of the events you are writing about
  • Discussion with others can help you throw light on events and relate theory to practice
  • Because reflective essays involve writing about your experience, it is good practice to keep a personal journal to document events and your reactions to them.

Writing Style for Reflective Essays

·         It’s normally fine to use the first person in reflective essays, as you are talking about your own experience, for the parts where you are describing what happened. However, in parts of the essay where you are discussing theory, your style should be appropriate.

·        Even when using ‘I’ and ‘we’, try to avoid being overly emotional or subjective.   Aim to use descriptions that everyone can understand in a similar way.

·        When writing about your experiences use the past tense (“I felt…”). When writing about theory use the present tense (“Jones suggests that…”)

Models of Reflection

There are a number of models of reflection upon practice which you can use to structure your reflective essay. It’s recommended you  use the one suggested by your tutor. A commonly used model is Gibbs’ (see figure 1)

The six stages of the model can be used to shape your essay:

  • Description: what happened?  Set the scene, explain the context and who was involved. Describe the key incident you are concerned with
  • Feelings: how did you feel about what happened? In contrast to a standard academic essay, you are expected to explore your emotions about the event. Bring out changes in feelings, for example during the event and afterwards. But be careful here not to be offensive, keep an academic distance in your style of writing.
  • Evaluation: this means looking at the incident / practice. How did you react? How did others react? What was positive and negative about the event?  What changes happened as a result of the event (if any). This is a good stage to discuss any relevant theory.
  • Analysis: this section should develop from the evaluation. You will look in more detail at different aspects of the situation you are reflecting upon. You should also engage with theory here, applying it to the event.
  • Conclusion:  here you make decisions about what happened – what could you have done differently? What did you do well?  How could you  have improved things or avoided negatives?
  • Action plan: this means planning what needs to be done to improve things in the future. Is there something you need to learn, training you need to do, or systems to be set in place?


University of Leeds (2013) ‘Reflective writing: Difference between essay writing and reflective writing’, [online] (cited 13th February) available from

Differences between standard essays and reflective essays

University of Reading (2013) ‘Reflective Writing’, [online] (cited 13th February 2013) available from

University of Salford (2013) ‘Re­flective writing: Study Basics Series’, [online] (cited 13th February 2013) available from


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Category: Essay Writing Guide

The seven papers we examined from the lower level English classes also ranged from the low C to the high A range. As expected, the lower end papers were often full of grammatical and other structural errors. Other faults such as not discussing quotations and unclear ideas were also prevalent in these papers. Most of the topics in the lower level involved structural and thematic analysis of defined literature. Students generally form the essay around the identification of techniques employed by the author and, subsequently, the effect and potency of the technique. Although the literary techniques are "learned in class" the essays actually have a very personal structure because of the personal reasoning behind the analysis. Instead of using the work of established critics to support their claims, students of lower level English classes are asked to use their own judgment and are graded accordingly on its strength. This element makes lower level English papers, essentially, very personal.


therefore, to integrate personal voice into a lower level English paper is generally, whenever you need to make a point. Voice is not necessarily as blatant as an "I" statement, but it is clear that throughout the essay, the student’s own thoughts and reflections are being represented. The papers that achieved higher grades generally earned them because of the strength of the logic supporting the personal statements and claims.

In upper level English papers, however, things get a little more complicated. Personal judgement can no longer be the sole ground for warrants and claims. Often, incorporating at least one outside source into an essay is necessary. Usually these sources take the form of refereed journal articles. Of the seven upper- level English papers we looked at, six utilized some sort of outside source to support an idea. However, when relying on the ideas of others to support claims, personal voice can easily be lost. The author writing the paper can be hidden under the ideas of her chosen source if she simply reiterates the most relevant pieces of them. We noted this phenomenon in two of the papers we looked at. Neither of the papers went into thoroughly analyzing the meaning of the source’s material. It is simply inserted into the essay with the apparent belief that it either explains or is supportive of the thesis on its own. Some professor’s comments on these papers actually point this error out and the authors have most likely learned of the value of incorporating their personal voice into an upper level paper.


to integrate voice into an upper level paper can be contrasted to when it is integrated in a lower level paper. While it is still used when making a point or to support a claim, when to integrate becomes a little more complicated. The personal voice must now (whether subtly or not) be used to tie in the outside sources to the paper’s thesis. It may also include the author’s personal biases for validity and, consequently (as noted in some papers), higher grades.

When interviewing professors about our topic of voice integration into upper and lower level English papers, we were pleasantly surprised with their general accordance of our theory. One said that what we believe is "generally true" but that a "good student uses critical thinking {many teacher see personal voice as synonymous with this} right from the first year". He did not agree that all first year papers are a simply about "students going off on a tangent about some aspect of "Heart of Darkness". Of course, there must be some structure behind the use of personal voice for a paper to achieve a passing grade but we still believe that the personal voice is the essential element forming these English papers.

Journals in the field of English not only supported our theory about voice incorporation; the six different articles we researched also broadened our definition of personal voice. These articles, chosen at random off the shelf, proved to show a very broad range of nakedness in personal voice. In some, voice is very "academic" and does not venture into the blatantly personal ("I" statements etc.); in others, voice comes through almost in a story-telling way. Generally, we conclude that the type of personal voice used is related to the topic the paper discusses. For example, an article on the experience of teaching long distance through computers would be expected to have a very personal tone; an article about the relevancy of shadows in "Native Son" however, is not obliged to be so intimate. Since we are using articles as a gauge of what is expected in a particular discipline, we have concluded that, in English, the extent of when personal voice should be used depends on the topic of the paper.


One of the two issues over which students, like ourselves, were still pondering, even after Our conclusions as to the importance of voice incorporation into upper-level essays, was one surrounding the idea of where, in the actual text it is considered ideal to incorporate one’s personal voice.


Of the seven, upper-level Sociology essays that we examined, most (five) used a similar format as to the actual physical location of personal analysis and voice in the essay’s body. These five papers followed a similar style in that they placed their exegeses before their personal analyses. Some students devoted the entirety of the first half of their essay to a ‘rehash’ of the topic material, whereas others would do a paragraph of exegeses and then a consecutive paragraph in which they analyze that particular section of the material. For example, if writing about Marx’s perspective on workers’ alienation one student may summarize the entire perspective before finally analyzing it in its entirety in the second half of his essay. Another student, on the other hand may take smaller sub categories, like modes of production, explain them in a paragraph, and then analyze this sub-category before going on to explaining the next. Although these two styles are somewhat different, they still constitute a similar style in that they define the issues before they challenge them. The minority of the student essays examined (two), used an interesting but somewhat difficult style of incorporating personal voice. This format was one where the personal voice is heard throughout the entire text, from beginning to end; almost every sentence or point is given a personal edge, without losing points for validity. This is done by meshing the theoretical material, like Marx’s theory of workers’ alienation, with one’s own throughout one’s paper. This is a rarity in under-graduate work.

The two professors that were interviewed commented in agreement with the rarity of the latter format, and often find it difficult to mark. In these cases it is sometimes strenuous for the professor to determine whether the student is arguing his or her own points or using others’ and claiming them as their own. Overall, though, the teachers emphasized the point that there are various ways to incorporate one’s personal voice and analysis, and that the strategies can be as diverse and personal as one’s actual voice. Both, however, did mention that the inclusion of one’s personal thoughts, and voice in the conclusion to an essay often proves rather effective, but it should not be the only place in one’s essay where the voice shines through.

A similar pattern is found with regards to the sociological journal articles. Every journal article that we examined had extensive use of personal voice in the concluding paragraphs. Also, the complex format of incorporating voice and personal analysis throughout the entire text is more prevalent among post-graduate academia. The standard format practiced by the majority of ‘A’ students in upper-level Sociology courses, where personal voice is used after summarizing other perspectives, is also, however, an acceptable one. The largest difference between upper-level under-graduate writing and the articles from the journals is that the students often use their personal voice, and analyses to support the perspective of other theorists, whereas the authors of the journal articles most often use theoretical background to support their own, new, findings. Overall, however, the journal articles demonstrate the fact that there are many ways to incorporate one’s personal voice into the writing process; as long as it is done in a logical and coherent manner, then it is deemed acceptable.


The area of where to incorporate personal voice is somewhat covered in when to integrate personal voice. Generally, personal voice should be inserted or visible wherever a point has been made. Lower-level student essays that did this successfully got higher grades than those who did not. Also, two of the lower-level papers included personal voice in the introduction and conclusion. One did so more relevantly and, therefore, more successfully than the other did.

In the upper-level papers, where is a similar, but apparently broader, issue. Not only is personal voice still consistently seen in the joining of sources to the thesis and in the raising of important points, it is also seen in conclusions and introductions, often introducing or explaining the author’s personal biases on the topic at hand. In one of the upper-level papers we examined, the author briefly mentioned his "utterly capitalistic viewpoint" and was commended by the teacher (with a checkmark) for doing so.

Professors we talked with about our topic did not really touch on specific placement of personal voice. One mentioned that "it [placement of personal voice] is something students are forced / compelled to learn as they go through [university]". This belief concerns us as we think that learning where to incorporate voice into an essay is actually easier to learn than many believe.

Journal articles generally mirror the patterns seen in the upper-level papers. The placement of personal voice is varied throughout the articles. Some papers rely on it as a story telling element and others use it only as needed to connect relevant issues.


The final prevalent question that arose in our research dealt with the actual style or formality of voice incorporation into upper-level papers. Students are often torn between so-called ‘formal’ language, and more personal, or ‘informal’ language, such as the use of the first person.


Among the essays examined from the upper-level Sociology courses, we found little to no use of informal language. There were very little I’s, and even fewer we’s and us’s included in the students’ texts. The personal voice is thus sometimes difficult to decipher. Of the ‘A’ papers, we found a total of three sentences written in the first person; all three of these sentences were included in the concluding paragraphs. The lack of the first person use in student essays can be, at least in part, attributed to an overall fear of informality and the consequences that may arise. More subtle ways of incorporating personal voice include statements such as "it can thus be concluded that…", "one can compare this to…", "an example of this could be…" or "perhaps this needs clarification…". These are all, however, rather tentative statements, but such statements are given as personal suggestions to the reader, and should not to be confused with solid facts.

The professors actually reflected the bulk behind the student fears of informality. Both professed that I’s can be somewhat dangerous if not used properly, and that the more formal ways of expressing personal voice should be used to a larger degree. The odd I statement is acceptable, but it is definitely not acceptable to use it throughout the entire essay; however, this does depend on the assignment and on its context. An obvious example given by both professors where the use of informal language such as I is used concerns assignments such as essay proposals, and research proposals. Another interesting point that was brought up by one professor, is that of personal interest. If a student is obviously very personally interested in the topic at hand, which can be demonstrated through effective use of personal voice, then I’s somehow become more acceptable. For instance, if one were to write a paper on the effects of First world politics on Third World peoples, and this particular individual happened to be an inhabitant of the Third World, then personal experience, and the use of informal language may actually enhance the efficacy of the essay.

The use of informal language is very prevalent in the journal articles, which we analyzed. When discussing theoretical background and hypotheses, formal language is most often used; but when it came to stating one’s own arguments I and we are used extensively. In the concluding paragraphs, where it was before mentioned that most personal voice was perceived, the first person is used in numerous sentences. Another informality that often arises in the concluding paragraphs, which in turn often allude to personal voice, is the occurrence of questions. We have found this to be a result of new questions coming out of new conclusions. The author may not have even considered these questions at the onset of the paper. She may have set out to answer a particular set of questions, and by the time she finishes, a whole new set has arose.


How to integrate personal voice into an English essay can basically be described as the different form voice takes on in different essays. As mentioned before, the lower-level writers of the papers we examined generally use a very subtle personal voice. Phrases like "it is believed that" and "a reader on finds" are noted in practically every one of these essays. "I" forms of personal voice are mostly absent and we believe this to be attributed to the general fear of creating an informal paper. The use of the personal voice is often connected with informal writing (Couture, 1986). Probably, this common assumption is what prompts lower-level students to use a more discreet personal voice.

In upper-level writing this discreetness can also be seen. Six of the papers we examined employed it throughout the entire essay. However, other forms of integration are also apparent. Usually, the topic of the paper dictated the degree of subtlety. The most obvious personal voice we examined was in an upper level, A-, paper contrasting a student’s own experience in India to the novel "The God of Small Things". This essay contained phrases such as, "when I noticed", "became apparent to me" and "I now realize that"; all phrases are very personal and, therefore, considered by some to be very informal. However, the prominent personal voice in this essay is quite relevant and the paper would probably not have been as effective had it employed a subtler tone.

How personal voice is integrated into an English essay, therefore - again, depends mainly on the nature of the topic. If the topic is personal in nature, the form of personal voice should be overt. In a more formal essay, where the topic is not so close to the writer, the personal voice can be more distant.

One of the professors we interviewed said, "later on, as students begin to read the work and opinions of others, the ways that personal voice should be written become quite apparent." While this comment does make our study seem a little trivial, we were not disheartened by the view it contained. We believe that discovering accepted methods for the integration of personal voice can, for many students, be much more difficult than simply reading the work of others. Often these works are not perfectly applicable to the topic a student would like to tackle.

The journal articles we looked at, though, did illustrate a great variety in the degree of how personal voice is utilized. Similar to what we saw in the upper-level, high-grade papers, the topics of these articles dictated the form of personal voice to be used. "I" forms are noted in the articles involving personal experience and subtler forms when the topic is distant from the author’s personal experience.



In the social sciences, namely Sociology, the third and fourth years of study are distinguishable from the first and second in the sense that personal analysis of arguments made by other academic stances should now be incorporated into essays. The humanities, such as English, on the other hand, use personal voice as a base for writing within the first and second years of study, and ask that scholarly perspectives be incorporated into an essay, as the student reaches their third and fourth year.

We were rather surprised to find that the end result of four years of academic study in either English or Sociology yields a rather similar essay style and structure in that voice incorporation as well as other theoretical approaches is important in the production of a competent essay. Other academic resources are used in both disciplines to substantiate one’s own perspective and analysis of the given material or text.




Atwater, Lynn. The Anonymous Essay as Symbolic Interaction Between Sexuality, Professor, and Student.

From Teaching Sociology, 1987, Vol.15 (July: 250-256).

Cleary, L. (1991). From the Other Side of the Desk: Students Speak Out About Writing. Portsmouth, NH:


Couture, B. (1986). Functional Approaches to Writing: Research Perspectives. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Daiker, D., and M. Morenberg. (1990). The Writing Teacher as Researcher: Essays in the Theory and

Practice of Class-Based Research. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.

Tompkins, Jane. (1999). "Me and My Shadow." From The Fourth Genre: Contemporary Writers of/on Creative Nonfiction (1999) MA, USA: Allyn and Bacon.

Numerous journal articles from Sociology and English

Numerous student essays from the University College of the Cariboo

Teachers interviewed for research purposes: Juliana Momirov (Sociology), John Cleveland (Sociology), Peter J. Murphy (English), and Genevieve Later (English).

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