A reflection paper is a type of essay in which the author is expected to analyze something that s/he has experienced and the impact of that experience has had. In some cases, the subject matter will be quite limited. For example, an instructor may direct students to begin writing a reflection paper on a book they have been reading in class, on a specific subject that has been covered, or on their overall experience in the class. In other instances, the assignment might be very open-ended. The instructor may simply tell the students to select a life changing event from their pasts and write a reflection paper about those events. College application essays are a good example of an open-ended reflection paper. It isn't very difficult to learn how to write a reflection paper. It just requires a little bit of self-awareness, and a willingness to explore one's emotions.
The first thing to do is decide on the reflection paper format. If you are new to this form of essay writing, it may be best to begin with an introductory paragraph that simply and objectively describes the experience on which you will be writing. For example, if you are going to focus on summer volunteering in a third world country, your introductory paragraph might like something like this:
"I arrived at the volunteer campsite in the early part of summer. It was hot, humid, and almost stifling. Big changes were in store for me – changes that shattered my little protected world back in suburban America. We woke before 5:00 every morning and were asleep after 11:00 every evening. During the day, we built a new orphanage, served lunch to men women and children in the village, and taught conversational English. I made friends from around the world who I still speak with today. I witnessed events that made me extremely happy, and I witnessed events that were absolutely heart breaking."
After the introductory paragraph has been written, the body paragraphs can be used to explore parts of the experience and their impacts on the writer. Here, you have a couple of choices. You can focus on the entire experience and its overall personal impact, or you can focus on one or two specific experiences. Using the example above, the writer might choose to focus only on the events that were heart breaking or only the events that were found to be uplifting. One way to determine the best course of action is to apply the 'who cares', test. It's a great way to determine which events really caused an emotional impact. If the answer to the question 'who cares?' indicates that the event still has an emotional impact, that event warrants inclusion in the reflection paper.
Finally, as you learn how to write reflection paper, remember that it is okay to explore negative emotions. It is perfectly acceptable to write a reflection paper on an event that made you frightened, sad, or angry. The point is that you are writing a reflection of your true emotions, and not what you believe others think you should feel. Negative emotions won't result in a bad grade, and they don't reflect poorly on the writer. In fact, if there is an emotional reaction to avoid writing about, that emotion is apathy. If a life event doesn't stir up emotions, or has not had a life changing impact on you, it may be best to move onto another subject. If you are unable to find a different subject, you are either pretty stoic or insulated. In those cases, it may be best to imagine what the emotional impacts might be on another person and attempt to write from that person's view point.