How to Write a Reflection Paper in Geology: Step-by-Step Instructions for Students

Writing guide
Posted on May 7, 2020

A reflection paper may be an unusual type of task for geology students, but you cannot be sure your professor is not going to assign you one. If you have never written such an assignment before, it may be a bit difficult to pin down what is expected of you. Reflection papers share features with a number of other academic assignments: descriptive essays, argumentative papers, critical articles and personal essays to name a few. However, they form an individual type of academic work in its own right.

The primary purpose of a reflection paper is to express your thoughts, ideas, impressions or emotions about something. This ‘something’ can vary – it may be a book or another kind of text, a scientific theory, a personal experience, an event, a natural phenomenon, the information you learned during your geology course or something else entirely. The important thing is not the subject matter but how you discuss it. You do not just describe it but give the account through the prism of your perception and opinion. In this sense, a reflection paper is much more personal than most other types of academic work: you can freely use the personal pronoun ‘I’ and do not have to back up your every word with irrevocable evidence (although it is always welcome).

Beginners often find writing reflection papers tricky, especially in disciplines like geology that do not easily lend themselves for this sort of work. The purpose of this guide is to teach you the foundations that will help you write your own paper of this kind.

How to Write a Reflection Paper in Geology: What to Do Before You Begin

1. Select a Suitable Topic

Do not be misguided by the word ‘personal’ in the description of reflection papers. It is personal in the sense that your individual thoughts and ideas are its centerpiece – it does not mean that you can forgo all the common principles of academic work and choose to write about something completely unrelated to the course. The topic you choose should be relevant for your current course – you are expected to refer to the literature you have been reading as a part of it, or the lectures themselves. Therefore, even if you are given freedom to choose your topic, you still have to work within the confines of what you currently study.

A strong reflection essay finds a way to bridge your comprehension of the information you learned as a part of your course and your experiences. In geology, it may be, for example, your participation in fieldwork or a lab experiment.

Try looking for a topic you will not be tired to write about – although a reflection paper is usually a short assignment, it is always easier and more rewarding to work on a topic you are genuinely interested in. The results are better this way, as well.

Here are a few topics you can use as examples:

  • My Participation in a Geological Survey and How It Changed My Perception of Nature;
  • Geothermal Energy: Why I Believe It to Be the Most Promising Renewable Source of Energy;
  • How Learning about Yellowstone Supervolcano Persuaded Me to Choose Geology as My Major;
  • Geology in Solving Ecological Issues: What We Can Do Today;
  • The Role of Fossil Fuels in Global Economy.

One of the ways to choose an interesting topic is to pick a fascinating issue that arose from the course you study, your individual reading, discussion in class or fieldwork and connect it with your personal experience outside of school.

2. Steer Your Writing with Well-Selected Questions

If you do not know where to start and what direction your reflection essay should take, start asking yourself questions to clarify it for yourself. Some of the most important ones include:

  • What did you learn from the experience, both about yourself and about geology?
  • Did your experience fit well in the context of your course?
  • What do you know about the topic? Where does this knowledge come from? What influenced your opinion on the subject?
  • How did the experience influence your pre-existing ideas and views? Did it reinforce or challenge them?
  • In what ways did the experience help you better understand the topic?

3. Write a Thesis Statement

Your thesis statement expresses the main idea behind your paper, explains what you intend to write about. The rest of the paper simply develops and expands on this initial thought. Unlike research papers, reflection assignments usually lack a single controlling idea but are more argumentative and exploratory. You do not have a thesis that you want to prove. You have a general idea and study it, looking where this is going to take you.

Anyway, a thesis statement should be:

  • Short (one or two sentences);
  • Straightforward (clearly understandable terminology, no ambiguous words or expressions);
  • Focused (it should express a single idea).

4. Plan the Structure of the Paper Beforehand

Before you get to writing per se, prepare a plan or outline where you jot down a short version of what you intend to cover in each part of the paper. Normally, the structure of a reflection paper goes as follows:

  • Introduction. Consists of an opening sentence aimed at attracting the reader’s attention and setting the tone, and a thesis statement;
  • Body paragraphs. Here you cover your ideas on the subject in an organized manner: introducing one idea per paragraph and logically connecting them to each other;
  • Conclusion. In a reflection paper, it does not necessarily have to be conclusive. As you do not try to prove a particular point, here you may simply identify gaps in the existing knowledge, point out questions that arise as a result of your experience or how it challenges your prior assumptions.

How to Write a Reflection Paper in Geology: The Process of Writing

1. Mistakes to Avoid

When it comes to reflection papers, students tend to make the same mistakes over and over again.

  • Failing to connect their experience or thoughts with the course material. Remember, you not just have to recount your ideas, you have to do it in the context of what you currently study;
  • Lack of focus. Although reflection papers are personal, it does not mean that you can write a stream of consciousness without form or structure. You still have to provide viable argument, organize your writing around critical points and logically connect them to each other;
  • Lack of evidence. Reflection papers do express your personal experiences and thoughts, but it does not mean that you can simply say “I believe so and so”. Explain why you do and how your formed your viewpoint. Geology is a fact-based science, you cannot get away with statements without evidence.

2. Specifics of Body Paragraph Structure

In a typical research essay, body paragraphs follow a strict and rather formal pattern. Each of them introduces a single idea that supports the thesis statement, and it in turn is backed up with a few sentences containing supportive evidence. A reflection paper gives its author more freedom. It is still preferable to limit each paragraph to a single idea, but your primary purpose is not to prove a point but to explore a topic, all the while integrating your own experiences with the course content.

3. Focus on What Is Important

You do not have to recount every little detail of your experience. When you think whether to include something, ask yourself if it is really necessary to make your ideas on the subject obvious. Focus on a few truly important points and cover them at length, one at a time. It will produce better effect than trying to mention everything while constantly jumping from one aspect to another.

4. Specifics of Tone

While a reflection paper is more personal and less formal than the majority of other academic assignments, it still has to follow the same basic rules, with some additional variations.

  • Just like in all the other academic works, you cannot use jargon, slang and informal language. Contractions are best avoided as well;
  • Differently from most other types of academic writing, you can use the first person pronoun ‘I’ and its forms;
  • If you recount a personal experience that involves other people or organizations (for example, if you write about fieldwork or work placement), you should maintain confidentiality and anonymity of all involved. Replace names with pseudonyms and mask the factors that may identify them.

5. Write the Body Paragraphs First

The introductory paragraph usually takes but a small portion of a paper, but it determines the direction in which the rest of your paper is going to proceed. As you start writing, it may not be immediately obvious, and you may find it necessary, halfway through, to get back and rewrite it. To avoid unnecessary hassle, simply skip it to begin with and start writing with the body paragraphs. You will have an opportunity to get back to the introduction and write it already knowing what you learned from investigating your thoughts on the subject.

How to Write a Reflection Paper in Geology: Finishing Your Assignment

1. Check Formatting and Compliance to Citation Style

Different citation styles require you to organize and format your writing in dramatically different ways, so make sure you know which of them you have to use. If you cannot see clear instructions in your assignment, clarify this point with your professor – it is not something you can easily correct later on.

2. Check Word Count and Cut the Flab

Don not exceed your word limit. Even if you fit into it, try shortening your paper – your purpose is not to use the allowed number of words, but to express your thoughts in as concise a manner as possible. You can do it by:

  • Simplifying your language. Do not use two words where you can use one (e.g., write ‘regularly’ instead of ‘on a regular basis’, ‘while’ instead of ‘during the time that’, ‘twice’ instead of ‘on two separate occasions’);
  • Using active voice. It not just gives your writing a more dynamic feeling but also shortens it;
  • Removing adjectives and adverbs. Often you can do it without affecting the meaning of the sentence.

3. Check Grammar, Syntax and Spelling

Many students believe that using a word processor makes manual proofreading unnecessary, and they are completely wrong. While in-built spell- and grammar checking tools as well as their standalone analogues can be useful in detecting more obvious blunders, they can easily lull you into a false sense of security. For example, a spellchecker will not help you if you mix up two similar words with different meanings (e.g., ‘insulation’ and ‘installation’). As for grammar checkers, they are very bad at analyzing complex sentences, often miss obvious mistakes and vice versa.

4. Recognize Editing and Proofreading Fatigue

In other words, do not try to edit or proofread your paper when you are tired. This is a good reason to aim at finishing writing a few days before the deadline so that you can take a break and get at the task with renewed strength and full attention. If you try proofreading immediately after finishing the paper, you are bound to miss a number of mistakes.

5. Take a Structured Approach

Proofreading means not just reading your paper in search of mistakes. Take a more organized approach. Divide the process into parts and go through the text multiple times, on each pass concentrating on a single problem. Depending on the mistakes you typically make and the topic of your paper, these may include:

  • Grammar;
  • Spelling mistakes;
  • Incorrect abbreviations and acronyms;
  • Missing or misplaced punctuation marks;
  • Leaving a reference in the bibliography after you removed the relevant quotation from the text;
  • Confusing singular and plural;
  • Etc.

Writing a reflection paper in geology is by no means easy, but we hope that with the help of this guide you will be able to handle it!

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