How to Write a Reflection Paper in Nutrition and Dietary Studies: All You Need to Know

Writing guide
Posted on August 5, 2021

A reflection paper deals with your reactions to and impressions of its subject matter, which can be anything: an article, an experience, a theory of nutrition you just learned, anything. It occupies a middle ground between less formal/more superfluous types of academic writing of this kind (like a reaction paper or a review) and more formal and detailed assignments (like a research or analytical paper). You are free to reflect on the subject matter, cite your experiences, use the knowledge you already have, but the focus is on your personal impressions, not the information you can find or produce through detailed analysis. In other words, you can (and are even encouraged) to be subjective, but you should lay a firm foundation for your subjectivity.

This type of writing is quite important for a discipline like nutrition and dietary studies. As it is permanently divided between the representatives of conflicting theories, you have to be particularly careful about understanding where your own ideas come from and to what degree they are based on personal predispositions and assumptions rather than facts.

Writing a reflection paper may seem like quite a complicated task, especially the first time you do it. To ease your way into it, we have prepared this guide.

How to Write a Reflection Paper in Nutrition and Dietary Studies

1. Brainstorm a Topic

Unless your professor already gave you a specific task, you will have to think of a topic for your reflection paper on your own. However, choosing what to write about when nothing narrows your scope down can be difficult and time-consuming. Here are some practices that can make this process faster and easier.

  • Write down all the ideas that come into your head, without slowing down to decide whether they are good, bad or silly. Produce as many of them as possible. You may give a nudge to your creativity by setting a timer and challenging yourself to write down as many ideas as possible in 10 (20, 30…) minutes;
  • Skim through your textbooks or lecture notes. Pay attention to whatever stands apart and think if it inspires you to write about something;
  • Use mind mapping – a technique involving writing the ideas down on a sheet of paper and visually connecting them to better understand how they relate to each other.

2. Narrow the Topic Down

The topic you eventually settle down on should be:

  • Neither too broad nor too narrow. I.e., you should be able to satisfactorily cover it without exceeding your word limit on the one hand and having to bloat the paper to reach the minimal accepted size on the other hand;
  • Well-known to you. In a reflection paper, you primarily depend on your own knowledge and experience. While you can use outside sources of information, you should not research the topic from scratch to reflect on it;
  • Interesting to you. Your reflections on something that bores you will bore the readers as well.

You should end up with something like this:

  • My Experiences with Intermittent Fasting;
  • Not All Calories Are Created Equal: Why Excess Weight Cannot Always Be Explained by Calorie Intake Only;
  • Proper Nutrition and Its Role in Cancer Prevention;
  • High Protein Diets: Personal Observation and Impressions;
  • LCHF Diet: Yet Another Fad or the Right Approach to Nutrition?

3. Outline Your Paper

Some students prefer to form a general idea of the paper in their heads and simply jump into action without bothering to further organize their thoughts before writing. This approach may work for smaller and less complex assignments, but it may not be the best choice for a reflection paper. While it is a more personal type of writing than most other academic papers, you cannot just spill the contents of your head onto paper and expect it to form a meaningful flow of reasoning. You have to follow a structure.
In an outline, you list all the important parts of your future paper and specify what you write in each of them: how you grasp the reader’s attention in the first sentence, what amount of background information you provide, what points you cover in body paragraphs, what conclusions you make and so on. The amount of detail does not matter – the important thing is to know ahead how to proceed at each stage of writing.

4. Write a Thesis Statement

A thesis statement is a short, straightforward, unambiguous statement of the primary idea you want to express in your paper. It is usually placed in the introductory paragraph, providing focus for the rest of the paper. In case of a reflection paper, it describes what you learned from your experience/reading, why you agree or disagree with the idea you reflect on, with what expectations you entered the experience and how your expectations compared to reality.

How to Write a Reflection Paper in Nutrition and Dietary Studies: Writing

1. Introductory Paragraph – Providing Background

The first paragraph of your reflection paper should lay the groundwork for the rest of the text. Try making the first sentence interesting and attention-grabbing to ensure that the reader gets invested in reading the paper to the end. In a reflection paper, the introduction is typically used to describe your expectations before the experience and to specify your views, beliefs and ideas before it (especially if you had to review them in the light of what you read/saw/took part in). Introduce your thesis statement in the end of the introduction.

2. Body Paragraphs – Offering Your Impressions

Body paragraphs in the reflection paper are structured the same way as in most other academic papers:

  • Topic sentence – here you introduce the core idea of a paragraph. In a reflection paper, it is likely to be one of the aspects of the experience under scrutiny or one of the ways in which the experience influenced you;
  • Body sentences – the meaningful part of the paragraph. Here you offer your impressions. It is important to remember that despite the personal nature of a reflection paper, you still have to provide evidence in favor of what you say. For example, if you reflect on an article dedicated to an unorthodox method of weight loss, you may express your distrust of it and base it on multiple cases of it leading to numerous side effects that you personally observed;
  • Conclusion – a large enough paragraph may need a sentence to sum up everything you said in it;
  • Transitional sentence – a phrase that connects the paragraph to the adjoining one. It may be either in the beginning or in the end of a paragraph, and usually starts with an expression like ‘therefore’, ‘consequently’, ‘however’, etc.

3. Conclusion – Summing up Everything

Here you sum up everything you got from your experience and how it influenced your outlook on things. You may connect your conclusions to the original expectations you went in with. Specify what you learned and how it will change your thoughts, actions and practices in future.

4. Differentiate between Objective and Subjective Discussion

As reflection paper is your reaction to something, and the reader does not necessarily know the details of your subject matter, you should not only provide the background and context for what you describe, but also present what you observed before you tell what you think about it. Facts, statistics, reports, quotations from the source material will be a part of your objective discussion, while the conclusions you draw from them, impressions and reactions will constitute subjective discussion, and these two parts should not intermix.

5. Remember that a Reflection Paper Is Neither a Report nor Flow of Consciousness

One of the most common mistakes students make when writing a reflection paper is drifting off to one of the two extremes. They either simply report their experience, making only a token effort of analyzing it, or take the term ‘reflection’ a bit too literally and turn the paper into a free flow of consciousness, not bothering with structure.

Both approaches are fundamentally wrong. You have to recount the experience, but the focus is not the experience itself but rather on what you learned from it and how it will influence your thoughts and actions. Expressing your ideas is an integral part of reflective writing, but it is not an informal essay where you just dump your thoughts on paper without organizing them.

6. Stick to Formal Language

You may be encouraged to refer to yourself and your personal experiences in a reflection paper, but you still have to stick to formal style and language. Do not use:

  • Contractions;
  • Colloquial words and structures;
  • Slang;
  • Jargonisms (i.e., words habitually used by representatives of a narrowly defined profession or area of knowledge);
  • Emotional language (although you express your personal opinions and impressions, they still should be founded on logic and reason rather than your emotions).

How to Write a Reflection Paper in Nutrition and Dietary Studies: Editing

1. Remove Everything That Is not Necessary

The word count of your paper should depend on the instructions received from your professor, but usually the length of a reflection paper is between 250 and 750 words. Use this space wisely and be critical when rereading your text:

  • Stick to the idea expressed in the thesis statement. If you see yourself going on a tangent, remove the irrelevant fragment, even if you really like how it reads;
  • Cut away everything you do not need. Make sure every word, sentence and paragraph serve to move your argument forward. If the reader can get your point without a specific word/sentence/paragraph, remove it;
  • Be focused. Even if something is relevant to your topic, it does not mean you should mention it. Differentiate between important and less important points. Depending on the size of the paper, choose a few points you can cover extensively rather than spread yourself thin over a dozen points you cannot really invest in.

2. Stick to Formal, Professional, Academic Tone

A reflection paper may be more personal than other types of academic writing, and you may deal with experiences that are less formal than what you usually discuss in this sort of texts, but you still have to maintain a professional tone. Avoid colloquial language, slang and confusing jargon. Remove deviations from the right style whenever you find them.

3. Read for Structure

Now that you are sure you only have what you need and use the right tone to express your thoughts, check if your paper is structured properly. Reread the paper in its entirety, intentionally paying attention to the bigger picture rather than smaller details. Skip over mistakes and imperfect wording: focus on how individual parts flow into each other, how you connect your ideas. Are there any gaps in your logic? Did you miss anything? Do you repeat yourself?

4. Proofread

Even if your writing is brilliant, your professor can and will give you a poor grade if it contains mistakes, especially those related to grammar and spelling. Proofread the paper several times, each time focusing on a specific type of errors (e.g., once for punctuation, once for sentence structures, once for wrongly used homophones, etc.). If you are prone to specific types of mistakes, pay extra attention to them. For better results, ask a reliable friend to proofread the text for you or hire a professional proofreader.

5. Step Aside

Or, better yet, outside. Even if the deadline is looming close, you have to find some time to leave your writing alone and switch to a completely different activity. It does not matter for how long – you can make a break for an hour, a day or even a week, as long as you can afford, the longer, the better. It allows you to see your writing from a fresh perspective, notice the mistakes you previously missed or even find a better way to express this or that thought.

Writing a reflection paper may be different from most other types of academic writing, but one thing remains the same: if you approach the task in an organized, collected manner, you will finish it faster and achieve better results than if you do it haphazardly. We hope this guide will help you find your own best way to do this job!

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