Many students are afraid that they will not be able to write a reflection paper the first time they encounter such an assignment. The reason is simple – professors and tutors rarely prepare them specifically for this type of work, and reflective writing has enough differences from your average academic paper to confuse an inexperienced writer. However, once you know what you are doing, this task is no harder than any other essay you wrote in the past. It is the purpose of this guide to explain the specific features of reflective writing so that you can make informed decisions when dealing with it.
In a reflection paper, you critically analyze an experience, focusing on how it influenced you, what you learned from it, how you changed your views based on it and what you intend to do with this new knowledge. The word ‘experience’ here is used in a broad sense – the topic of the paper is not necessarily an event or period of your life. It can be a book you read, a film you watched, your impressions from a work placement, the sum total of your interactions with a particular group of people, your dealings with a certain organization, etc.
Women and gender studies is a discipline that deals with many sensitive topics and subjects, so when writing about it you have to be careful to avoid offending anybody.
How to Write a Reflection Paper in Women and Gender Studies: Pre-Writing Tips
1. Make Sure You Understand the Assignment
One of the most common reasons why students get poor grades for their reflection papers is that they fail to understand the assignment in the first place. It happens with other types of writing as well, but reflection papers are sufficiently different from most writing tasks to create additional confusion. Carefully read the assignment immediately after you receive it. If you have any questions or find any instructions ambiguous, ask your professor for clarifications. You can also look for assistance from your college’s Writing Center. Pay special attention to these issues:
- Paper length and how it is calculated (in words or pages). If the length is calculated in pages, ask if the title page, bibliography and appendices count toward the total number;
- Citation style;
- Accepted types of sources (websites, books, peer reviewed articles) and how many you have to/are allowed to use;
- Other formatting details that may run counter to the chosen style.
2. Pick a Topic
The correct choice of topic is crucially important for the success of your paper. When choosing one, consider the following:
- Is it appropriate? When dealing with a sensitive subject like women and gender studies, you have to be particularly careful in your choice of words and how you may be understood;
- Is it sufficiently narrow? If you choose a topic that is too broad, your reflection may turn out to be unfocused and shallow;
- Does it hold a personal interest for you? It is always a good decision to write about something you are passionate about or at least interested in, but it is especially true with reflective writing. You cannot write a good reflection if you do not care about the subject;
- Is it relevant to the course? While a topic may formally be relevant for the discipline, you have to consider the specifics of your course. For example, if it deals exclusively with present day, writing about pay inequality in workforce in the first half of the 20th century may not be the best choice;
- What question will it answer? Although you are free in your reflections on the subjects, they should lead somewhere, and if you have an idea of what you want to achieve from the outset, your writing will be more focused.
Eventually, you should end up with something along these lines:
- Issues of Pay Equality in Modern Workplace;
- The Status of Women in Science in the Present-Day United States;
- Different Conceptualizations of Feminism in the USA, the UK and Germany, Viewed from Personal Experience;
- Domestic Violence against Women in the USA;
- Gender Advertising in British Women’s Magazines.
3. Write an Outline
An outline or a plan of your paper contains all the parts your future assignment will have, expressed in a short form (although you can do it in as much detail as necessary). The structure of a reflection paper is usually as follows:
- Introduction. Here you introduce the topic (experience, incident, concept). Start with a hook (a sentence aimed at piquing the reader’s interest) and complete with the thesis statement;
- Description. Here you describe the subject matter in more detail, providing background and foundations for further analysis. Explain why the topic is problematic, why it deserves your reflection and the reader’s attention. Do not dedicate too much space to it – just enough for the reader to understand where you are coming from;
- Cause and effect. Here you analyze the experience and provide your ideas about why it came to be and how it influences the world and people;
- Conclusion. Here you explain and critique the experience, your own participation in it, other people and institutions that are relevant to it. Point out the issues you try to resolve, what you learned and how it will influence your future actions and behaviors.
4. Write a Thesis Statement
In you thesis statement, you boil down the main idea of your paper to a single sentence (two sentences at most). To put it simply, a thesis statement is the answer to the question you ask when starting a paper. Make sure it is:
- To the point (it should contain a single idea);
- Direct (reread it several times to make sure there is only one way to understand it).
5. Write the First Draft
A reflection paper is a means of expressing your thoughts and ideas, and the first draft is where you let them flow freely. Write down whatever you think, trying to follow in the general direction defined by the outline, but being ready to change the structure of the paper if you feel it will help you express your thoughts more effectively. Do not worry about wording, consistency and logic at this point – you are not going to submit this draft, it is simply going to be the basis for the real paper you will write later. The important thing right now is to write quickly, without slowing down, and allow yourself to write whatever you truly think. You will have time to polish and perfect it later on.
How to Write a Reflection Paper in Women and Gender Studies: Writing
Now that you have your first rough draft ready, you can use it to write a smoother and better-structured paper.
1. Be Analytical rather than Descriptive
The most important thing you have to understand about reflective writing is that its focus is analysis, not description. It is not a narrative or descriptive essay. Whether you write about your experience or a concept, your job is not so much to describe or recount it (although you have to provide enough background for the reader to understand your reflections), but to take it apart and get deep into its inner workings. Do not just describe the experience – always ask why things happened this way, why they influenced you the way they did.
2. Write in First Person
A reflection paper explores your thoughts and impressions. It is only natural to use first person singular when writing it, as well as add a personal touch to the style of your writing.
3. Stay Formal
Nevertheless, do not get too informal in your expressions. While it is normal to speak about your thoughts and emotions on the subject matter, you still have to maintain a certain distance from them. In other words, you write about your emotions, thoughts and ideas, analyze them and try to understand where they are coming from. However, you do not allow them to influence the way you speak. Do not use excessively emotional language, informal words expressions (like contractions and colloquialisms), slang etc.
4. Write What You Really Think
One of the worst things you can do when writing a reflection paper is to try to guess what your tutor wants or expects you to write and trying to do just that. Writing to please the tutor will make your paper look forced, insincere and clichéd – any experienced professor will immediately catch on and react accordingly.
However, women and gender studies deal with many sensitive and inflammatory topics, so make sure you express your ideas in as neutral a language as possible.
5. Be Subjective, but Do not Forget about Evidence
Reflective writing is, by definition, subjective. You reflect on a topic. You analyze it from your personal viewpoint. Your thoughts and ideas about the subject are at the forefront of this task, and you are not obliged to provide alternative opinions and explanations (although you may acknowledge them if necessary).
However, it does not mean that you can simply write whatever you like and make statements without backing them up. You still have to provide evidence for everything you say. The difference from most other types of academic writing is that in reflection papers you rely less on quotes from authorities on the subject and more on your own reasoning, logic, facts and statistics. In other words, focus on what you think yourself and can back up with facts, and less on opinions you borrowed from other people, however authoritative they are.
How to Write a Reflection Paper in Women and Gender Studies: Editing
Now that you have finished a more structured and consistent variant of your paper, it is time to edit it and see if everything is all right with it. However tempting it may be to simply reread it and get it over with, it is a wrong approach. If you really want to root out mistakes and improve the general quality of the text, you should divide the process into at least three stages: editing, sub-editing and proofreading, and carry them out separately. Taking breaks between them is also a good idea.
Editing is concerned with major issues of your paper:
- Is it relevant for the course?
- Does it follow the assignment instructions?
- Have you done what you set out to do?
- Are there any problems with the overall content? Is it consistently accurate, cohesive, relevant and up-to-date?
- Have you omitted any issues that may be relevant for the topic?
- Is your writing logical? Does your conclusion follow from the previous contents?
Make all the changes necessary to address these problems.
Sub-editing takes a closer look at the paper: how you organize and present your material, structure your paragraphs and form sentences. Pay special attention to the fragments you altered during the editing stage – you may have disrupted their structure or interrelation with other parts of the paper. Check the following:
- Formatting – make sure all aspects of it are consistent and are in accordance with your assigned style (MLA, APA, etc.)
- Presentation – read the assignment instructions and the course handbook again and make sure your paper follows them;
- Connections between paragraphs. Use transition words and phrases to make them look smoother;
- Sentence structure. Be especially attentive around compound sentences – it may be even better to break them up into simpler ones whenever possible;
- Verb and tense agreements;
- Citations and references. Use an online citation creation tool to speed up the process.
Once you are reasonably sure you will not introduce significant structural changes, you can start paying attention to grammar, syntax and spelling mistakes. Some students believe that using a spellchecker is enough, but they delude themselves. Spellchecker software in its current state is far from perfection – while it can help with simpler and more obvious mistakes, it has problems understanding more complex grammatical structures, fails to recognize homophones and is very limited in general.
- Make a list of mistakes you typically make and keep an eye out for them when you reread your paper. If time allows, reread the paper several times, once for every type of mistakes;
- Try to complete the paper early, so that you have at least a few days to put it aside before proofreading. This way you are more likely to notice mistakes;
- Print the text out and proofread it on paper – it can change your perception of it, making for more effective proofreading. Change the typeface and font color to make it look less familiar;
- Swap assignments with a friend and proofread for each other. This way you will get an independent opinion and may be inspired by his/her paper to make last-minute changes to your own writing.
Now you are ready to take this type of assignment on. Follow these steps, and you have nothing to fear!