Strategies for Writing Reflective Essays

• Experiment—Take chances in writing. Your subject alone will carry interest just so far: the rest is up to your originality, creativity, and skill as you present the topic of your essay, along with the deeper and more speculative meaning you have found.

• Pause—Include pauses in your writing and make your reader pause with you. Once you've established your nominal subject, say to the reader, in effect, Wait a minute, there's something else going on here—stop and consider, The pause is a key moment, signalling the writer that it's time to work a little harder, dig a little deeper, find connections that heretofore you've not found. It signals the reader that the essay is about to move into a new and less predictable direction.

• Shift—Change your voice or tone or style for emphasis. Often the pause is accompanied by a slight shift in point of view, tone, or style, Suddenly the writer is either a little more personal or a little more formal, slightly more biased or slightly more objective. The writer may step back and use the third-person point of view for a moment or use the first-person point of view for the first time. The exact nature of the shift will, of course, be determined by the point the writer wants to make.

• Make a point—Be sure to answer directly or indirectly, the reader's question, What did I learn from reading this? The point made in reflective writing nearly always emerges near the end, rather than the beginning of the essay. That way, readers are drawn into the act of reflecting themselves and become progressively more curious to find where the author stands. In other words, reflective writers are musing rather than arguing. In fact, reflective essays are most persuasive when least obviously instructive or assertive.

• Leave an opening for further speculation—Reflective essays raise issues but seldom resolve them. The tradition of essay writing is the tradition of trying and attempting rather than resolving or concluding. Ending by acknowledging that you see still other questions invites your reader to join in the search for answers.

• Read examples of good reflective writing—Michele de Montaigne, Henry David Thoreau, George Orwell, E.B. White, Virginia Woolf, Richard Wright, Joan Didion, Alice Walker, Lewis Thomas, Annie Dillard, Richard Rodriguez, Margaret Atwood, or bell hooks. Read the reflective newspaper columnists, such as Ellen Goodman and Russell Baker. Browse among the New York Times best-selling nonfiction in your bookstore, or subscribe to The New Yorker or Atlantic Monthly.

SUGGESTIONS FOR JOURNAL WRITING

1. List five significant experiences that happened to you during the past year. Write a paragraph on the three that seem most interesting, memorable, or in need of further examination.

2. List five commonplace, ordinary, or daily events and consider whether or not there may be a story here of interest to somebody else. Write a paragraph about three that hold the possibility of a story.

3. Draw a line diagonally down a sheet of journal paper, putting your date of birth at one end, the current date at the other. On one side of the line, in chronological order, list all out-of-school events, books, or people that influenced your language development. On the other side of the line, list all in-school events that influenced that development. Use this time line to structure your language autobiography.

SUGGESTIONS FOR ESSAY WRITING

1. Write an essay based on personal experience that begins with or uses information from your journal entries. Write your first draft as you naturally would, in the past tense; when you write your second draft, switch to the present tense and notice the difference. Finish the essay using the tense that best conveys the story you want to tell.

2. Write a reflective essay that begins by noticing a common object in your neighborhood or a recent local occurrence of some interest. Use this beginning to speculate or explore a larger or more abstract train of thought. In the first draft, present the object or occurrence carefully and with great detail. In the second and third drafts, focus on possible meanings or implications that go beyond the object or occurrence.

3. Write a language autobiography as a series of prose snapshots, drawing on items from your journal time line for the content of each snapshot. Separate each verbal picture by white space and don't worry about providing transitions. (See Chapter Fifteen for more information on snapshot writing.)

SUGGESTIONS FOR RESEARCH PROJECTS

1. Write a portion or chapter of your autobiography. Collect from home as many things (notes, report cards, baseball cards, old magazines or records, memorabilia, wall posters, journals or diaries, letters, school papers, hobby remnants, etc.) as you or your parents can unearth that say something about your own development as a person. Find a way to weave this story of yourself at one point in time, using some of these documents of personal research to help you.

2. Write a profile of a classmate in which you make him or her come alive. Place everyone's name in a hat, and draw out two at a time. Names drawn together are to interview each other, spend time together, maybe share a meal, visit each other's living quarters, and in general keep talking to and making notes about each other. Write these up after the fashion of "Profiles" printed in People Magazine, The New Yorker, your daily paper, or as Studs Terkel did when he edited the tape transcripts for Working (Random House, 1973). Along the way, share drafts; when all have been completed collect them and publish in a class book (see Postscript Three).

3. Search the library periodical holdings or your own living room for magazines well known for printing interesting nonfiction (e.g., The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Esquire, The Atlantic, The Village Voice, Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek, Reader's Digest, The New Republic, Redbook). Browse through these magazines and make notes about whatever interests you in the narrative writing you find there. Report—orally or in writing—what you found and how it relates to your own writing.

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Responses

  • yolanda
    What is a reflective essay written in third person point of view?
    7 years ago
  • paul
    How to write reflective postscript?
    7 years ago

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