Reflective essays

Reflective essays are academic essays; what makes an essay "good" will work for a reflective essay. What is different about a reflective essay is that the essay is about you and your thinking. However, you will need evidence from your course to back up your reflections.

You should structure a reflective essay as an essay, that is write to persuade your reader of your key reflections (or argument). The diagram above, details how to stucture your reflections through the essay. To find out more see the section on essay writing.

Business example

The following example comes from business. Thanks to Dr Sarah Adams for the three samples.

Students were asked to write a reflective essay on their learning in the course by responding to the following question:

What key thing have you learned about corporate social responsibility in the course?

Example 1: Retelling

In Lecture 1 we learnt about shareholders and stakeholders. The lecturer said it is important for businesses to think about their stakeholders. Stakeholders are any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of the organization's objectives. The shareholder view is more common in the US/UK and the stakeholder is more common in Continental Europe. Then we learnt about primary and secondary stakeholders.

This writing is (1) descriptive/listing of content, not reflective and (2) not properly referenced (the definition of stakeholders is directly copied from Freeman in the lecture slides.

Example 2: Relating

One of the most important things I have learned so far is the stakeholder view of the firm. I was very interested to learn that Australia is more of a shareholder-oriented country (similar to UK/US). I come from country X, and I believe that it is also very shareholder-oriented. For example the company I used to work for did not seem to have much concern for its stakeholders. As staff, we were worked extremely hard in poor conditions without overtime pay or paid leave (employees are a stakeholder group), and the company did not care at all about its impact on the environment. The company was just so concerned with cutting costs and making more profit for shareholders - usually at the expense of other stakeholders.

This writing involves relating to personal experience and has some integration of course concepts (stakeholders).

Example 3: Reflecting

The notion of the stakeholder challenged many of the assumptions I have about the role of corporations in society. I hope to run my own business one day, and the distinction between stakeholders and shareholders really makes me think about what responsible leadership might look like. What I appreciate about Friedman's view is its simplicity - the idea that companies pursuing their own profits creates the best outcomes for society (ref included). Adopting a stakeholder orientation (consistent with Freidman), and managing multifarious accountabilities and balancing trade-offs between them, would seem to be much more complex and a far greater challenge for leaders to navigate. However, today's internet age allows stakeholders to have global reach and a powerful voice, so I'm not sure that it would be so easy to silence or ignore them in pursuit of profit. 

More reflective (forward-looking), better citation and integration of multiple course concepts, and reflection that links with personal experience.

An anthropology marking rubric

For this assessment, students were required to write a 1500-1800 word essay building on the themes of the course to address the question "We are all pirates". Attached under reference documents is the rubric used to mark the essay (thanks to Dr Caroline Schuster). Notice that it requires both the reflection (reflect, relate and retell) as well as the poor traditional requirements of an essay (Writing and organisation, Supporting claims with scholarly sources).