Writing a reflective essay is a no-brainer. That’s what many students believe. Imagine their surprise when instead of an easy A, they get a C-minus and a stern look from the professor. Poor grammar, illogical repetitions, and convoluted structure are among the common pet peeves. However, the greatest sin a student can commit is missing a thesis statement. It’s not just for argumentative and persuasive paper either! A thesis is the backbone of every essay.
Don’t panic. We’ve got you covered. Here you will learn everything you ever wanted to know about building a thesis. We’ll throw you in the deep end, and if you stay afloat, we’ll circle back to reflective writing and a personal reflection essay example or two.
Reflective Essay Thesis Is Not...
Before we talk about how to build a reflective essay thesis, let’s look at the common mistakes. Remember this list when you move one to the next section, and you won’t have to rewrite and rework your thesis statement. To make this more exciting, let’s consider what Tony Stark could have written about his capture by the Ten Rings and the mistakes to avoid.
- Turn your thesis statement into a question or a call to action
How did the Ten Rings kidnapping change my life?
Learn how experiences in Afghanistan changed my life!
You are not writing marketing copy, an email to your mother, or a short story. Rhetorical questions and calls to action have no place in academic writing, even if you can bend the rules a little with reflective papers.
- Use a quote even if it fits the situation perfectly
As Ralph Waldo Emerson noted that strong men believe in cause and effect, and I after my run-in with Ten Rings I am nothing if not a strong man.
Reflective essays differ from other types as they are deeply personal and intimate. They don’t call for research and citations. There is no need to look for a perfect quote for the life-changing event you want to discuss when you can state it in your own words.
- Declare the subject of the paper and leave the thesis at that
After the Ten Rings kidnapped me, my life changed forever.
This thesis statement is too broad and vague to be called that. As marketing gurus say, if you have to state something explicitly, it’s probably not true. Don’t declare the subject of the essay in a thesis statement, it’s a waste of space.
- Turn a thesis statement into a thesis paragraph
After the Ten Rings kidnapped me, my life changed forever. Despite being tortured and having a magnet in my chest, I got out of imprisonment, returned home and found a traitor in my inner circle. Becoming Ironman led me to Pepper and later Avengers. Ten years down the road, I still believe the kidnapping was the pivotal moment that led me where I am today.
This is not a thesis statement, but a rambling paragraph that doesn’t explain what your paper is about. It is too long, vague, and convoluted. Without a proper structure and critical claims, this passage should not be present in an essay, never mind take the role of a thesis.
Building a Perfect Thesis Statement
Now you know what a thesis is not and how to avoid common mistakes. It’s time to look at what the most important sentence of your paper should look like! To make the task easier, we’ve broken the process down into understandable steps for you to follow:
- Identify the cause. It’s that pivotal moment, a new acquaintance, a trip, or an event you want to examine in your paper. It should be close to your heart, but not overly intimate. You don’t have to relieve death or illness in the family to get a high grade. Moreover, the cause doesn’t have to be a negative experience. A victory or a success can also be the pivotal moment of your life story worthy of attention in your reflective essay.
As you must have already realized, for our Ironman reflective essay, the experience with Ten Rings will be the cause for Tony Stark’s personal transformation.
- List three or more effects. The number depends on the word count requirements and the paper structure you choose. The outcomes shouldn’t be lying on the surface and be too obvious. Broad and vague consequences are also not acceptable. Dig deep and think about the impact carefully. There might be a million small consequences to your chance meeting or decision. You need to select those that have the most powerful and long-lasting impact on your life. At this point, concentrate on positive changes, and we’ll take care of the rest on the next step.
As 5-paragraph essays are the most common, we’ll stick with three effects. For Tony Stark, the consequences of his abduction were many, but the critical ones include the realization that his weapons cause more harm than good, the transformation from a carefree playboy into Ironman, and a more hands-on approach to dealing with the world’s seedy underbelly.
- Add a little controversy - include a negative impact. The world is not black and white. Every decision, action, and event have multiple consequences, including undesirable effects. Adding them to the thesis statement and your paper gives the reflective essay an extra dimension, creates depth, and intrigue. As with the previous stage, the effect shouldn’t be self-evident and vague. Make it compelling and precise. You can skip this step for most assignments, but if you want to get extra credit and praise, go for it.
Torture, post-traumatic stress disorder, and a hole in his chest are all too easy for our Ironman essay. However, Tony Stark could write about how Yinsen helped him keep his humanity that got shaken by the doctor’s death and Obadiah Stane’s betrayal.
- Cobble the pieces together into a perfect thesis statement. With all components ready and waiting, you now have to piece them together until they make a greater whole. Depending on the structure of the sentence, you can go from cause to favorable and adverse effects. You can also mix things up a little and start with adverse consequences and finish with positive results.
Being abducted by the Ten Rings made me realize that Stark weapons cause more harm than good, so I became Ironman and deal with the world’s seedy underbelly, starting with Obadiah Stane.
Despite Yinsen’s death and learning of Stane’s betrayal, my time with the Ten Rings turned me Ironman, when I realized how much harm Stark weapons cause and how much good I can do.
- Clean things up and tighten the phrasing. You can leave this step for later when you edit and proofread the finished paper. However, we couldn’t ignore the critical stage that takes your thesis to the next level. Look at your sentence critically and locate weak verbs, ambiguous phrasing and filler words. Delete them and replace with powerful alternatives. Notice how the new wording has a more powerful impact.
Being tortured by the Ten Rings opened my eyes to the damage wreaked by Stark weapons and transformed me into Ironman, ready to deal with the world’s seedy underbelly, starting with Obadiah Stane.
Despite Yinsen’s sacrifice and Stane’s betrayal, the Ten Rings transformed me into Ironman, when I realized how much damage Stark weapons wreak and the impact I could have on the world.
These examples of thesis statements for reflective essays and our tried-and-true algorithm should get you through the hassles of building a thesis without trouble. With practicalities out of the way, let’s move towards the writing mindset and a short recap of reflective writing to help you with the rest of your paper.
Why Bother with a Thesis Statement for Reflective Essay?
After all the hard work, you might be wondering “Is it worth it?”. The short answer is yes. The long answer is a little more complicated. We’ve counted quite a few advantages of writing a thesis statement before working on the paper:
- You get a higher grade. We’ve already mentioned that professors hate looking for a thesis statement and coming up short. Submitting a paper with a thesis is a sure way to get a high grade and improve your GPA in the long run.
- You get your thoughts organized. If you look closely at our examples, you’ll notice, they look like a movie trailer or an article abstract. They state the topic and outline the significant claims you will make in the body paragraphs providing you with a clear route from point A (cause) to points B, C, and D (effects).
- You save time. Developing a full outline takes more time than building a thesis. If you only have a day or two to complete the assignment, you can skip the planning stage and follow the thesis statement structure in your paper. This way your reflective essay will still be organized and have a great flow.
- You beat procrastination. If you have the opposite problem of too much time and too little motivation to write, building a perfect thesis statement can get the ball rolling. With a clear path to the conclusion, you’ll have no excuse to put the writing off.
Thinking of creating a thesis statement in these terms will make you wonder how you ever managed to write papers without proper theses. Besides, practice makes perfect. The first thesis might take you hours to build, but the third or fifth will be ready in under 15 minutes.
Reflective Writing Recap
We’ve dived deep into the secrets of creating a thesis statement for a reflective essay, but now it’s time to get back and remember that papers take more than a single sentence. Let’s review the features that set reflective essays apart from other papers.
- There’s no need for research, references, and citations. You can skip the library, Wikipedia, and Google Scholar search results. However, the reflection means you need to take the time to think back, relive, and assess past experiences. Navel-gazing is easier than academic research, but we don’t recommend skipping this step altogether.
- You are the focus of the paper. You’ve written about Hamlet, Lincoln, and Trump, now you are center-stage. Analyzing your own behavior and past can be difficult as you get distracted and emotional. To make the job manageable, imagine yourself a spectator in a movie theater watching your history. Disassociating yourself from unpleasant experiences will help you at the planning stage, but may hinder the writing process, so use it sparingly.
- HOW and WHY are more important than WHAT. While the cause of the change is crucial, your paper should focus on the impact the person or event had on your life. Explain how the experience transformed your view of the world or yourself, and why you think it had such a strong influence on you. Answering these questions will make you dig deeper and infuse the paper with details, making it multi-dimensional and compelling.
- Subjective assessment is justified. You don’t have to support your claims with quotes, facts, and statistics, as it’s your life, experiences, and conclusions. However, to increase the impact of the paper, we recommend using striking examples and descriptive language. Paint the picture, and your professor will love it.
- First-person writing is appropriate. Unlike most academic assignments, reflective writing is subjective, personal, even intimate. To get the point across and establish a connection with the reader, use first-person writing. Stick with your choice of pronouns throughout the paper as switching points of view makes your writing confusing. The same rule applies to tenses. Pick one (Present or Past) and use it from the introduction to the conclusion.
If you need a more detailed guide on writing a reflective paper, let us know, and we’ll share our experience with you in a future post.
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