How to write a Reflection essay: the What? So What? and Now What? format

This guide will provide an insight on what is a reflection paper, how to write a reflection essay using the What? So What? and Now What format, and a reflection paper sample/example for beginners. If you are required to write a short reflective paper at the end of your course or class, it is crucial to understand the requirements of a reflection paper.

What is a Reflection paper/essay?

According to the University of Southern California, a reflection paper describes and explains in an introspective, first person narrative, one’s reactions and feelings about either a specific element of the class or more generally how you experienced learning throughout the course. Reflective writing can take the form of essays, portfolios, journals, diaries or blogs. However, reflective writing is different from discussion post.

You may ask, what is the essence of writing a reflection paper? or why am I required to write a reflection essay? Its simple; reflection papers stimulate student’s decisions, actions, attitudes, and understanding about themselves as learners in relation to having mastery over their learning. Reflection papers are also an opportunity to wrote in a first person narrative about elements of the course, such as the required readings, separate from the exegetic and analytical prose of academic research papers.

So, the following are the benefits of writing reflection papers as a student (why instructors ask students to write reflective papers at the end of their course):

  • Reflective writing promotes learning from previous knowledge and experience to improve future decision-making and reasoning in practice.
  • Reflective writing allows students to make sense of classroom content and overall learning to oneself, others, and the conditions that shaped the content and classroom experiences.
  • Reflection papers increases awareness of one’s cognitive abilities and the evidence for these attributes.

There are various ways to write a reflection paper depending on the type of the reflection essay. There are two main types of reflection papers. The reflection essays that focus on course readings and those that focus on course experiences. Sometimes you might need help writing a refection essay from someone with experience for better grades, our website has top experts you can hire to do any paper for you. You can follow our essay writing tips when completing a reflection paper for better grades.

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In a reflection essay, the writer typically explores the following aspects:

  1. Description: The writer provides a brief description of the event, situation, or topic that they are reflecting upon. This sets the context for the reflection.
  2. Personal Response: The writer shares their initial thoughts, feelings, and reactions to the experience. They may discuss their expectations, fears, or excitement related to the event.
  3. Analysis and Interpretation: The writer analyzes and interprets the experience, exploring its significance and exploring the underlying meanings or lessons learned. They may discuss how the experience has impacted their beliefs, values, or understanding of themselves and the world around them.
  4. Connection to Theory or Concepts: Depending on the topic, the writer may connect their personal experience to relevant theories, concepts, or academic frameworks. This can provide a broader context and deepen the analysis.
  5. Lessons Learned or Insights Gained: The writer reflects on the lessons learned or insights gained from the experience. They may discuss how the experience has influenced their personal growth, decision-making, or future actions.
  6. Future Implications: The writer may explore the implications of their reflections for future situations or actions. They may discuss how the experience will influence their approach to similar situations or how it will shape their future goals or aspirations.

Reflective writing about course readings.

This type of reflective writing focuses on thoughtfully thinking about the course readings that underpin how most students acquire knowledge and understanding about the subject of a course. The purpose of this type of reflective writing is often to elicit your opinions, beliefs, and feelings about the research and its significance.

To do this type of reflective writing;

  • First: examine carefully the main introductory elements of the reading, including the purpose of the study, the theoretical framework being used to test assumptions and the research question being addressed.
  • Secondly, develop your ideas around the readings by asking yourself, what do I know about this topic? Where does my existing knowledge about this topic come from? What are observations or experiences in my life that influence my understanding of the topic? Do I agree or disagree with the main arguments?
  • Thirdly, make connections between the text and your own beliefs, opinions, or feelings by considering questions, like, how do the readings reinforce my existing or assumptions? How the readings challenge these ideas or assumptions?

Reflective writing about course experiences

This type of reflection paper asks the student to critically evaluate theories or disciplinary-based analytical models based on their introspective assessment of the relationship between hypothetical thinking and practical reality. If you are required to write a reflection paper about course experiences, do the following:

  • First, contextualize your reflection in relation to the overarching purpose of the course by asking yourself, what did I hope to learn from this course, what were the objectives? How did these objectives relate to the main themes or course concepts?
  • Analyze how you experienced the course by questioning yourself, what did I learn from this course? What did I learn about myself, about working in this area of research or study and how does this course relate to my society? What course assumptions do I agree or refute?
  • Finally, think about the ways you experienced learning during the course by asking, did my learning experiences align with the goals or course concepts? Why or why do you not feel this way? What was successful and why do you believe this? How will you prepare for a future experience in this area of study?

How to write a reflection essay in “What?”, “So What?”, and “Now What?” format for students

NB: Class reflections should help you to intentionally and thoughtfully link your personal experiences to material discussed in class. They are intended to help you focus on what you are learning (or not learning), identify issues or concerns on your mind, and explore an idea more deeply.

The goal is not to summarize the readings! Rather, you should analyze and reflect critically upon one or a few significant issues. To reiterate, ideally you will critically reflect upon selected aspects of the lecture by linking them to your personal experience (e.g., ethical dilemmas you faced at work or other courses). Most instructors ask you to provide cases of instances where you have been involved yourself and which connect to the course. In this case, you are writing about your own life and how it connects to the learned concepts in the course.

Like any other piece of writing such as research paper, professional papers or essays, you should ensure your word template has a 1″ inch margin on all sides, use Times New Roman font family and size 12, and double-space your entire paper. You can learn more about creating an APA template or setting your word document per APA requirements in our APA style papers guide part 1. If you experience any trouble completing a reflection paper, get help from our online essay helpers.

You may ask, what topic can I write my reflection on:

Most instructors give you a chance to select the topic for your reflection essay. Mostly, you are expected to submit 1 reflection paper per week and you must reflect on the current week’s topic.

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The first section is on “What?” which should be very brief and takes the form of an introduction, but without the elements of research paper introduction. This section can take a paragraph or basically a few sentences about what you learned; What stands out to you, excites you, or challenges you?

Example/Sample of What? section of a reflection essay

The reading International Business, Sweatshops, and child labour: to be – or not to be? has been insightful on various matters of business ethics. There are several issues that I previously assumed to be universal, including ethics, but this class has taught me that some standards may not apply to different cultures, countries, or groups. I have learned about the complex ethical considerations of multinational companies, particularly concerning sweatshops and child labor. The discussions on ethical relativism versus ethical absolutism were particularly thought-provoking and challenged my previous assumptions about the universality of moral standards. The Caux Principles and the concept of hyper norms also stood out to me as potential solutions to promote ethical behavior in business. Overall, this class has expanded my understanding of the global impact of business practices and the need for ethical considerations in decision-making.

Image showing introduction to the "WHAT"? section of a reflection essay

So What?

Connect the material with your past experiences: Why does this learning matter to you? Why does it stand out to you? Why is it important – to you?

This section might take more than half of the entire paper because it carries your experiences as they relate to the course.

Example/Sample of So What? section of a reflection essay

“Learning about the issue of sweatshops and child labor immediately reminded me of my past experiences working for garment companies and seeing the need for a large labor supply, which often resulted in the employment of underage workers. This issue is especially prevalent in multinational corporations, where the exploitation of vulnerable workers is more common. I have personally witnessed the mistreatment of workers, such as my relative who worked for Canada Goose and described deplorable working conditions. This issue matters to me because it highlights the vulnerability of children and low-wage workers who may not know how they should be treated or may be afraid to speak up. My concern is that these workers are often mistreated and paid low wages, which can lead to illness or even death due to poor working conditions, as seen in the Rana Plaza disaster.

This learning is crucial because the world has been tackling the issue of deplorable working conditions experienced in most developing countries for a while now. Most companies use developing countries for their manufacturing purposes because it is easy to get cheap labor, and there are minimal requirements for establishing an ethically-sound working environment. Unfortunately, not many countries have laws designed to protect vulnerable workers and children. Yet, we all have a responsibility in holding these companies into account. Govindarajan (2015) notes that when governmental regulations fail to keep kids safe, we should refuse to do business with suppliers that employ children. We all must take the right step of refraining from purchasing products manufactured by unethical standards.

Businesses have a responsibility to consider the social, economic, and environmental impacts of their actions. In the case of sweatshops and child labor, companies have a responsibility to ensure that their products are produced ethically and sustainably. Additionally, ethical decision-making is crucial in addressing the issue of sweatshops and child labor. Business leaders must consider the impact of their decisions on all stakeholders, including workers, consumers, and shareholders. It requires a focus on long-term sustainability and ethical practices that prioritize the well-being of all stakeholders involved. By considering the ethical implications of their decisions, businesses can promote social responsibility and create a more equitable and sustainable future.”

Image showing the "So WHAT"? section of the reflection paper.
Image showing the so what section of the reflection essay

Now What?

Connect the material with your future plans: What do you do from here? How will you take this learning with you? Does this learning change your perspective, your career goals, or your interests?

Example/Sample of Now What? section of a reflection essay

“I plan to be more conscious of the companies I support and the products I purchase. I will do my best to research and learn more about the companies I’m interested in doing business with to ensure that they operate ethically and do not engage in any form of exploitation. Every purchase decision I make can have a significant impact on people’s lives, and I want to make sure that my choices are not contributing to any form of abuse or exploitation. This learning has also changed my perspective on the importance of ethical business practices.

I now understand that profit should not come at the expense of fundamental human rights and dignity. I hope to use this knowledge in my future career to ensure that the companies I work for operate ethically and responsibly. I believe that businesses should prioritize ethical practices over profits, and I want to contribute to creating a business culture that upholds these values. Overall, this learning has inspired me to be more socially responsible in my personal and professional life and to use my actions to impact the world positively.”

Image showing the Now what? section of the reflection essay

Despite the various different ways you can write a reflection paper, the “What?”, “So What?”, and “Now What?” format is the easiest ways to do a reflection essay after completing your course. On whether you need references in a reflection essay? Using credible references is one of the known ways to improve your paper as discussed here (top 10 essay writing mistakes). If you are writing a reflection essay about a course reading, it is recommended you put references to the reading at the end of your paper. If you need more information on formatting APA references, check out our blog on “APA style references and in-text citation guide“.

If you need help writing a reflection paper, place your order on cheaply. Check on our guide on essay writing mistakes to avoid when doing a paper. You can also follow our top 10 tips on writing a professional essay or things to avoid when creating a research paper from scratch.

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Editorial Team. (2023, April 29). How to write a Reflection essay: the What? So What? and Now What? format. Help Write An Essay. Retrieved from

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