How to Write a Reflective Essay Outline

A well-structured outline is essential to producing a successful reflective essay. Having an organized framework will help ensure your reflections flow logically and cohesively. This article will guide you through the key components of creating an effective reflective nursing essay outline.

What is a Reflective Nursing Essay Outline?

A reflective essay outline breaks down the structure of your essay into an ordered list of main points. It acts as a roadmap to logically build up your recollections, insights, and takeaways.

A strong reflective essay outline will include:

  • Introduction paragraph
  • Body paragraph topics
  • Supporting details/examples per paragraph

Developing an outline first helps structure your various reflections into a coherent narrative before you begin writing fully fleshed-out paragraphs.

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What is the Best Reflective Nursing Essay Outline Structure?

While outlines can be organized in various ways, the following reflective essay outline structure works well:


  • Hook: Compelling statement to draw the reader in
  • Background context for the situation
  • Thesis: Overview of reflections to be shared

Body Paragraph 1

Topic: Objective description of the experience

Details: Who, what, when, where, how of situation. Just the facts.

Body Paragraph 2

Topic: Description of your feelings and thoughts during the experience

Details: Honest emotional reactions, judgments, and thought processes at the time.

Body Paragraph 3

Topic: Reflection on lessons learned and insights gained

Details: How has the experience impacted your nursing practice, philosophy, skills, etc.


  • Summary of key learnings
  • Commitment to ongoing growth and improvement
  • Forward-looking statement

What Should be Included in the Introduction?

Your essay introduction should:

  • The hook should draw the reader in right away. Examples include a brief anecdote, vivid description, or compelling quote.
  • When providing background context, focus on the most relevant details to understand the significance of the experience being reflected upon. Be concise.
  • The thesis statement should overview the key insights and reflections that will be discussed without giving away all the details.
  • Use thought-provoking, reflective language that indicates the tone and purpose of the essay.
  • The introduction should be approximately 5-7 sentences or 3-5% of the total essay length.
  • Engage the reader’s interest while also clearly establishing the direction of the essay.
  • The final sentence should transition fluidly into the body paragraph topics.
  • Avoid giving lengthy background or detailing the entire situation – save that for the body paragraphs.
  • Don’t reveal the lessons learned or conclusions – create intrigue by hinting at the reflections to come.

The background context should be concise, providing just enough detail for the reader to understand the significance of the essay topic you are reflecting upon.

What Should be in the Body Paragraphs of a Self Reflective Essay?

The body paragraphs focus on:

Each body paragraph should have a clear topic sentence that transitions logically from the prior paragraph.

  1. Use vivid sensory details and active verb language to create a compelling scene of the experience. Avoid generalizations.
  2. Be honest when expressing your internal thoughts, judgments, and emotions during the situation. Self-reflection requires vulnerability.
  3. When conveying your reflections in hindsight, relate insights to course theories, clinical best practices, and your nursing development.
  4. Integrate relevant quotes, phrases said, or anecdotes that add thoughtful nuance during analysis.
  5. Consider causes and effects when analyzing actions, reactions, and learnings. How did X’s experience shape your nursing practice?
  6. End each body paragraph with an impactful insight statement or reflective takeaway sentence.
  7. Be deliberate about structure – move chronologically from recounting to reflecting.
  8. Vary sentence length and style to avoid repetition and maintain flow.
  9. Total body paragraphs should comprise 80-90% of essay length.

Choose three key insights or reflections to structure your body paragraph topics around. The supporting details should provide examples, quotes, and anecdotes to add color.

How to Write a Reflective Essay Conclusion?

Your conclusion should:

  • Succinctly summarize major realizations
  • Connect reflections to your development as a nurse
  • End with forward-looking statements

Avoid introducing any new ideas or details in your conclusion. Simply reinforce key points and the overall reflective journey.

How Should One Choose a Reflective Nursing Essay Format and Style?

Reflective essays are typically written in the first-person point of view using the pronouns “I,” “me,” and “my.” The style should be personal, intimate, and conversational as you narrate your memories, emotions, and insights.

Use present tense when recounting details of the experience. Use past tense when reflecting. The tone should be introspective, candid, and insightful.

Tips on Writing the Reflective Nursing Essay

Here are some additional tips for crafting your reflective nursing essay:

  • Analyze, don’t just describe. Provide a critical reflection on what you learned.
  • Be honest about your feelings, even negative ones. Avoid sugar-coating
  • Link your reflections to theories, concepts, and best practices covered in your nursing program.
  • Be specific. Use details, essay examples, and anecdotes to add richness.
  • End each body paragraph with an insight statement or reflective takeaway.

Adhering to your outline during the writing process will help maintain logical flow and reinforce your key learnings by the end.

Reflective Nursing Essay Format Essay Example

Here is an essay outline example with brief notes explaining each section:

Example 1

Title: Finding Resilience Amidst Challenges: A NICU Reflection


Hook: Jump right into the challenging situation.

Background: I was completing a rotation in the NICU. Describe the infant patient, health issue, and required procedure.

Thesis: This experience taught me important lessons about resilience and connecting with non-verbal patients that will make me a better nurse.

Body Paragraph 1 - Objective Description

Topic: Executing the complex procedure on my fragile patient

Details of the procedure and patient’s reactions. Describe your own actions, emotions observed, and challenging aspects.

Body Paragraph 2 - Thoughts and Feelings

Topic: My emotions and thought process during the procedure

Details on feeling overwhelmed, second-guessing myself, and frustrated when procedures are not going smoothly. Nervous about patient’s distress.

Body Paragraph 3 - Reflection

Topic: How experience has shaped me as a nurse

Details on having more empathy for challenges of working with non-verbal patients. Discussing the need to stay calm under pressure and the value of relying on a support system. Appreciating the importance of delicacy and precision needed for fragile patients.


Summary of resilience and communication takeaways. Commitment to applying lessons in practice. Forward-looking statement about continuing development as a nurse.

Example 2

Title: Lessons in Compassion: Reflecting on a Difficult ER Encounter


Hook: A late-night call during my ER rotation became an unexpected lesson in compassion.

Background: I was completing a shift in a busy city emergency room. Explain case details - age of the patient, health condition, etc.

Thesis: This challenging encounter taught me the importance of holistic, patient-centered care when tensions run high.

Body Paragraph 1

Topic: The chaotic scene upon the combative patient’s arrival

Details on the loud, crowded ER and frenetic energy as security brought in the shouting patient. Describe your own uncertainty observing the initial handling of the upset patient.

Body Paragraph 2

Topic: My judgmental mindset toward the patient

Details on feeling impatient and dismissing patient’s concerns in my own mind and admitting frustration when the patient refused my care. Recognizing negative assumptions, I held.

Body Paragraph 3

Topic: Reflecting on the patient’s perspective

Details on realizing the patient’s aggression likely came from fear and past trauma. Discussing the importance of addressing human needs for compassion/respect first and committing to patience and understanding.


Summarize compassion takeaways. Discuss the critical role of holistic nursing ethics—a forward-looking statement on applying lessons to become an attentive, empathetic nurse.

Final Thoughts

An outline lays the groundwork for an organized, coherent, reflective essay. Following the standard structure with an engaging introduction, descriptive body paragraphs, and summative conclusion allows you to logically build up your narrative arc and reinforce key learnings for the reader. Use your outline as a roadmap to writing a compelling reflective essay that powerfully conveys your introspective process and growth mindset.

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