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What Is The Difference Between A Narrative And A Reflective Essay: Basic Tips


When you instructor says he wants a reflective essay written on a given topic, he’s probably assuming you know what “reflective means. He is probably assuming you know the difference between a narrative paper and a reflective one. Where does that leave you if his assumption is incorrect? What do you do if you are clueless as to the difference between narrative and reflective writing?

First of all, don’t panic. The difference between the two is not difficult to grasp. Simply put, a narrative essay is one that uses a story to teach a specific point or to offer an opinion on a certain matter. A narrative paper can use a story simply to entertain. A reflective essay has a specific purpose, such as demonstrating how you’ve overcome some obstacle in your life or how you made sense of a particular event or series of events. A reflective writing can use the same story as a narrative, but the reflective would show how the experience molded your view of the world around you or your perception of things to come.

A narrative tells the story; a reflective explains the story.

There are a few tips and tricks to getting the perfect writing on paper, whether you’re going for narrative or reflective:

  • Go for clarity: Using complex words and intricate syntax may look impressive but it doesn’t add a lot to the overall clarity of your writing.

    • Narrative essay: distribute the information between sentences and paragraphs to guide the reader through the sequence of events.

    • Reflective essay: relate the event that is the subject of your paper in clear terms, remembering that your focus is not on the event itself but your response to that event.

  • Keep it simple. You don’t have to describe each and every one of your movements or reactions.

  • Pay attention to the tense of your writing. Avoid writing in second-person narrative. Writing in the present tense, first person point of view is acceptable for either a narrative or reflective essay.

  • Choose your words wisely. Whether you’re writing narrative or reflective, your goal should be to engage your reader. Word choice is important because that is what will hold or lose your reader’s attention. Don’t be dry and clinical; but don’t get carried away with slang and “texting” language.

  • Limit the number of references. Explain what you mean in your writing without referring your reader back to source material over and over.

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