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UMGC Effective Writing Center Narration: Writing to Reflect

Narration is one of the most common types of communication in our world. It seems we are either telling about something we did or hearing about something that happened to others on an almost hourly basis. This constant practice makes narrative writing--also called reflective writing--natural for us and a common writing assignment in school.

It seemed only logical that we ask a successful student to reflect upon and narrate her experience with narrative writing.

Meet Kris Nelson

Kris is a typical adult student: returning to school to complete degree work while holding down a job and raising a family. Her approach to this writing assignment was meticulous and thorough. Her description of the writing process, from pre-writing to final draft, also provides an excellent model for both beginning and experienced writers.

What follows is Kris' answers during an interview in which we asked how she went about producing an effective narrative or reflective essay. 

How Did You Begin?

The first thing I did was to review the assignment instructions and make sure I understood everything my professor wanted. Then I looked up a definition of a narrative or reflection essay. The definition I liked was simple: an essay that shares a significant personal discovery. The discovery could be about anything—something you found out about yourself, about other people, even the world. In reflection writing you tell a story. Everybody loves a good story. Once I put those two things together--a good story about finding out something—the assignment came together for me.

I also tried to find a way to relate the assignment to the real world. I thought about how often I use narrative writing in the real world. I work in the medical field and we have to write patient histories that tell a story about that patient, including their presenting complaints, the doctor's treatment, the patient outcomes, and follow-ups. Sometimes we've been in legal depositions where we had to narrate our version of what happened in a certain patient's case. Knowing that I was practicing a skill that I needed at work gave me more motivation.

How Is a Reflection/Narration Organized?

There are usually five parts in this type of essay. First the introduction. You set the scene, but with a little mystery or something exciting or spicy to make it interesting. Next is conflict. There has to be some complication. Some drama, problem to be solved, or decision to be made. Then you present the effects of the problem or conflict. What happened? This is where the reader’s interest is usually most intense. Finally, the problem is over. There’s a solution. That’s why this section is usually called the resolution. Many reflections also have a conclusion. This part reinforces the point and circles back to the beginning, closing the loop, so to speak.

Describe Your Writing Process

I try to follow pretty much the same process, no matter what I'm writing. Sometimes there is stronger emphasis in one area because of the type of writing. In this narrative essay, for example, I really relied on my outline.

  1. Prewriting: I start with a list of possible topics. I brainstorm them as fast as I can and do not worry about what is coming out. I want quantity, not quality. Then I pick one or two to play with. I brainstorm about it. For this topic, I tried to remember as much as I could about the summer of the infamous cookie dough incident.
  2. Outlining: After the topic is set, I outline. I’m a big believer in outlines. My motto is: If I can outline it, I can write it. The writing just seems to take care of itself with a good outline. On one side of the page I put the five parts—intro, complication, effects, resolution and conclusion. Then I filled in each part with as much detail as I could as fast as I could. I ended up with more detail than I needed, but that’s a great position to be in! Then I did a last outline, the one I try to follow when writing.
  3. Drafting: On a first draft, I write fast and don’t worry about anything except getting down my thoughts. I stick to the outline, but if I need to go in a different direction I will. It’s just a draft.
  4. Revising: After the first draft, I go back and throw out anything that takes away from my point or the effect I’m going for. Then I find somebody else to read it and give me their reactions. That really helps me to understand how well I communicated the ideas and feelings I wanted to get across, what belongs and what doesn't.
  5. Editing/Proofing: On the final draft, I edit and proofread. I like to use the spelling and grammar checker on my computer, then get someone else to look it over again for errors. For this essay, I felt like my cousins and my grandmother deserved my best writing so I really tried to make it shine.

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