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Develop your writing style

Find out what reflective writing is and how to use it in your assignments

You may be asked to write reflectively for an assignment. There are many models of reflection. This page provides basic generic guidance for reflective writing, but it is important that you follow any guidelines you have been given to meet your course requirements.

What is reflective writing?

Reflective writing:

  • looks back at past experience to perform better in the future
  • analyses, explores and explains what happened and why, and usually involves incorporating models and/or theory — this uses academic language.
  • considers strengths, weaknesses, anxieties and errors — you can use personal language such as 'I' and 'we' to talk about observations, emotions and feelings
  • is constructively criticising yourself, the event and often others
  • requires evidence to support what you are saying, including things that have been said or done, their causes and their effects — you'll need clear records of events and your thoughts

How to think reflectively

  • Think about what was done. Analyse the event by thinking in depth from different perspectives. Use subject theory, reflective models and personal insight. The critical evaluation you make of your and others’ actions should be applied to future events.
  • Think about what happened, what did and didn’t work and what you think about it.
  • Critically evaluate what you would do differently in the future and explain why.

Possible structure for reflective writing

The expression of reflection may be free and unstructured, especially because it might be in the form of a personal diary, learning journal or a narrative for design development. Nonetheless, tutors normally expect to see carefully-structured writing.

Reflection usually has the following four major components:

  1. Introduction: the event, incident or topic
  2. Description and problematisation of the event
  3. Cause and effect of the critical event — don't write too much description at this stage
  4. Explain and critique what happened, what are you trying to resolve here, what you have learnt and how you would move forwards

An example of reflective writing

The following example of basic reflective writing can be broken down into three parts: description, interpretation and outcome. First, the full example is provided. Next, it is broken down and divided into the three parts.

Example

Specific tasks were shared out amongst members of my team. However, the tasks were not seen as equally difficult by all team members. Consequently, the perception of unfairness impacted on our interactions. Social interdependence theory recognises a type of group interaction called “positive interdependence” (Johnson & Johnson, 2008, cited by Maughan & Webb, 2010) and many studies demonstrate that learning can be improved through cooperation (Maughan & Webb, 2010). We did not experience these with the initial task allocation. Nonetheless, we achieved a successful outcome through further negotiation. Therefore, we found that “cooperative learning experiences encourage higher achievement.” (Maughan & Webb, 2010). To improve the process in future, perhaps we could elect a chairperson to help encourage cooperation when tasks are being allocated.

Description

Descriptions tend to be short. They explain what happened and what is being examined.

Example

Specific tasks were shared out amongst members of my team. However, the tasks were not seen as equally difficult by all team members.

Interpretation

Intrepretation could include what is most important, interesting, useful or relevant about the object, event or idea. It could include how it can be explained, for example with theory.

Example

Consequently, the perception of unfairness impacted on our interactions. Social interdependence theory recognises a type of group interaction called “positive interdependence” (Johnson & Johnson, 2008, cited by Maughan & Webb, 2010) and many studies demonstrate that learning can be improved through cooperation (Maughan & Webb, 2010). We did not experience these with the initial task allocation.

Outcome

This should cover what you have learnt from the experience and what it means for your future.

Example

Nonetheless, we achieved a successful outcome through further negotiation. Therefore, we found that “cooperative learning experiences encourage higher achievement.” (Maughan & Webb, 2010). To improve the process in future, perhaps we could elect a chairperson to help encourage cooperation when tasks are being allocated.

Vocabulary

Here are some words and phrases to help you with description, interpretation and outcome:

Description

There is a range of possible events, ideas or objects on which you might reflect, so there is no specific vocabulary for this section. It is usually best to use the present tense when describing an idea, a theory or a model. For example: “Social interdependence theory recognises that …”

Interpretation

When personalising your statements, you could begin with, for example, “For me, …”, “I found”, “I felt” or “I believe”. You'll need to give your reasoning or evidence.

Interpretation words and phrases

  • meaningful
  • significant
  • important
  • relevant
  • useful

  • aspect
  • element
  • experiences
  • issues
  • ideas

  • previously
  • at the time
  • at first
  • initially
  • subsequently
  • consequently
  • later

  • thought
  • did not think
  • felt
  • did not feel
  • noticed
  • did not notice
  • questioned
  • did not question
  • realised
  • did not realise
  • did something
  • did not do something
  • expected
  • did not expect

  • alternatively
  • equally
  • this is similar to
  • is unlike
  • differs from

  • this might be
  • is perhaps
  • could be
  • is probably
  • may be seen as
  • suggests
  • indicates

  • because
  • due to
  • explains
  • may be explained by
  • is related to

Outcome

Outcome words and phrases

  • having read
  • experienced
  • applied
  • discussed
  • analysed
  • learnt

  • I now feel
  • think
  • realise
  • wonder
  • question
  • know
  • believe

  • additionally
  • furthermore
  • most importantly
  • I have improved
  • I have slightly developed

  • my skills
  • understanding
  • knowledge of
  • ability to

  • this knowledge, understanding or skill / is, could be, or will be / essential; important; useful / as a learner or practitioner because

Because:

  • I did not
  • have not yet
  • am not yet certain about
  • am not yet confident about
  • do not yet know
  • do not yet understand

  • I will now need to
  • in a future similar situation, I would
  • I need to further develop my knowledge
  • my responses would be different

References

Johnson, D., and Johnson, F. (2008). Joining together: group theory and group skills. New York: Pearson.

Maughan, C., and Webb, J. (2010). Small group learning and teaching. Retrieved from http://78.158.56.101/archive/law/resources/teaching-and-learning-practices/groups/index.html.

Download our reflective writing revision sheet

Download this page as a PDF for your reflective writing notes and to use our vocabulary aid.

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