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Develop your writing style

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

Reflective assignments are different to standard essays. Here we'll cover some key elements for you to consider when writing reflectively. 

There are many models of reflection you can use in an assignment. Here we discuss some basic guidance for reflective writing but you should follow any additional guidelines you've been given on your course or module 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
  • usually incorporates models or theory
  • 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, an event and others
  • requires evidence to support what you are saying such as things that have been said or done, their causes and their effects — so you need clear records of the events and your thoughts

Thinking reflectively

Thinking reflectively involves: 

  • Thinking 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.
  • Thinking about what happened, what did and didn’t work, and what you think about it.
  • Critically evaluating what you would do differently in the future and explain why.

Reflective writing structure

Non-academic reflective writing is usually unstructured – such as writing in a personal diary, learning journal, or narrative for design development. You should structure your reflective assignments. There are lots of ways to structure your reflective writing, but we explore one example here.

Reflection usually has the following 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

Reflective writing example

This example of basic reflective writing can be split into three parts: description, interpretation and outcome. See how the example paragraph is broken into these three sections below the text. Full example text: 

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

The outcome should cover what you've learnt from your experience and what it means for your future. For 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.

Useful reflective vocabulary

Below are are some words and phrases to help improve your reflective writing. 

Description

You may need to talk about events, ideas or objects in your reflective writing. You can use a range of vocabulary to describe these items so there isn't any specific vocabulary for this section.

You should use the present tense to describe your idea, theory or model.

Interpretation

You can open personal statements with phrases like: 'For me', 'I found that', 'I felt that', or 'I believe...'. You also 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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