What is reflective writing?
Good reflective writing usually involves four key elements:
- reporting and responding to a critical issue or experience;
- relating this issue or experience to your own knowledge in this field;
- reasoning about causes and effects of this issue/experience according to relevant theories or literature and/or similarities or differences with other experiences you've had; and
- reconstructing your thinking to plan new ways to approach the issue or engage in similar experiences in the future
For more detail, see the 4Rs framework [130KB].
Why do we write reflectively?
Reflecting on an experience involves drawing on current understandings to think deeply and purposefully about what can be learned from the experience. The purpose of academic or professional reflection is to transform practice in some way, whether it is the practice of learning or the practice of the discipline or the profession.
This form of writing is a process where you can learn from your experiences and connect theory with practice in your professional field or discipline. It can help you become more aware of assumptions and preconceived ideas, and it can help you to plan future actions.
How to write reflectively
Reflective writing can take many forms, depending on the discipline being studied and the assignment structure. More formal reflective essays or reports have a clear structure with an introduction, body and conclusion. Less formal reflective writing, such as blogs, discussion entries or ongoing journals, may not be organised in such a distinct way. Reflective constructions in some discipline areas may also involve multimedia elements or performances.
All reflective writing, however, has certain key features you need to include that relate to the 4Rs of reflection:
1. Report (describe) an issue or experience and explain why it is important to your professional practice. Give your initial response to the experience or issue.
Recount the experience or issue on which you have chosen to reflect. Explain what happened and in what context. Your initial response to the experience or issue can show where you stood before you started to analyse the situation.
2. Relate the issue / experience to your own skills, professional experience or discipline knowledge.
Describe any similar or related experiences you've had and whether the conditions were the same or different. Make connections between this and your previous knowledge and experience of similar situations.
3. Reason about (discuss) the issue / incident to show an understanding of how things work in this discipline or professional field.
You should highlight significant factors in the experience showing why they are important for a new understanding. Relate these back to the academic literature including theoretical or research-based literature as appropriate. Use qualitative and/or quantitative evidence where appropriate. Discuss different perspectives involved, e.g. ethical, social, legal, organisational, professional.
4. Reconstruct your understanding or future practice
Outline the changes in your understanding and/or behaviour as a result of the experience and your reflection upon it. Explain the implications for this in your future professional practice. What actions will you take and why?
Some faculties use the STAR-L model in QUT ePortfolio as a guide to reflection on how one dealt with a situation or task. The 4Rs can be used alongside STAR-L [50KB] to guide deeper reflection on what you learnt from your experience and how this will change your future practice.
Checklist for reflective writing
- Reported (described) the issue or experience upon which I am reflecting?
- Explained the relevance of the issue or experience to my future professional practice?
- Described my own response to the experience?
- Reasoned about the significant factors in the situation (using academic literature/theory)?
- Outlined how the issue or experience changed my understanding and/or behaviour?
- Explained how this new understanding will help to reconstruct my future professional practice?
- Followed the required structure for this assignment?
- Checked that my assignment makes sense?
- Checked that my spelling and punctuation are error free?
University of Portsmouth Academic Skills Unit: See 'Reflective writing: a basic introduction' on Academic writing support.
A great deal of your time at university will be spent thinking; thinking about what people have said, what you have read, what you yourself are thinking and how your thinking has changed. It is generally believed that the thinking process involves two aspects: reflective thinking and critical thinking. They are not separate processes; rather, they are closely connected (Brookfield 1987).
Figure 1: The Thinking Process (adapted from Mezirow 1990, Schon 1987, Brookfield 1987)
- a form of personal response to experiences, situations, events or new information.
- a 'processing' phase where thinking and learning take place.
There is neither a right nor a wrong way of reflective thinking, there are just questions to explore.
Figure 1 shows that the reflective thinking process starts with you. Before you can begin to assess the words and ideas of others, you need to pause and identify and examine your own thoughts.
Doing this involves revisiting your prior experience and knowledge of the topic you are exploring. It also involves considering how and why you think the way you do. The examination of your beliefs, values, attitudes and assumptions forms the foundation of your understanding.
Reflective thinking demands that you recognise that you bring valuable knowledge to every experience. It helps you therefore to recognise and clarify the important connections between what you already know and what you are learning. It is a way of helping you to become an active, aware and critical learner.
Reflective writing is:
- your response to experiences, opinions, events or new information
- your response to thoughts and feelings
- a way of thinking to explore your learning
- an opportunity to gain self-knowledge
- a way to achieve clarity and better understanding of what you are learning
- a chance to develop and reinforce writing skills
- a way of making meaning out of what you study
Reflective writing is not:
- just conveying information, instruction or argument
- pure description, though there may be descriptive elements
- straightforward decision or judgement (e.g. about whether something is right or wrong, good or bad)
- simple problem-solving
- a summary of course notes
- a standard university essay
See next: How do I write reflectively?
For all your referencing, writing and academic skills support