Our guide to reflective writing

While reflective writing might seem easier than writing a formal essay or report, it can often be pretty difficult to nail. Reflective writing demands higher order thinking skills that require you to critically analyse, assess and evaluate.

2 years ago   •   4 min read

By Dylan Kay
Photo by Green Chameleon / Unsplash

What is Reflective Writing?

While reflective writing might seem easier than writing a formal essay or report, it can often be pretty difficult to nail. Reflective writing is not just a description or summary of what you have observed. It demands higher order thinking skills that require you to critically analyse, assess and evaluate experiences, situations or new information and perspectives. This means it’s a personal response - it's about YOU and what YOU think! How do you make sense of these experiences and ideas? A reflective response should capture the thinking and learning phase: it should track your analytical thought process, from start to finish: a connection between what you already knew, what you have learnt, what you are learning and what there still is to learn. This involves consideration of prior experience and understanding of the topic you are reflecting upon:

  • ask yourself how and why you think the way you do;
  • examine your current perspective, that is, ask how your preconceived beliefs, values, assumptions and attitudes inform your personal understanding.

So, to sum it all up, a reflective response is:

  1. A personal, subjective account (rather than an objective, descriptive account)
  2. written in first person (remember it's about what YOU think!)
  3. explores the process of your learning (rather than purely describing what you have learnt)
  4. Requires contemplation and consideration of multiple perspectives/ stages (rather than a justified argument)

Why is reflective writing important?

Considering why reflective writing is important will help you to write your response with a clear analytical purpose. You need to write with the mindset that reflective writing is important for your own learning experience - this will help you to avoid falling down the trap of simply recounting an experience just because it’s the task you’ve been set. Think of reflective writing as an opportunity to deepen personal understanding beyond prescriptive content and develop critical thinking skills. This will allow you to draw connections between different processes and perspectives - an important life skill generally. Importantly, reflective writing will inform how you can improve future experiences and processes. It should encourage you to challenge your preconceived assumptions and make personal meaning out of what you study. If you are writing a reflective response with these purposes in mind then you’re on the right track!

So how do I actually write a reflective response?

As you probably noted above, it is more than acceptable (ie. highly recommended!) to use personal pronouns and refer to yourself when writing reflectively. Although a reflective piece is written in a more formal register than traditional essays or reports, your response should still be clear, logical, well-structured and make references to relevant sources or texts where appropriate.

Reflective writing will take different forms based on the subject, topic and specific question. You might be required to reflect on a personal (learning) experience or reflect on another perspective (for example, an article or paper that you have been prescribed). Regardless, you should consider how these new experiences or perspectives will inform how you approach the subject matter in the future. Here are a few phrases to get you started:

Reflecting on a personal experience:

  • My experience of ____ encouraged me to consider/ question _____
  • Upon reflection of ____ I now believe ____

Reflecting on another perspective:

  • I find it hard to agree with ____ based on ___
  • My experience of ____ aligns/ contradicts ___’s view that ___
  • However, I consider the key question to be ____

Reflecting on how recent learnings will inform the future:

  • While I feel that I effectively ___ [what worked well], I understand that ____[what didn’t work so well] requires more attention. Specifically, ____[what you will improve next time]
  • Upon reflection, I understand that ____ wasn’t effective because ____. To alleviate this in the future I will ______.

How should I structure my response?

You may be familiar with the common reflective writing structure: What? So what? Now what?

Essentially, your reflective response structure should track your thought observations and thought process. I like to think of it like this:

  1. what’s the context? ie. what happened?
  2. what are the key takeaways ie. what I have I learnt?
  3. what are the implications? ie. what will I do with all this?

Context → Key takeaways → Implications

  1. Context? establish the context that you are reflecting upon, including as much detail as possible. Based on the question/ topic area, you might describe: who, what, why, when, where.
  2. Key takeaways? Why is this important? This is where you will discuss what you believe was effective in your undertakings. What resonated with you? It is also necessary to consider the flip side - what didn’t work so well or how were your previous assumptions and beliefs challenged?

Here, you might ask yourself the following questions:

  • What about your experience challenged your perspective/ understanding? Why?
  • How are your learnings relevant to the key concepts you have discussed in the syllabus/ module?
  • How can you link your findings to relevant texts, sources or class discussions?
  • How does this experience inform the way you view other experiences or ideas?

3. Implications? This is where you consider the implications of the above takeaways… consider how this affects your approach going forward.

If you are reflecting on an experience you might consider the following:

  • What will you change/ keep the same the next time around?
  • How will you apply what you have learnt in the future?

If you are reflecting on someone’s perspective you might consider the following:

  • How will the alternate/ aligning perspective inform the way you view the particular subject matter?
  • What questions do you still have? How will you pursue these?
  • How does this perspective connect to other topics you may not have previously considered?

Obviously, this is a very general guide to reflective writing. If you after some subject-specific then we can help you find your perfect tutor. Our free online courses are another useful tool to help you get the ball rolling... because, the more you practice your reflective writing, the better it will be!

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