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Reflective writing

We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.

John Dewey

Reflective thinking and writing involves three core phases:

  • Recalling and describing the experience you engaged with (e.g., a reading, a project you worked on individually or with a group, a theoretical concept, or a business practice).
  • Analysing and interpreting the experience in relation to your personal perspective and other perspectives (sometimes with reference to a model or theory from your course).
  • Thinking about the implications for practice and for your learning, and what you would or could do differently.

Characteristics of reflective writing

Reflective writing:

Is more personal and informal

  • Often reflective pieces are written in the first person (e.g., ‘I’, ‘we’, ‘me’, and ‘us’).
  • Example: “There are a couple of ways I can improve to contribute to my group positively . . .” 

Coherently brings together three main elements

  • These are the experiences you engaged with, your personal thoughts and feelings, as well as the implications for your learning and next steps (see the example above).

Often requires movement between past and present tenses

  • Use the past tense when referring to the experience or project you worked on and the present tense when making general statements or linking to a theoretical concept.
  • Example (past tense): “As a team, we were excited about the prospect of pursuing our own business strategies to see if they would pan out. One thing the authors suggested was . . .” 
  • Example (present tense): “This week’s reading was interesting. It presents key questions beyond the life of University. It asks how I can be happy in my career?” 

Reflective writing example

You might follow this example to structure a reflective writing assignment.

Recalling and describing the experience:

What happened and how you felt about it?

Example: “This week in class, we talked about team formation and how to manage a team well, including dealing with free riders and slackers. One thing mentioned was that if a member of the team was not performing as well (in terms of doing their share of work), then the rest of the team should tell them about it and give them a chance instead of just giving them a low score and/or failing them.”

 

Analysing and interpreting the experience:

What was new/different?

How it relates to other personal experiences or theories?

Example: “I did have some problems with free riders in my previous team experiences. Thinking back, I realised that we did not tell the member who was free riding that we felt they were not doing their share of the work. It would have been beneficial to the rest of the team and to that particular team member if we had.”

 

Thinking about implications:

What was learnt?

What will be done differently?

Example: “As I am doing the group leader role, should any problems arise with free riders or conflicts within the team, I feel that it should be my job to sort it out and not let it escalate. One solution to the free rider problem would be to assign tasks to each member or have the team agree on which tasks they will take on. In this way, everyone will have to do something to contribute to the team.”

Helpful vocabulary

The Australian Library and Information Association has produced a reflective practice writing guide to aid vocabulary use.

Here is an example:

 

 For me the [most]…

important

meaningful

significant

relevant

useful

event(s)

aspect(s)

ideas(s)

experience(s)

issue(s)

activities

learning

was (were)

happened when…

resulted from …

arose from…

began after …

became relevant for …

Helpful tips

  • Follow the lecturer’s instructions which may include a rubric that lists the assessment criteria or a recommended structure
  • Make the link between the experience, yourself, and theory (if required) explicit and meaningful
  • Make your reaction to the experience stand out more than the description of the actual experience
  • Be genuine and honest in your reflections and do not just write what you think the lecturer wants to hear
  • Write your first or second draft of your reflective assignment early so you can leave it for a few days and then revisit it for final edits before submission

Further information

  • Press the Printer Friendly button at the bottom left-hand corner to download a printable handout
  • Birmingham University has produced this brief  reflective writing guide 
  • Watch this reflective writing video by The University of South Australia