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Reflective Writing: Reflective Writing

Reflective Writing

Reflective writing is...


Reflective writing is more personal than other kinds of academic writing. You could draw on your initial feelings and reactions, weaknesses and strengths, and errors and successes. It is also often acceptable to refer to yourself in the first person, e.g. "I felt..." or "I observed..."


Similar to your other assignments, your reflection should be clearly structured into paragraphs with accurate sentences and using the correct referencing style.

Analytical and Critical 

Whilst you are drawing on personal observations, feelings or experiences, the assignment should not merely be descriptive. You will need to use evidence and examples to support your reflections and you will need to undertake analysis and evaluation.

Concerning theory as well as practice

It is common to draw on (and make reference to) academic theories/arguments to make sense of what happened, to consider how approaches may differ or to consider recommendations for future actions.

Academic essays vs Reflective writing



Just like essay writing, reflective writing requires…

  • research 
  • focus on a question or title 
  • critical thinking and analysis 
  • organisation of the text into paragraphs
  • accurate sentence structure
  • formal style
  • clear and coherent discussion 

Unlike core academic writing, reflective writing…

  • connects with personal feelings and behaviour
  • includes observation and evaluation
  • may be quite descriptive, using 1st person
  • used in specific ‘genres’, e.g. critical incidents, journals

Reflective Thinking and Writing Video

This video will help you to explore reflective thinking and writing more deeply and will provide you with tips and strategies to write more thoughtful reflections. You will also have the opportunity to practise reflecting in two reflective activities.

Connecting reflection with theory

Usually you will be expected in your reflective assignment to draw links between theory and practice

What does it mean?

When analysing the event, consider the theories or academic evidence you have come across in your modules

Why do we link theory and practice?

  • we need to question and analyse the events, so the relevant theory in our fields are a good starting point for that;
  • we want to improve our practice. How about using suggestions and tools coming from the theories? After all, that's why you are studying for your degree!
  • we want to improve - or discard - theories that do not work in practice.

How do we link theory and practice?

Think of the following questions: 

  • Can you see any connections between what you experienced and the theories, concepts or models learnt?
  • Are your observations consistent with what those theories, concepts, or models suggest?
  • How does your experience in practice help you to understand the theories, concepts or models?
  • Does your experience support or in fact negate those theories?
  • If your experience is quite different, use this for critical analysis and try to identify why it is different to the theories and what this therefore means in a practical setting.

Describe - Interpret - Outcome

You can try this structure to effectively incorporate theory into your reflection: 

Describe: what happened?

Interpret: analyse why this happened, also using theory 

Outcome: what is the conclusion that can be drawn from this event? What will you do in the future if a similar event occurs? 


Go to the Critical Thinking and Writing Libguide for advice on how to be an active reader and effectively incorporate supporting evidence into your assignments. 

The language of reflection

Within reflective assignments, you will often need to evaluate activities/events. Here are some useful phrases that may prompt your reflection:

After observation…

The significance of this activity… 

This comment suggests…

It is important to realize… 

In this situation I could have…

This is significant because… 

Because of this activity I was prompted to…

I acknowledge that… 

This is an indication of…

I focused on…because…

To promote continued thinking I…

I realised that…

The intent of my question…

In the future…

In retrospect…

I have since concluded…

After this activity I found…to be significant because…


Perhaps it would have been

On reflection it is clear that / I feel that…


Reflective writing, also, tends to use  –

Modal verbs such as ‘could have’, ‘might have’, ‘would have’

Conditional phrases (if…)

Language of caution – possibility (e.g. it is possible/perhaps); probability (e.g. it is likely/probable), frequency (e.g. often/rare/usual)