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Examples of Reflective Writing
Types of reflective writing assignments.
A journal requires you to write weekly entries throughout a semester. May require you to base your reflection on course content.
A learning diary is similar to a journal, but may require group participation. The diary then becomes a place for you to communicate in writing with other group members.
A logbook is often used in disciplines based on experimental work, such as science. You note down or 'log' what you have done. A log gives you an accurate record of a process and helps you reflect on past actions and make better decisions for future actions.
A reflective note is often used in law. A reflective note encourages you to think about your personal reaction to a legal issue raised in a course.
An essay diary can take the form of an annotated bibliography (where you examine sources of evidence you might include in your essay) and a critique (where you reflect on your own writing and research processes).
a peer review usually involves students showing their work to their peers for feedback.
A self-assessment task requires you to comment on your own work.
Some examples of reflective writing
Social science fieldwork report (methods section), engineering design report, learning journal (weekly reflection).
Brookfield, S 1987, Developing critical thinkers: challenging adults to explore alternative ways of thinking and acting , Open University Press, Milton Keynes.
Mezirow, J 1990, Fostering critical reflection in adulthood: a guide to transformative and emancipatory learning , Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
Schön, DA 1987, Educating the reflective practitioner , Jossey-Bass. San Francisco.
We thank the students who permitted us to feature examples of their writing.
Prepared by Academic Skills, UNSW. This guide may be distributed or adapted for educational purposes. Full and proper acknowledgement is required.
Essay and assignment writing guide
- Essay writing basics
- Essay and assignment planning
- Answering assignment questions
- Editing checklist
- Writing a critical review
- Annotated bibliography
- How do I write reflectively?
- Examples of reflective writing
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- » Learning journals
- » Reflective essays
Reflective essays are academic essays; what makes an essay "good" will work for a reflective essay. What is different about a reflective essay is that the essay is about you and your thinking. However, you will need evidence from your course to back up your reflections.
You should structure a reflective essay as an essay, that is write to persuade your reader of your key reflections (or argument). The diagram above, details how to stucture your reflections through the essay. To find out more see the section on essay writing .
The following example comes from business. Thanks to Dr Colleen Hayes for the three samples.
Students were asked to write a reflective essay on their learning in the course by responding to the following question:
What key thing have you learned about corporate social responsibility in the course?
Example 1: Retelling
This writing is (1) descriptive/listing of content, not reflective and (2) not properly referenced (the definition of stakeholders is directly copied from Freeman in the lecture slides.
Example 2: Relating
This writing involves relating to personal experience and has some integration of course concepts (stakeholders).
Example 3: Reflecting
More reflective (forward-looking), better citation and integration of multiple course concepts, and reflection that links with personal experience.
An anthropology marking rubric
For this assessment, students were required to write a 1500-1800 word essay building on the themes of the course to address the question "We are all pirates". Attached under reference documents is the rubric used to mark the essay (thanks to Dr Caroline Schuster). Notice that it requires both the reflection (reflect, relate and retell) as well as the poor traditional requirements of an essay (Writing and organisation, Supporting claims with scholarly sources).
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Writing reflectively is essential to many academic programmes and also to completing applications for employment. This page considers what reflective writing is and how to do it.
What is reflection?
Reflection is something that we do everyday as part of being human. We plan and undertake actions, then think about whether each was successful or not, and how we might improve next time. We can also feel reflection as emotions, such as satisfaction and regret, or as a need to talk over happenings with friends. See below for an introduction to reflection as a concept.
Reflection in everyday life [Google Slides]
What is reflective writing?
Reflective writing should be thought of as recording reflective thinking. This can be done in an everyday diary entry, or instruction in a recipe book to change a cooking method next time. In academic courses, reflective is more complex and focussed. This section considers the main features of reflective writing.
Reflective writing for employability
When applying for jobs, or further academic study, students are required to think through what they have done in their degrees and translate it into evaluative writing that fulfils the criteria of job descriptions and person specifications. This is a different style of writing, the resource below will enable you to think about how to begin this transition.
There are also lots of resources available through the university's careers service and elsewhere on the Skills Guides. The links below are to pages that can offer further support and guidance.
- Careers and Placements Service resources Lots of resources that relate to all aspects of job applications, including tailored writing styles and techniques.
The language of reflective writing
Reflective academic writing is:
- almost always written in the first person.
- evaluative - you are judging something.
- partly personal, partly based on criteria.
- analytical - you are usually categorising actions and events.
- formal - it is for an academic audience.
- carefully constructed.
Look at the sections below to see specific vocabulary types and sentence constructions that can be useful when writing reflectively.
Language for exploring outcomes
A key element of writing reflectively is being able to explain to the reader what the results of your actions were. This requires careful grading of language to ensure that what you write reflects the evidence of what happened and to convey clearly what you achieved or did not achieve.
Below are some ideas and prompts of how you can write reflectively about outcomes, using clarity and graded language.
Expressing uncertainty when writing about outcomes:
- It is not yet clear that…
- I do not yet (fully) understand...
- It is unclear...
- It is not yet fully clear...
- It is not yet (fully?) known…
- It appears to be the case that…
- It is too soon to tell....
Often, in academic learning, the uncertainty in the outcomes is a key part of the learning and development that you undertake. It is vital therefore that you explain this clearly to the reader using careful choices in your language.
Writing about how the outcome relates to you:
- I gained (xxxx) skills…
- I developed…
- The experience/task/process taught me…
- I achieved…
- I learned that…
- I found that…
In each case you can add in words like, ‘significantly’, ‘greatly’, ‘less importantly’ etc. The use of evaluative adjectives enables you to express to the reader the importance and significance of your learning in terms of the outcomes achieved.
Describing how you reached your outcomes:
- Having read....
- Having completed (xxxx)...
- I analysed…
- I applied…
- I learned…
- I experienced…
- Having reflected…
This gives the reader an idea of the nature of the reflection they are reading. How and why you reach the conclusions and learning that you express in your reflective writing is important so the reader can assess the validity and strength of your reflections.
Projecting your outcomes into the future:
- If I completed a similar task in the future I would…
- Having learned through this process I would…
- Next time I will…
- I will need to develop…. (in light of the outcomes)
- Next time my responses would be different....
When showing the reader how you will use your learning in the future, it is important to be specific and again, to use accurate graded language to show how and why what you choose to highlight matters. Check carefully against task instructions to see what you are expected to reflect into the future about.
When reflecting in academic writing on outcomes, this can mean either the results of the task you have completed, for example, the accuracy of a titration in a Chemistry lab session, or what you have learned/developed within the task, for example, ensuring that an interview question is written clearly enough to produce a response that reflects what you wished to find out.
Language choices are important in ensuring the reader can see what you think in relation to the reflection you have done.
Language for interpretation
When you interpret something you are telling the reader how important it is, or what meaning is attached to it.
You may wish to indicate the value of something:
E.g. 'the accuracy of the transcription was essential to the accuracy of the eventual coding and analysis of the interviews undertaken. The training I undertook was critical to enabling me to transcribe quickly and accurately'
You may wish to show how ideas, actions or some other aspect developed over time:
- in sequence
E.g. 'Before we could produce the final version of the presentation, we had to complete both the research and produce a plan. This was achieved later than expected, leading to subsequent rushing of creating slides, and this contributed to a lower grade'.
You may wish to show your viewpoint or that of others:
- did not think
- did/did not do something
Each of these could be preceded by 'we' or 'I'.
E.g. 'I noticed that the model of the bridge was sagging. I expressed this to the group, and as I did so I noticed that two members did not seem to grasp how serious the problem was. I proposed a break and a meeting, during which I intervened to show the results of inaction.'
There is a huge range of language that can be used for interpretation, the most important thing is to remember your reader and be clear with them about what your interpretation is, so they can see your thinking and agree or disagree with you.
Language for analysis
When reflecting, it is important to show the reader that you have analysed the tasks, outcomes, learning and all other aspects that you are writing about. In most cases, you are using categories to provide structure to your reflection. Some suggestions of language to use when analysing in reflective writing are below:
Signposting that you are breaking down a task or learning into categories:
- An aspect of…
- An element of…
- An example of…
- A key feature of the task was... (e.g. teamwork)
- The task was multifaceted… (then go on to list or describe the facets)
- There were several experiences…
- ‘X’ is related to ‘y’
There may be specific categories that you should consider in your reflection. In teamwork, it could be individual and team performance, in lab work it could be accuracy and the reliability of results. It is important that the reader can see the categories you have used for your analysis.
Analysis by chronology:
- Stage 1 (or other)
In many tasks the order in which they were completed matters. This can be a key part of your reflection, as it is possible that you may learn to do things in a different order next time or that the chronology influenced the outcomes.
Analysis by perspective:
- I considered
These language choices show that you are analysing purely by your own personal perspective. You may provide evidence to support your thinking, but it is your viewpoint that matters.
- What I expected from the reading did not happen…
- The Theory did not appear in our results…
- The predictions made were not fulfilled…
- The outcome was surprising because… (and link to what was expected)
These language choices show that you are analysing by making reference to academic learning (from an academic perspective). This means you have read or otherwise learned something and used it to form expectations, ideas and/or predictions. You can then reflect on what you found vs what you expected. The reader needs to know what has informed our reflections.
- Organisation X should therefore…
- A key recommendation is…
- I now know that organisation x is…
- Theory A can be applied to organisation X
These language choices show that analysis is being completed from a systems perspective. You are telling the reader how your learning links into the bigger picture of systems, for example, what an organisation or entity might do in response to what you have learned.
Analysing is a key element of being reflective. You must think through the task, ideas, or learning you are reflecting on and use categories to provide structure to your thought. This then translates into structure and language choices in your writing, so your reader can see clearly how you have used analysis to provide sense and structure to your reflections.
Language for evaluation
Reflecting is fundamentally an evaluative activity. Writing about reflection is therefore replete with evaluative language. A skillful reflective writer is able to grade their language to match the thinking it is expressing to the reader.
Language to show how significant something is:
- Most importantly
- The principal lesson was…
- In each case the language is quantifying the significance of the element you are describing, telling the reader the product of your evaluative thought.
For example, ‘when team working I initially thought that we would succeed by setting out a plan and then working independently, but in fact, constant communication and collaboration were crucial to success. This was the most significant thing I learned.’
Language to show the strength of relationships:
- X is strongly associated with Y
- A is a consequence of B
- There is a probable relationship between…
- C does not cause D
- A may influence B
- I learn most strongly when doing A
In each case the language used can show how significant and strong the relationship between two factors are.
For example, ‘I learned, as part of my research methods module, that the accuracy of the data gained through surveys is directly related to the quality of the questions. Quality can be improved by reading widely and looking at surveys in existing academic papers to inform making your own questions’
Language to evaluate your viewpoint:
- I was convinced...
- I have developed significantly…
- I learned that...
- The most significant thing that I learned was…
- Next time, I would definitely…
- I am unclear about…
- I was uncertain about…
These language choices show that you are attaching a level of significance to your reflection. This enables the reader to see what you think about the learning you achieved and the level of significance you attach to each reflection.
For example, ‘when using systematic sampling of a mixed woodland, I was convinced that method A would be most effective, but in reality, it was clear that method B produced the most accurate results. I learned that assumptions based on reading previous research can lead to inaccurate predictions. This is very important for me as I will be planning a similar sampling activity as part of my fourth year project’
Evaluating is the main element of reflecting. You need to evaluate the outcomes of the activities you have done, your part in them, the learning you achieved and the process/methods you used in your learning, among many other things. It is important that you carefully use language to show the evaluative thinking you have completed to the reader.
Varieties of reflective writing in academic studies
There are a huge variety of reflective writing tasks, which differ between programmes and modules. Some are required by the nature of the subject, like in Education, where reflection is a required standard in teaching.
Some are required by the industry area graduates are training for, such as 'Human Resources Management', where the industry accreditation body require evidence of reflective capabilities in graduates.
In some cases, reflection is about the 'learning to learn' element of degree studies, to help you to become a more effective learner. Below, some of the main reflective writing tasks found in University of York degrees are explored. In each case the advice, guidance and materials do not substitute for those provided within your modules.
Reflective essay writing
Reflective essay tasks vary greatly in what they require of you. The most important thing to do is to read the assessment brief carefully, attend any sessions and read any materials provided as guidance and to allocate time to ensure you can do the task well.
Reflective learning statements
Reflective learning statements are often attached to dissertations and projects, as well as practical activities. They are an opportunity to think about and tell the reader what you have learned, how you will use the learning, what you can do better next time and to link to other areas, such as your intended career.
Making a judgement about academic performance
Think of this type of writing as producing your own feedback. How did you do? Why? What could you improve next time? These activities may be a part of modules, they could be attached to a bigger piece of work like a dissertation or essay, or could be just a part of your module learning.
The four main questions to ask yourself when reflecting on your academic performance.
- Why exactly did you achieve the grade you have been awarded? Look at your feedback, the instructions, the marking scheme and talk to your tutors to find out if you don't know.
- How did your learning behaviours affect your academic performance? This covers aspects such as attendance, reading for lectures/seminars, asking questions, working with peers... the list goes on.
- How did your performance compare to others? Can you identify when others did better or worse? Can you talk to your peers to find out if they are doing something you are not or being more/less effective?
- What can you do differently to improve your performance? In each case, how will you ensure you can do it? Do you need training? Do you need a guide book or resources?
When writing about each of the above, you need to keep in mind the context of how you are being asked to judge your performance and ensure the reader gains the detail they need (and as this is usually a marker, this means they can give you a high grade!).
Writing a learning diary/blog/record
A learning diary or blog has become a very common method of assessing and supporting learning in many degree programmes. The aim is to help you to think through your day-to-day learning and identify what you have and have not learned, why that is and what you can improve as you go along. You are also encouraged to link your learning to bigger thinking, like future careers or your overall degree.
Other support for reflective writing
The general writing pages of this site offer guidance that can be applied to all types of writing, including reflective writing. Also check your department's guidance and VLE sites for tailored resources.
Other useful resources for reflective writing:
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How to Write a Reflective Essay: Easy Guide with Pro Tips 2023
Defining What is a Reflective Essay: Purpose + Importance
Being present is a cornerstone of mindfulness and meditation. You must have often heard that staying in the moment helps you appreciate your surroundings, connects you with people and nature, and allows you to feel whatever emotions you must feel without anxiety. While this is helpful advice as you become more focused and avoid getting lost in thought, how can you truly appreciate the present without reflecting on your past experiences that have led you to the current moment?
We don't say that you should dwell on the past and get carried away with a constant thought process, but hey, hear us out - practice reflective thinking! Think back on your previous life events, paint a true picture of history, and make connections to your present self. This requires you to get a bit analytical and creative. So you might as well document your critical reflection on a piece of paper and give direction to your personal observations. That's when the need for reflective essays steps in!
In a reflective essay, you open up about your thoughts and emotions to uncover your mindset, personality, traits of character, and background. Your reflective essay should include a description of the experience/literature piece as well as explanations of your thoughts, feelings, and reactions. In this article, our essay writer service will share our ultimate guide on how to write a reflective essay with a clear format and reflective essay examples that will inspire you.
How to Write a Reflective Essay with a Proper Reflective Essay Outline
To give you a clear idea of structuring a reflective essay template, we broke down the essential steps below. Primarily, the organization of a reflective essay is very similar to other types of papers. However, our custom writers got more specific with the reflective essay outline to ease your writing process.
Reflective Essay Introduction
When wondering how to start a reflective essay, it is no surprise that you should begin writing your paper with an introductory paragraph. So, what's new and different with the reflection essay introduction? Let's dissect:
- Open your intro with an attention-seizing hook that engages your audience into reflective thinking with you. It can be something like: 'As I was sitting on my bed with my notebook placed on my shaky lap waiting for the letter of acceptance, I could not help but reflect, was enrolling in college the path I wanted to take in the future?'
- Provide context with a quick overview of the reflective essay topic. Don't reveal too much information at the start to prevent your audience from becoming discouraged to continue reading.
- Make a claim with a strong reflective essay thesis statement. It should be a simple explanation of the essay's main point, in this example, a specific event that had a big impact on you.
Reflective Essay Body Paragraphs
The next step is to develop the body of your essay. This section of the paper may be the most challenging because it's simple to ramble and replicate yourself both in the outline and the actual writing. Planning the body properly requires a lot of time and work, and the following advice can assist you in doing this effectively:
- Consider using a sequential strategy. This entails reviewing everything you wish to discuss in the order it occurred. This method ensures that your work is structured and cohesive.
- Make sure the body paragraph is well-rounded and employs the right amount of analysis. The body should go into the effects of the event on your life and the insights you've gained as a consequence.
- Prioritize reflecting rather than summarizing your points. In addition to giving readers insight into your personal experience, a reflective stance will also show off your personality and demonstrate your ability to handle certain challenges.
Reflective Essay Conclusion
The goal of your reflective essay conclusion should be to tie everything together by summarizing the key ideas raised throughout, as well as the lessons you were able to take away from experience.
- Don't forget to include the reasons for and the methods used to improve your beliefs and actions. Think about how your personality and skills have changed as well.
- What conclusions can you draw about your behavior in particular circumstances? What could you do differently if the conditions were the same in the future?
Remember that your instructor will be searching for clear signs of reflection.
Understanding a Reflection Paper Format
The format of reflective essay greatly differs from an argumentative or research paper. A reflective essay is more of a well-structured story or a diary entry rife with insight and reflection. You might be required to arrange your essay using the APA style or the MLA format.
And the typical reflection paper length varies between 300 and 700 words, but ask your instructor about the word length if it was assigned to you. Even though this essay is about you, try to avoid too much informal language.
If your instructor asks you to use an APA or MLA style format for reflective essay, here are a few shortcuts:
Reflective Essay in MLA Format
- Times New Roman 12pt font double spaced;
- 1" margins;
- The top right includes the last name and page number on every page;
- Titles are centered;
- The header should include your name, your professor's name, course number, and the date (dd/mm/yy);
- The last page includes a Works Cited.
Reflective Essay in APA Style
- Include a page header on the top of every page;
- Insert page number on the right;
- Your reflective essay should be divided into four parts: Title Page, Abstract, Main Body, and References.
Reflective Essay Writing Tips
You may think we've armed you with enough tips and pointers for reflective writing, but it doesn't stop here. Below we gathered some expert-approved tips for constructing uncontested reflection papers.
- Be as detailed as possible while writing. To make your reflective essay writing come to life, you should employ several tactics such as symbolism, sentence patterns, etc.
- Keep your audience in mind. The reader will become frustrated if you continue writing in the first person without taking a moment to convey something more important, even though you will likely speak about something from your own perspective.
- Put forth the effort to allow the reader to feel the situation or emotion you are attempting to explain.
- Don't preach; demonstrate. Instead of just reporting what happened, use description appropriately to paint a clear picture of the event or sensation.
- Plan the wording and structure of your reflective essay around a central emotion or subject, such as joy, pleasure, fear, or grief.
- Avoid adding dull elements that can lessen the effect of your work. Why include it if it won't enhance the emotion or understanding you wish to convey?
- There must be a constant sense of progression. Consider whether the event has transformed you or others around you.
- Remember to double-check your grammar, syntax, and spelling.
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Reflective Essay Topic Ideas
As a reflective essay should be about your own views and experiences, you generally can't use someone else's ideas. But to help you get started, here are some suggestions for writing topics:
- An experience you will never forget.
- The moment you overcame a fear.
- The most difficult choice you had to make.
- A time your beliefs were challenged.
- A time something changed your life.
- The happiest or most frightening moment of your life so far.
- Ways you think you or people can make the world a better place.
- A time you felt lost.
- An introspective look at your choices or a time you made the wrong choice.
- A moment in your life you would like to relive.
You may find it convenient to create a chart or table to keep track of your ideas. Split your chart into three parts:
- In the first column, write key experiences or your main points. You can arrange them from most important to least important.
- In the second column, list your response to the points you stated in the first column.
- In the third column, write what, from your response, you would like to share in the essay.
Meanwhile, if you're about to enroll in your dream university and your mind is constantly occupied with - 'how to write my college admissions essay?', order an academic essay on our platform to free you of unnecessary anxiety.
Reflective Essay Sample
Referring to reflective essay examples can help you a lot. A reflective essay sample can provide you with useful insight into how your essay should look like. You can also buy an essay online if you need one customized to your specific requirements.
How to Conclude a Reflective Essay
As we come to an end, it's only logical to reflect on the main points discussed above in the article. By now, you should clearly understand what is a reflective essay and that the key to writing a reflective essay is demonstrating what lessons you have taken away from your experiences and why and how these lessons have shaped you. It should also have a clear reflective essay format, with an opening, development of ideas, and resolution.
Now that you have the tools to create a thorough and accurate reflective paper, you might want to hand over other tasks like writing definition essay examples to our experienced writers. In this case, feel free to buy an essay online on our platform and reflect on your past events without worrying about future assignments!
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General tips for academic reflections
An overview of key things to keep in mind for academic reflections.
Make sure you know what the assessor is asking for
Your main consideration when producing written or any kind of academic reflection is to know exactly what is expected of you. Therefore, you should ask your assessor what kind of language and structure they are expecting. With that in mind, the characteristics described here and in the sections on language and structure for academic reflections are what is often sought after.
Language of academic reflections
Structure of academic reflections
Using private reflections as foundations for academic reflections
Academic reflective writing is often used to evidence that you have done reflection. Therefore, it is often beneficial to first do a private reflection where you can be as informal and unstructured as you want, and then readapt that into a piece of academic writing.
By using a private reflection initially, you can ensure that you get the full learning opportunity without censoring yourself or being conscious of language, before deciding how best to present your reflections to your assessor. This is similar to figuring out what your argument is and taking notes before writing an essay, or to all the background work you do to solve a technical/mathematical problem that you do not include in your hand-in.
Just as developing your argument and working through each step of a problem can be essential for the final essay or hand-in, for some people doing a private reflection can be very helpful in writing an effective academic reflection. For others, writing their reflection in a formal and structured way from the outset helps them structure their thoughts.
The core elements of academic reflective writing
Academic reflective writing is a genre and just like an essay has characteristics, so does academic reflective writing.
Academic reflective writing requires critical and analytic thought, a clear line of argument, and the use of evidence through examples of personal experiences and thoughts and often also theoretical literature.
You should aim for a balance between personal experience, tone, and academic practice and rigor.
Academic reflective writing should:
- develop a perspective or line of reasoning
- develop a link between your experience or practice and existing knowledge (theoretical or personal)
- show understanding and appreciation of different perspectives to your own
- show recognition that your own understanding is likely incomplete and situations are rarely clear-cut and simplistic
- show learning resulting from the reflection (either by discovering something new or confirming existing knowledge) and how you plan to use it
- be written in an appropriate style with language relevant to your academic discipline
- sometimes, but not always, use theoretical literature to inform your understanding.
People can have misconceptions about academic reflective writing – some of the common ones are described below.
Ryan, M., 2011. Improving reflective writing in higher education: a social semiotic perspective. Teaching in Higher Education, 16(1), 99-111.
University of Portsmouth, Department for Curriculum and Quality Enhancement (date unavailable). Reflective Writing: a basic introduction [online]. Portsmouth: University of Portsmouth.
Queen Margaret University, Effective Learning Service (date unavailable). Reflection. [online]. Edinburgh: Queen Margaret University.