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Reflective writing

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Reflective writing is an analytical practice in which the writer describes a real or imaginary scene, event, interaction, passing thought, or memory and adds a personal reflection on its meaning. Many reflective writers keep in mind questions such as "What did I notice?", "How has this changed me?" or "What might I have done differently?" when reflecting.[1][2]

Thus, in reflective writing, the focus is on writing that is not merely descriptive. The writer revisits the scene to note details and emotions, reflect on meaning, examine what went well or revealed a need for additional learning, and relate what transpired to the rest of life.[1]

According to Kara Taczak, "Reflection is a mode of inquiry: a deliberate way of systematically recalling writing experiences to reframe the current writing situation."[3]

The more someone reflectively writes, the more likely they are to reflect in their everyday life regularly, think outside the box, and challenge accepted practices.[1]

Adaptation of learning researcher Graham Gibbs's model of reflection


When writing reflectively, a writer attempts to convey their own thought process. Therefore, reflective writing is one of the more personal styles of writing as the writer is clearly inserted into the work. This style of writing invites both the reader and the writer to introspect and examine their own thoughts and beliefs, and gives the writer and the reader a closer relationship.[4]

Reflective writing tends to consist of description, or explaining the event and its context; interpretation, or how the experience challenged existing opinions; and outcome, or how the experience contributed to personal or professional development.[2]

Most reflective writing is written in first person, as it speaks to the writer's personal experience, but often it is supplemented with third person in academic works as the writer must support their perspective with outside evidence.[5]

Reflective writing is usually a style that must be learned and practiced. Most novice writers are not reflective initially and must progress from imitative writing to their own style of genuine, critical reflection.[4]

Kathleen Blake Yancey notes that reflection "is the dialectical process by which we develop and achieve, first, specific goals for learning; second, strategies for reaching those goals; and third, means of determining whether or not we have met those goals or other goals."[6]

The concepts of reflection and reflective writing are social constructs prevalent in academic literature, and in different contexts, their meanings have different interpretations.[7]

Characteristics of reflective writing[edit]

The main characteristics of reflective writing include:[4]

  1. Reflection: The writer reflects on the issue (that is, the topic they are writing about) and considers how their own experience and points of view might influence their response. This helps the writer learn about themselves as well as contribute to a better final product that considers biases.
  2. Evidence: The writer considers and cites different perspectives and evidence to provide a truly comprehensive reflection. "Evidence" can mean either academic evidence or the writer's own reflections and experiences, depending on whether the piece of reflection is personal or academic.
  3. Clarity: The writer must be clear and cohesive. As reflective writing takes the reader through both the writer's own thoughts and sometimes other outside perspectives, unity and readability are crucial to ensure the reader does not get lost between points of view.

If the reflection is written for academia—that is, it is not a personal reflection or journal—additional features include:[5]

  1. Theory: An academic reflection will integrate theories and other academic works to explain the reflection. For example, a writer might say: "Smith's theory of social engagement might explain why I reacted the way I did."
  2. Learning outcomes: An academic reflection will include commentary on how the writer learned from the experience, what they would have done differently, or how their perspectives or opinions have changed as a result of the experience.

Reflective writing in academia[edit]

Reflective writing helps students to develop a better understanding of their goals.

Reflective writing is regularly used in academic settings, as it helps students think about how they think and allows students to think beyond the scope of the literal meaning of their writing or thinking.[8] In other words, it is a form of metacognition. Proper reflective writing is heavily influenced by metacognition. Metacognition allows for better self-reflection and allows the writer to take the material beyond the literal meaning.[9] Reflective writing can be seen as a metacognitive genre that heavily influences literacy narrative assignments due to the increased reflective thinking it applies to students. Students can consciously and unconsciously analyze their experiences and interactions through this assessment tool.[8]It is frequently assigned to postsecondary students and is particularly useful to students and practitioners in composition, education, and health-related fields as it helps them reflect on their practice.[10][11] Typical academic reflective writings include portfolios, summaries, and journals.[12] Reflective writing is not limited to academic writing because it often takes many different forms. Sometimes it is used in stand-alone assessment tasks, and other times it is incorporated into other tasks such as essays.[13]

Reflective writing in education systems aids in adapting students' "knowledge in waiting" into "knowledge in practice" which encourages students to analyze previous professional experiences when applying these to future situations. This type of analytical skill is advantageous for students pursuing professions that have recurring unpredictable situations and allows students to be better prepared for the workplace.[14]

Evidence shows that reflective writing is a good way to increase empathy in medical students.[15] Another study showed that students who were assigned reflective writing during a camp developed greater self-awareness, had a better understanding of their goals, and were better able to recognize their personal development.[10]

It is also found that students who partake in critical reflective assignments use it as a way to let out their pent-up emotions, making critical reflection a way to seek cathartic relief.[16]

Reflective writing is useful to improve collaboration, as it makes writers aware of how they sound when they voice their thoughts and opinions to others.[11] Additionally, it is an important part of the reflective learning cycle, which includes planning, acting, observing, and reflecting.[5][17]

Students can be hesitant to write reflectively as it requires them to not just consider but actively cite things they typically would hide or ignore in academic writing, like their anxieties and shortcomings.[5]

Reflective writing in academic settings is sometimes criticized, as concerns exist regarding its effectiveness. Reflective writing assignments are often weighted low in a course's grade calculations, and among a crowded workload, students can see them as an afterthought. It has also been argued that reflective writing assignments are only assigned as "busy work", as they are low maintenance and relatively easy to grade.[7] Additionally, because students know they will be graded on their reflection, it might be written in an inauthentic way.[7]

Nonetheless, reflective writing is becoming increasingly important in education, as reflecting on completed work helps students see room for improvement.[18]

Benefits of reflective writing[edit]

There are many benefits to reflective writing. A few are: increased self-awareness about personal writing techniques; improved critical analysis; and ability to examine and understand social, cultural, and political issues that involve language.[19]

Within professions, reflective writing can be used as a therapeutic form of expression, especially useful in stress-filled professions. [19]

Within a classroom setting, the addition of reflective writing assignments can help improve intellectual thinking by introducing assignments that encourage a deeper relationship between the individual and their writing.[20] The introduction of reflective assignments in classroom settings further aids in student retention of information being discussed in the classroom.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Helyer, Ruth (2015). "Learning through reflection: the critical role of reflection in work-based learning (WBL)". Journal of Work-Applied Management. 7: 15–27. doi:10.1108/JWAM-10-2015-003.
  2. ^ a b Hampton, Martin. "Reflective writing: a basic introduction" (PDF). University of Portsmouth, Department for Curriculum and Quality Enhancement. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  3. ^ Taczak, Kara (2015). "Reflection is Critical for Writers' Development". In Adler-Kassner, Linda; Wardle, Elizabeth (eds.). Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies. Utah: Utah State University Press. p. 78. ISBN 978-0-87421-989-0.
  4. ^ a b c Dwivedi, Amitabh Vikram (2016). "Critical Skills: Reflective writing". Salem Press Encyclopedia.
  5. ^ a b c d Turner, J., Reid, M., & Shahabudin, K. (n.d.). "Practice-based learning 2: Reflective writing". University of Reading.
  6. ^ Yancey, Kathleen Blake (1998). Reflection in the Writing Classroom. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press. p. 6. ISBN 0-87421-238-3.
  7. ^ a b c McCarthy, John (2011). "Reflective Writing, Higher Education and Professional Practice". Journal for Education in the Built Environment. 6: 29–43. doi:10.11120/jebe.2011.06010029.
  8. ^ a b Alexander, Kara Poe (2015). "From story to analysis: Reflection and uptake in the literacy narrative assignment. Composition Studies". Gale Literature Resource Center. 43 (2) – via University of Massachusetts Boston.
  9. ^ Harding, Lindsey (March 2014). "Writing Beyond the Page: Reflective Essay as Box Composition". Teaching English in the Two-Year College. 41 (3): 239–257. ProQuest 1505017796 – via ProQuest.
  10. ^ a b Wegner, Lisa (2017). "'The pen is a powerful weapon; it can make you change': The value of using reflective writing with adolescents". South African Journal of Occupational Therapy. 43 (3): 11–16. doi:10.17159/2310-3833/2017/v47n3a3. hdl:10566/3329 – via GALILEO.
  11. ^ a b Sahin, Figen (2019). "Early Childhood Preservice Teachers' Experiences with Reflective Journal Writing". Eurasian Journal of Educational Research. 19 (84): 93–114. doi:10.14689/ejer.2019.84.5 – via ERIC.
  12. ^ Roskos, Kathleen; Vukelich, Carol; Risko, Victoria (2001). "Reflection and learning to teach reading: a critical review of literacy and general teacher education studies". Journal of Literacy Research. 33 (4): 595–635. CiteSeerX doi:10.1080/10862960109548127. S2CID 145652427.
  13. ^ "The structure of reflective writing". Research & Learning Online. Retrieved 2020-03-03.
  14. ^ Szenes, Eszter (2021). "Deconstructing critical reflection in social work and business: Negotiating emotions and opinions in reflective writing". Journal of English for Academic Purposes. 49: 49. doi:10.1016/j.jeap.2020.100931. S2CID 228870312.
  15. ^ DasGupta, Sayantani (2004). "Personal Illness Narratives: Using Reflective Writing to Teach Empathy". Academic Medicine. 79 (4): 351–356. doi:10.1097/00001888-200404000-00013. PMID 15044169.
  16. ^ Szenes, Eszter (2021). "Deconstructing critical reflection in social work and business: Negotiating emotions and opinions in reflective writing". Journal of English for Academic Purposes. 49: 49. doi:10.1016/j.jeap.2020.100931. S2CID 228870312.
  17. ^ Ryder, Mike; Downs, Carolyn (November 2022). "Rethinking reflective practice: John Boyd's OODA loop as an alternative to Kolb". The International Journal of Management Education. 20 (3): 100703. doi:10.1016/j.ijme.2022.100703. S2CID 252152374.
  18. ^ Chang, Bo (2019). "Reflection in learning". Online Learning. 23: 95–110. doi:10.24059/olj.v23i1.1447.
  19. ^ a b Alexander, Kara Poe (2015). "From story to analysis: Reflection and uptake in the literacy narrative assignment. Composition Studies". Gale Literature Resource Center. 43 (2) – via University of Massachusetts Boston.
  20. ^ Harding, Lindsey (March 2014). "Writing Beyond the Page: Reflective Essay as Box Composition". Teaching English in the Two-Year College. 41 (3): 239–257. ProQuest 1505017796 – via ProQuest.
  21. ^ Anthony, Jared Judd (September 2009). "Classroom computer experiences that stick: Two lenses on reflective timed essays". Assessing Writing. 14 (3): 194–205. doi:10.1016/j.asw.2009.09.001.

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