Description vs. analysis

Some students make the mistake of submitting reflective writing assignments that simply recount an event or describe a scenario. Reflection within university assignments involves more than this. It requires you not only to narrate or describe, but also to analyse.

Consider the differences in the following examples between describing what happened, and analysing what happened. One simply recounts what took place, while the other explores why events unfolded as they did. It considers theories that help explain what happened, and the significance of these things for your teaching and learning.

How to deepen the analysis

Reflective writing only needs a brief description or summary, followed by a more sustained analysis. This analysis often comes out of looking at your description or summary, and then asking ‘how?’ and ‘why?’

In the example of reflective writing below, the student has only provided a description:

During my years in primary school, I loved exploring the world using my imagination. A favourite game that I would play with my friends was ‘mothers and fathers’, which involved us each pretending to be a different member of a family, and then enacting family roles and household duties.

The following questions, derived from Gibbs’s Reflective Cycle, help you analyse this experience. These are the types of questions you can ask when writing your own analyses:

  • What were you thinking at the time?
  • How were you feeling at the time?
  • How have you felt about it since then?
  • What was positive and negative, effective and not effective?
  • Why did you choose this action or take that approach?
  • What theories can help explain this experience?
  • Are there theories that challenge your understanding or interpretation of this experience?
  • How else could you interpret the situation?
  • What else could you have done?
  • What did you learn from this experience?
  • Did the experience affirm or challenge your existing understanding?
  • How will this new knowledge guide future actions?
  • How can you implement lessons drawn from this experience into your professional practice?