Skilled professionals consistently reflect on what they have done well while engaged in a task, and how to enhance and improve their performance the next time. They learn not only from their mistakes, but also from their successes, and this is a major part of the reason they are seen as experts.
The practice of reflection is therefore encouraged and practised at university in order to assist you in becoming experts in your field, from your current role as students through to your careers as professionals. Reflective writing tasks are increasingly common at university, as they are designed to make you think about what you’ve learned, how you can do better next time, and how to apply the learning to future tasks or situations. This is valuable for your future study, and also your future career as a university educated professional.
How to reflect critically
Reflective writing tasks at university are designed to make you think about what you’ve learned, how you can do better next time, and how to apply the learning to future tasks or situations. This is valuable for your future study, and also your future career as a university educated professional.
View the topics below for tips and advice on how to approach reflective writing critically.
There are various formats and methods you can use for personal and professional reflection, and these may be applicable to the structure of your written reflection. Therefore, you should read your task instructions carefully to confirm the structure expected for your reflective writing task. Reflection generally covers the following aspects:
|Description||Recognition||Analysis and evaluation||Growth|
Details about the specific situation, including what happened, what you did, and how this affected the outcome.
Aside from your formal assessed tasks, an easy and beneficial way to use reflective practices throughout your studies and professional career is to keep a reflective diary, blog, or vlog that takes into account the factors above. This process collects the information you need in order to know exactly where you are in your learning journey, and allows for continual improvement.
After planning out a structure for a reflective piece of writing, you need to get the tone right. Keep in mind that a reflective piece of writing should not offer a review of the quality or content of what you’ve experienced. Rather than critiquing the experience itself, your writing should offer insight into how the experience affected your perceptions, your learning and how it applies to your future learning and career.
It is acceptable to use personal pronouns such as ‘I’, ‘me’ or ‘my’ in reflective writing as you need to write about your personal experiences.
However, you still should maintain standards of academic writing style in terms of:
- accuracy and brevity
- avoiding colloquial/informal language.
Use past tenses for events that finished at a particular time in the past.
E.g. Before I participated in the X event, I thought …
Use present tenses for current events/relevant aspects of theory/things that are or remain true.
E.g. This reflection
Use future tenses for what you will do in the future
E.g. I will do X differently in the future.
You may also need to consider using present perfect to draw a link between the past and the present
E.g. The experience of working in my team has taught me that ...
To support your reflection you may need to provide references to:
- demonstrate why something was done in a certain way by referring to policy guidelines or recent research
- explain what caused certain feelings or reactions by referring to a theory or concept from the unit
- explain what went well and what went badly by referring to policy guidelines, a piece of research or a theory to highlight why certain actions had positive or negative outcomes
- discuss what could have been done differently by referring to policy, research or theory to show that doing things differently could have had a better outcome
- justify why you plan to do something by referring to a research findings to show the value of developing a specific skill or acquiring relevant knowledge.
Citing and referencing in this way is not only good practice at university and in the workplace, but also clearly demonstrates your learning from the course and unit, and providing evidence of learning is one of the best ways to succeed in your assessments.
Frameworks for structuring a reflection
There are several prominent frameworks commonly used to structure reflective writing practices. View the slides below for an overview of some examples, one of which may have been mentioned in your unit. Click on the information points for notes on each stage of the framework.
You will notice that some of these frameworks are iterative, meaning that they are a repetitive cycle and are designed to be used for reflection on how to grow and improve when you encounter the same experience in the future. Other frameworks are a process of steps that are designed to help you reflect on a specific (not necessarily iterative) event, process, or experience. Both types of framework can be helpful for continual reflection as you progress in your studies and career.
Explore the links below to find out what reflective writing looks like in your discipline.