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Research Skills: Reflective Writing

Reflective writing banner

Reflective writing is basically evidence of reflective thinking.

In an academic context, reflective thinking usually involves:

  1. Looking back at something (like an event or occurrence, but it could also be an object or idea).
  2. Analysing the event or idea (thinking in detail from different viewpoints and trying to explain it).
  3. Thinking carefully about what the event or idea means for you and your continuing progress as a learner.

Reflective writing is more personal than other types of academic writing. We all think reflectively in everyday life, but probably not to the same level as is expected in good reflective writing at college.


Reflective writing is a way of processing your practice-based experience to produce learning. It has two key features:

  1. It integrates theory and practice 

Identify important aspects of your reflections and write these using the suitable theories and academic context to explain and interpret your reflections. Use your experiences to evaluate the theories - can the theories be adapted or improved to be more helpful for your situation?

  1. It identifies the learning outcomes of your experience 

You might include a plan for next time identifying what you would do differently, your new understandings and unexpected things you have learnt about yourself.


Collecting Evidence

There are two sources of evidence which need to be used in reflective writing:

1. Your reflections form key evidence of your experiences. Keep notes on your reflections and the developments that have happened during the process

2. Academic evidence from published studies and theories to show how your ideas and practices have developed in the context of the relevant academic literature.


Features of Reflective Writing

• You can write in the first person when you are reflecting. That is, you can include yourself (I, me, we) in your writing when you are communicating personal opinions, experiences or observations

• When you are referring to theory or other writers you should write in the third person. That is, refer to other writers by name and try not to use I, me or we

• The actions (verbs) when you reflect are usually those of feeling and thinking e.g. feeling, felt, experienced, remembered, discovered, learned

• Do not use slang, contractions (it's, don't I'll) or note-taking abbreviations (i.e., e.g., etc.)

• Do reference your sources. It is not free writing

• Remember to use careful structure, paragraphing and good grammar, spelling and punctuation

Gibbs's Reflective Cycle

Gibbs' Reflective Cycle (1988) which is one of the most famous models of reflection was designed to give structure to learning from experiences. Offering a framework for examining experiences, with its cyclic nature it lends itself well to repeated experiences, allowing you to learn and plan from things that went well or indeed didn’t go well.

It involves 6 stages:

"It is not sufficient to have an experience in order to learn. Without reflecting on this experience it may quickly be forgotten, or its learning potential lost".

(Gibbs, 1988, pg. 9)

The Benefits

► Reflection is a useful process even if you have not been set a specific reflective assignment. It helps you to make sense of and learn from your experiences in order to develop and improve in the future

► It involves thinking about an experience you have had and seeking to make sense of it in order to learn

► It is often about improving the way you work or learn – or the way something is done - Looking back in order to move forward!

Models of Reflection

Atkins and Murphy - Model of reflection (1994)

Gibbs - Reflective Cycle (1988)

Johns - Model of reflection (1994)

Kolb - Reflective cycle (1984)

Schön - Reflection-in-action / Reflection-on-action (1991)

 

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Further Reading


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