Reflective Writing

Learning Objectives

  • Examine the components of reflective writing

Reflective Writing

Reflective writing includes several different components: description, analysis, interpretation, evaluation, and future application. Reflective writers must weave their personal perspectives with evidence of deep, critical thought as they make connections between theory, practice, and learning. The steps below should help you find the appropriate balance among all these factors.

1st Step: Review the assignment

As with any writing situation, the first step in writing a reflective piece is to clarify the task. Reflective assignments can take many forms, so you need to understand exactly what your instructor is asking you to do. Some reflective assignments are short, just a paragraph or two of unpolished writing. Usually the purpose of these reflective pieces is to capture your immediate impressions or perceptions. For example, your instructor might ask you at the end of a class to write quickly about a concept from that day’s lesson. That type of reflection helps you and your instructor gauge your understanding of the concept.

Other reflections are academic essays that can range in length from several paragraphs to several pages. The purpose of these essays is to critically reflect on and support an original claim(s) about a larger experience, such as an event you attended, a project you worked on, or your writing development. These essays require polished writing that conforms to academic conventions, such as articulation of a claim and substantive revision. They might address a larger audience than you and your instructor, including, for example, your classmates, your family, a scholarship committee, etc. It’s important before you begin writing, that you can identify the assignment’s purpose, audience, intended message or content, and requirements.

2nd Step: Generate ideas for content

As you generate ideas for your reflection, you might consider things like:

  • Recollections of an experience, assignment, or course
  • Ideas or observations made during that event
  • Questions, challenges, or areas of doubt
  • Strategies employed to solve problems
  • A-ha moments linking theory to practice or learning something new
  • Connections between this learning and prior learning
  • New questions that arise as a result of the learning or experience
  • New actions taken as a result of the learning or experience

3rd Step: Organize content

Researchers have developed several different frameworks or models for how reflective writing can be structured. For example, one method has you consider the “What?” “So what?” and “Now what?” of a situation in order to become more reflective. First, you assess what happened and describe the event, then you explain why it was significant, and then you use that information to inform your future practice.[1][2] Similarly, the DIEP framework can help you consider how to organize your content when writing a reflective piece. Using this method, you describe what happened or what you did, interpret what it means, evaluate its value or impact, and plan steps for improving or changing for the future.

The DIEP Model of reflective writing

The DIEP model (Boud, Keogh & Walker,1985) organizes the reflection into four different components:

Describe what happened, what did you do; Interpret: what does the experience mean to you as a learner; Evaluate: how valuable was the experience?; Plan: what will you do with your learning?

Figure 1. The DIEP model for reflective thinking and writing has you first describe the situation, interpret it, evaluate it, then plan what to do with that new information.

Remember, your goal is to make an interpretive or evaluative claim, or series of claims, that moves beyond obvious statements (such as, “I really enjoyed this project”) and demonstrates you have come to a deeper understanding of what you have learned and how you will use that learning.

In the example below, notice how the writer reflects on her initial ambitions and planning, the a-ha! moment, and then her decision to limit the scope of a project. She was assigned a multimodal (more than just writing) project, in which she made a video, and then reflected on the experience:

Student Example

Keeping a central focus in mind applies to multimodal compositions as well as written essays. A prime example of this was in my remix. When storyboarding for the video, I wanted to appeal to all college students in general. Within my compressed time limit of three minutes, I had planned to showcase numerous large points. It was too much. I decided to limit the scope of the topic to emphasize how digitally “addicted” college students are, and that really changed the project in significant ways.

4th Step: Draft, Revise, Edit, Repeat

A single, unpolished draft may suffice for short, in-the-moment reflections, but you may be asked to produce a longer academic reflection essay, which will require significant drafting, revising, and editing. Whatever the length of the assignment, keep this reflective cycle in mind:

  • briefly describe the event or action;
  • analyze and interpret events and actions, using evidence for support;
  • demonstrate relevance in the present and the future.

Watch IT

The following video, produced by the Hull University Skills Team, provides a great overview of reflective writing. Even if you aren’t assigned a specific reflection writing task in your classes, it’s a good idea to reflect anyway, as reflection results in better learning.

You can view the transcript for “Reflective Writing” here (opens in new window).

Try It

Check your understanding of reflective writing and the things you learned in the video with these quick practice questions:

 

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  1. Driscoll J (1994) Reflective practice for practise - a framework of structured reflection for clinical areas. Senior Nurse 14 (1):47–50
  2. Ash, S.L, Clayton, P.H., & Moses, M.G. (2009). Learning through critical reflection: A tutorial for service-learning students (instructor version). Raleigh, NC.