Studying Effectively

Reflective writing

Reflective writing is common to many courses that involve practical placement-based activities such as teaching, social work and nursing.  Reflective writing often benefits from using an appropriate reflective cycle to structure how to write about the situation and what was learnt.

Reflection consists of thinking critically about an experience and learning from it by:

  • Exploring that experience in terms of feelings and significant features
  • Processing the significant features and identifying learning
  • Finding new solutions to dilemmas
  • Using the process as a tool to help develop future practice.

Reflective writing therefore:

  • Records for future reading how you feel about an experience before, during and after the event
  • Provides a way of generalising feelings about specific events to similar events and situations
  • Allows you to relate your feelings and experiences to the perspectives of others
  • Enables you to stand back and evaluate your feelings.

How can reflective writing be structured?

Many schools will recommend you use a reflective cycle such as Gibbs (1988) or Kolb (1974).  These are ways of organising your thoughts so you can critically analyse the event and your feelings into a coherent piece of writing.  They can help you produce writing that is more analytical and that goes beyond descriptively recording what happened. 

Whichever cycle is used there are often three main elements. These main elements often comprise of smaller stages to put your feelings and actions into context and think about what you would learn from the experience:

What? (description)

  • What was the event? When? Where? Who was involved?

So what? (interpretation)

  • What is most important aspect of the event/idea/situation?
  • Why did this occur?
  • How can the event and your feelings be explained?
  • Could anything have gone differently?
  • How do the stages of the event relate to each other?
  • Is this event/feeling similar to/different from others that you or other people have experienced?

Now what? (outcome)

  • What have I learned?
  • What are the implications for my future practice (would anything be done differently)?
Reflective writing


Further reading

Studying at university

Types of teaching

Reflective writing advice

People who can help

Talk to someone in your school or a specialist support service


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