Reflective writing

Writing reflectively: it is about you – putting the ‘I’ in reflection.

Reflective writing gives you an opportunity to think deeply about something you've learned or an experience you've had.

Watch the video below for a quick introduction to reflective writing. The video includes an example of reflecting on practice, but the approach is equally useful when reflecting on theory.

Video tutorial

An explanation and example using the DIEP model in reflective writing.

Reflecting on practice

Reflective writing may ask you to consider the link between theory (what you study, discuss and read about at university) and practice (what you do, the application of the theory in the workplace). Reflection on practical contexts enables you to explore the relationship between theory and practice in an authentic and concrete way.

Examples

  • Education reflection on a placement class

    "Yesterday’s class brought Vygotsky’s concepts of scaffolding and the ‘significant other’ into sharp focus for me. Without instruction, ‘Emily’ was able to scaffold ‘Emma’s’ solving of the Keystone Puzzle without directing her or supplying her with the answer – she acted as the ‘significant other’. It really highlighted for me the fact that I do not always have to directly be involved in students’ learning, and that students have learning and knowledge they bring to the classroom context."

    What this example does well:

    • Links theory to practice.
    • Clearly states where learning occurred.

    Tip

    De-identify actual people you have observed or dealt with on placement or work experience using pseudonyms (other names, job titles, initials or even numbers so that real identities are protected). E.g.:

    • "It was great to observe ‘Lee’ try to..."
    • "Our team leader’s response was positive…"
    • "I observed G’s reaction to this..."
    • "Student Four felt that this was…"
  • Reflection on an Environmental Sustainability class

    "The lectures and tutes this semester have broadened my views of what sustainability is and the different scales by which we can view it. I learned that sustainability is not only something that differs at an individual level in terms of how we approach it ourselves, but also how it differs in scale. We might look at what we do individually to act sustainably, such as in what and how we recycle, but when we think about how a city or state does this, we need to consider pollution, rubbish collection and a range of other systems that point to sustainability on a much larger scale."

    What this example does well:

    • Clearly states where learning occurred
    • Elaborates on key issues
    • Gives examples.
  • Reflection on medical placement

    "On the ward rounds yesterday, I felt Mr G’s mobility had noticeably improved from last week. This may be due to the altered physio program we have implemented and it allowed me to experience a real feeling of satisfaction that I had made a real difference."

    Tip

    Action verbs are usually expressing feelings and thoughts in reflective writing, e.g. felt, thought, considered, experienced, wondered, remembered, discovered, learned.

Reflecting on theory

Some reflection tasks are purely theoretical, where you are asked to consider texts you have read, or ideas you may have discussed in tutorials, and reflect on them.

Example

  • Theoretical response paper

    "Comparing the approaches of Mayr and Ulich (2009) and Laevers (2005) to what 'wellbeing' means for the early childhood setting was very illustrative in that I discovered they seek to do similar things but within different frameworks. Analysing the two constructs highlighted that the detail in Mayr and Ulich’s framework provided a much richer framework in defining and measuring wellbeing than Laevers’ does."

    What this example does well:

    • Clearly states where learning occurred.
    • References correctly.
    • Considers what the theory has shown.

Using the DIEP model

When writing reflectively for the first time, it’s not uncommon to produce a summary or description of the event or experience without deeply reflecting on it.

Reflective writing needs to go beyond simply summarising what happened. Your reader needs to gain an insight into what the experience meant to you, how you feel about it, how it connects to other things you’ve experienced or studied and what you plan to do in response.

To be sure you don’t leave out any of these critical elements of reflection, consider writing using the describe, interpret, evaluate, plan (DIEP) model to help.

Tip

You can and should refer to yourself in your reflection using personal pronouns, e.g. I, we...

DIEP:

  • Describe

    Begin by describing the situation. What did you see, hear, do, read or see? Be as brief and objective as possible.

    Starting phrases:

    • The most interesting insight from my lecture this week is ...
    • A significant issue I had not realised until now is ...
    • I now realise (understand ...) that ...
  • Interpret

    Interpret what happened. What new insights have you gained? How does this experience connect with other things you’ve learned or experienced before? How did the experience make you feel?

    Starting phrases:

    • This experience idea is relevant to me because…
    • This reminded me of the idea that…
    • A possible implication could be…
  • Evaluate

    Make a judgement. How useful was this experience for you? What is your opinion? Why do you think this might be?

    Starting phrases:

    • Having realised the importance of ..., I can now understand…
    • This experience will change the way I view ...
    • Being able to see… in this way is extremely valuable for me because…
  • Plan

    Comment on how this experience might inform your future thoughts or actions. How could you apply what you’ve learned from the experience in the future? How might the experience relate to your degree or future professional life?

    Starting phrases:

    • This is beneficial to me as my future career requires…  
    • In order to further develop this skill…I will…
    • Next time…I will…by…

Example

  • Engineering internship reflection

    [TS] The most surprising insight I have gained so far is how important recording and distributing succinct and accurate information is to the success of the project. [D] In the first week of my internship, I was asked to record some meeting minutes and distribute them to the project team and the client. [I] I initially felt offended as the task appeared trivial to me; it was something we rarely did during team meetings at university. [E] However, after speaking with my industry supervisor, I began to understand how important it is to keep a clear record of the meaningful points raised during meetings. [I] Making accurate notes of the key outcomes was harder than I expected as the rest of my team was relying on my minutes to know what they needed to do. [D]After reviewing my minutes, my supervisor agreed that they were sufficiently clear and accurate. [I] I’ve realised that poorly recorded minutes could have resulted in missed deadlines, miscommunication and costly implications for our contract. [P] To improve my ability to take notes I plan on reviewing the minutes made by my colleagues for other meetings and to investigate note taking techniques such as mind mapping (Trevelyan, 2014). Mind mapping uses links and annotations to record relationships between words and indicate significance. [I] This will help me to continue to develop my skills in this area and develop my ability to “prepare high quality engineering documents” as part of attaining the Stage 1 competency of written communication (Engineers Australia, 2018).

    Sources

    Trevelyan, J. P. (2014). The making of an expert engineer: How to have a wonderful career creating a better world and spending lots of money belonging to other people. Leiden, The Netherlands: CRC Press/Balkema.

    DIEP approach adapted from: RMIT Study and Learning Centre. (2010). Reflective writing: DIEP.

Editing

Ask yourself:

  1. Have I based my reflection on a specific incident, activity, idea or example?
  2. Have I sufficiently critically analysed the situation?
  3. Have I integrated theory in a meaningful way? Can I elaborate further to demonstrate the relevance of the idea and my understanding of it?
  4. Are my plans specific enough? Can I be more concrete?

Tip

When editing your draft, try colour coding each element of DIEP to be sure you have a balance of elements.

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