Reflective Thinking and Writing

At university you may be asked to keep a learning or development portfolio, or to write a reflective essay. Both require reflective thinking and reflective writing.

Reflecting - looking back over what you’ve read, observed, felt and experienced - helps you process and store information for future use. Reflection can help you recognise the links between theories, concepts and events and, therefore, help you to understand their significance and relevance.

Looking back objectively and examining your actions, thoughts and behaviours at university or in the work environment helps you become a more effective learner: someone who continues to develop and improve.


Reflective Thinking

Think of your last essay, project, or an event in your field (work placement). Imagine that you are ‘outside’ looking in or observing.

Stand back and genuinely look at everything that happened. Focus on what you thought, felt and did at the time.

Ask yourself questions e.g. Did I start early enough? Did I make assumptions about anything/anyone? Did I go off on a tangent, or stick to the question?

Finally: could I have done anything differently- what might the outcome have been? Better? The same?


Carry a reflective diary, or small notebook to capture your thoughts and feelings as soon as possible after an event. Later, compare your thinking at the time with your reflection on it now. 

There are many guides as well as reflective ‘models’or ‘frameworks’ which you can use to aid your reflection

Student reading a book and drinking coffee

Reflective Writing Assignments

First check guidelines: how does your lecturer want you to structure the assignment? They may want different sections written in different ways: 

  • Academic writing is traditionally written in a style that suggests objectivity (a balanced perspective based on analysis of evidence, not on a personal opinion). This is conveyed by writing in the ‘third person’ e.g. ‘The patient was asked if she had taken medication’
  • Reflective writing. Where you are asked to reflect on your personal experiences, your thoughts and your feelings you can write in the ‘first person’ (‘I’) using the ‘active voice’ e.g. ‘I asked the patient if she had taken medication’

Beware! You are still writing for University, not e-mailing or speaking to a friend. The language and style must still be formal, so no contractions (didn’t, can’t, won’t), or slang and check grammar, punctuation and spelling. Remember referencing and citations.