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Reflective Writing: Writing

Fast facts

  • Your subjective perspective as the writer is important in reflective writing.
  • However, that subjective perspective should still be anchored in evidence and demonstrate critical thought.
  • Reflective writing often considers not only what you did, but what you might have done instead.

What is reflective writing?

Reflective writing refers to a text that is focused on understanding the actions and perspective of the writer. Unlike other forms of academic writing, the thoughts and opinions of the writer are more important in reflective writing. But, the writer should also argue through their examples using summary, synthesis and analysis. From this perspective, reflective writing is actually very similar to other academic texts.

If you are asked to reflect on your choices as a writer or practitioner, you should be able to defend your choices. Sometimes we think that we are simply doing something because we have been asked to do it by our supervisors. But, in fact, we should be able to think about the purposes for our various actions and our choices about how to accomplish a task. The purpose of reflective writing is to reach a level of awareness of our own decisions and to analyse them.

Moves to make in reflective writing

Always check the assignment rubric and other communications from your module lead to ensure you understand the expectations of the reflective assignment, as being 'reflective' can take many forms depending on your discipline. However, the below headings show some 'moves' you will make in most reflective essays.


You should offer your actions as a starting point for discussion. What did you do? What did you write? What did you accomplish? What happened?

Remember, for any ensuing analysis and discussion to make sense to the reader, that reader must clearly understand what you did.


This is where you investigate what worked and what didn’t by asking why?


During your analysis, you will include specific evidence from your own work (citing specific passages, decisions or actions). You can integrate external evidence to justify or contextualise your work.

  • For example, in a reflective essay for a Nursing degree, you might cite standards published by the NHS to justify your approach to a specific interaction with a patient.
  • In a reflective essay for a Fine Arts degree, you might draw connections between your creative product and those of other artists to contextualise your practice within a broader movement, style or community.


Your reflection should conclude with a new understanding, a resolution of the question raised. Offering new strategies will often convey a sense of the new understanding best to your reader.

What if the work went 'badly'?

It can feel frightening to begin a reflective essay when the work upon which you're reflecting didn't go to plan. Maybe you tried a new painting technique, and the result was muddy and flat. Maybe you made a mistake on the ward that delayed a patient receiving a needed screening.

Often we want to portray our best selves when we write, but in reflective writing, don't be afraid to highlight what went wrong. In fact, the most fruitful reflection often comes when we focus on things we didn't do perfectly: this enables us to analyse the 'how' and 'why' of any shortcomings. Just as importantly, we can then demonstrate a critical awareness of how we will change our practices in the future, based on what we've learned from our own experience and external evidence.

That said, try to find a mix of successes and near-successes to highlight alongside the things you would change. If you are struggling to identify these different points, try making a mind-map or list to break it down:

  • What did you do? Now, break that 'doing' into tinier and tinier steps.
  • To 'do' the above, what did you need to know? List the knowledge or influences that informed your decision(s).
  • Even if the biggest decision or 'doing' didn't go to plan, how about the tinier steps?

Final thoughts

Remember that reflective writing means to hold up a mirror. All that curiosity and wonder should be directed inward, but the writing should still be rigorous. Ask hard questions, and find answers.