Reflective writing

  • You may be asked to 'reflect' on your work or experiences, especially if you are in the health, social care, education or business fields. The links below offer guidance on how to do this in an organised way.

    • What is a reflective journal?

      (Southampton University, UK) starts with a reflective journal, and goes on to give a really helpful outline of what reflection means, why it matters, and how to write in a critical and reflective way.

    • Reflective journal

      (RMIT, Aus) A clear, well organised outline of what to do in reflective writing.

    • Reflective writing: a basic introduction 

      (University of Portsmouth, UK) provides a useful introduction and a basic structure to follow. The third and fourth pages suggest strings of words and phrases you could use in your reflective writing.

    Understanding reflective writing

    (Oxford Brookes University) Fuller guidance on reflective writing can be found below. This explains what reflective writing is, why you are asked to do it, and gives guidance and examples on using specific frameworks:

    • Gibbs reflective cycle - often used by education, business, creative arts and Health and Social Care students
    • Johns - especially relevant to Health and Social Care students. 

    Students taking courses to prepare for professional practice - such as nurses or teachers - are often asked to ‘reflect’ on what they do, and to record and analyse their reflections in an assignment. Often, students are asked to use a ‘reflective framework’, and to relate their own experiences to their reading and research.

    What follows is an introduction to reflective writing, followed by examples of structures you could use when you write a ‘reflective’ piece.

  • Take a step back for a moment, and think about good practitioners of any profession that you have come across. What makes them good at what they do? First they have a certain amount of skill – techniques, knacks gained through experience. They have knowledge gained through their training: they discuss practice issues with colleagues, they keep up to date in their practice by reading, and apply evidence from their reading to their practice. And yes, they have the ability to reflect – to think about what they have just done, the person they are working with, and what went well, and what went less well in their interactions or activities.

    Reflection is important because looking back in order to think about what we have just done, helps us to make changes in our interactions with people, and to get better at what we do.

    Reading and research feeds all aspects of a practitioner

    • knowledge about the situation we encounter
    • skills to bring to the situation
    • understanding of the wider context and issues
    • and the ability to reflect and see the gaps in our preparedness, and pinpoint things we need to change.

    What does the word ‘framework’ conjure up? A picture frame? Plain black or with twirly corners? A tent-like structure? A pair of glasses? Not bad images for what is meant here. The picture frame makes the picture look special, different to how it was just on the paper. Tent poles form a frame to keep the fabric of the tent in place… different glasses provide different lenses that change the appearance of what you are looking at.

    In the caring professions it can be hard to make sense of your daily encounters, which may be quick, upsetting, or puzzling. When you look at a situation, you just see the actions, the scene, you see it as you see it. You don’t know how other people have seen it.

    A framework can help you interpret and understand what you have experienced. Other people have been there, experienced this, reflected on the meaning of an experience, and set out the process in an organised way. A framework can help you make sense of your experience – and compare your experience with other people’s. You look at an experience through the lenses of others who have analysed and reflected on similar experiences, and you begin to reflect on how your experience resembles or differs from other people’s.

    This is how you become a reflective practitioner.

    Reflection as a tool for personal and professional development needs a bit of effort. Yes, it is a personal activity, which could lead to a personal form of writing (like a diary). But it is also a disciplined activity, which invites you to look at what you did and how you did it, and perhaps accept that you did it well – or that you now see how you could do it better next time. This will lead to an ordered form of writing, and the framework you choose will help you find this form.

    'Reflect on an incident that occurred in your workplace…’ This is the sort of task that is set as a written assignment. We have written a short account of a Health Visitor’s interactions with a particular family. We then analyse and reflect on this using some of the frameworks that are frequently used in reflective writing.