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Reflective Practice & Reflective Writing

Reflective Writing

Writing allows us to document our critical analysis of an instance, its impact on us and the implications for our learning or practice. It also gives us the opportunity gain further insight by adding context and identifying other factors that may be relevant to the situation.

Reflective writing is a useful skill to have and it can be used in other situations such as writing appraisals, job applications, academic assignments and research or giving feedback.

Characteristics of reflective writing.  It

  • focuses on one incident or (piece of writing, theory, etc.)
  • is written in the first person
  • is subjective (from your own point of view)
  • challenges assumptions (your own and others)
  • is analytical (explore, compare and contrast)
  • is critical (evaluative, highlights relevance or implications)

It can be helpful to use a reflective model to plan and structure your reflective writing.  Regardless of the model you use, all reflective writing should include a short, informative description, the main body of your writing should focus on interpreting and critically analysing what happened.  Finally you should identify any changes to practice or plans for the future.  For example the DIEP model.  DIEP stands form Describe Interpret Evaluate Plan.

  • Describe

The description should be the shortest section of your writing. Outline the event and the context, who was involved, when and where it happened. It can include any other details that your consider to be relevant. You should include how you felt and what your thoughts were at the time. Outline what went well or went badly.

  • Interpret

Explore how and why this event happened. For instance, what factors influenced the outcome? Previous experience or learning, the personalities involved or the context? Compare and contrast what happened in relation to what you know from your previous experience, observations, learning or knowledge of theory.  

  • Evaluate

Draw conclusions from your interpretation and identify the potential implications and significance of the experience on you and your practice.  Highlight the most important things you noticed or learned from this process. Identify any new skills or learning that you may be able to apply to other situations.

  • Plan

Highlight what you have learned.   Will your future practice or behaviour change? Explain why this is or isn’t the case.  How should you move forward? Do you need to add new skills or engage in further learning in order to progress?

If this reflection is for an academic assignment.  Remember your reflective piece should;

    • be from your perspective
    • recognise the complexity of the situation (outline context)
    • be well structured with a clear narrative (beginning, middle & end)
    • demonstrate that you have read relevant literature
    • link your practice to the relevant theory
    • use appropriate writing style (grammar & punctuation)
    • referenced

Familiarise yourself with the process of reflection, this will help you to maximise the benefits.  Be sure to set aside some time for reflection and carry a notebook to record any thoughts, actions or ideas. Remember that you should reflect on an event or instance that is significant to you and your learning, this could be a brief incident within a larger context or situation.  Outline some prompts for yourself.  For example, create a list of questions, such as:

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go so well?
  • What was easy?
  • What was difficult?
  • How was I feeling?
  • What would I do differently?
  • What did I learn?
  • What would I do if it happened again?
  • What could I do in future if a similar situation occurred?

To maintain focus and motivation set a goal or goals. For example;

  • Remind yourself why your started the process and what you want to achieve.
  • Read your reflections and look for patterns of thinking or behaviour.

Beginning to write can be difficult, and many people find starting with a blank page or screen daunting. A process called free writing can help to overcome this.

Free writing involves writing for a specified period of time, perhaps 5 or 10 minutes. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar or punctuation.  If possible, don’t just summarise what happened, include your thoughts, topics, theories, authors, insights, opinions, ideas, feelings, etc.  If you get stuck, during the specified writing time, try not to read what you have written at this point, but continue with what comes to mind.  If you can, put the writing aside and read it at a later time.  This is a first draft and you can use some of the material as a basis for a more reflective piece.

Mind mapping is a visual technique that allows you to illustrate your ideas and make connections or show relationships between them. Start by writing your topic in the centre of the page and add branches for thoughts, ideas, feelings, theories, authors, insights, etc.  As with free writing do this quickly without pausing or editing at this point. Finally review the diagram, circling the main ideas or topics and map the relationships between them.


It can be helpful to use particular words and phrases to help you to fully articulate your reflective piece. For example:

Descriptive Language/Phrases

Interpretive Language/Phrases


Something happened when…

This happened when…

I noticed…

During a visit/lecture..

When I…


  • thought (did not think)
  • felt (did not feel)
  • knew (did not know)
  • noticed (did not notice)
  • questioned (did not question)
  • realised (did not realise)

the most…

  • meaningful
  • significant
  • important
  • relevant
  • useful
  • successful

Linking practice to theory/theory to practice


  • is similar to
  • unlike
  • shows
  • Illustrates   
  • demonstrates


  • experienced
  • read
  • applied
  • discussed
  • Analysed
  • learned

I have…

  • Developed
  • Improved

I need to…

  • Develop
  • Learn
  • Maintain
  • Adapt
  • Update
  • Improve
  • Continue

Further examples of descriptive, critical, evaluative and reflective words are available from:

Academic Phrasebank

This work is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0