reflective writing considers what time frame(s)

Reflective Writing

“Reflection is a mode of inquiry: a deliberate way of systematically recalling writing experiences to reframe the current writing situation. It allows writers to recognize what they are doing in that particular moment (cognition), as well as to consider why they made the rhetorical choices they did (metacognition). The combination of cognition and metacognition, accessed through reflection, helps writers begin assessing themselves as writers, recognizing and building on their prior knowledge about writing.” —Kara Taczak, “Reflection is Critical for Writers’ Development” (78) Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies

Reflective writing assignments are common across the university. You may be asked to reflect on your learning, your writing, your personal experiences in relation to a theory or text, or your personal experiences in an internship or other type of experience in relation to course readings. These are assignments, as Kara Taczak notes, that offer opportunities to solidify knowledge about our experiences and how they might relate to others’ experiences and existing research. Moreso, reflection can lead to more informed understandings of our own experiences and course content in ways that may make that knowledge more useful in future classes and practice. However, often  reflective writing  is not taught as an explicit writing skill and can be problematically treated as a less rigorous form of writing. Below are some broad writing tips that can help not only your reflective writing to be stronger, but also the reflective inquiry to be more meaningful.

Collect relevant evidence before you start writing.

Yes–we recommend using  evidence  in reflective writing! When connecting personal experiences to the readings, that means selecting quotes from the readings and then coming up with specific moments in your life that relate to those quotes. When reflecting on learning or growth, that might mean locating evidence (quotes) from your previous papers that showcase growth.

Be specific.

It’s really easy to see reflective writing as more informal or casual, and thus, as requiring less attention to details; however, strong reflective writing is very precise and specific. Some examples of statements that are too vague and meaningless include, “I learned a lot about writing this semester.” Or, “I feel like my experiences are exactly as Author B says in this quote.” Neither of these statements tells us much–they are a bit devoid of content. Instead, try to name exactly what you learned about writing or exactly how your experiences are related to the quote. For example, you might reflect, “At the beginning of the semester, unsure of how to summarize a text well, I was just describing the main the idea of the text. However, after learning about Harris’ concept of capturing a writer’s “project,” I believe I have become better at really explaining a text as a whole. Specifically, in my last essay, I was able to provide a fully developed explanation of Author A’s argument and purpose for the essay as well as their materials and methods (that is, how they made the argument). For example, in this quote from my last essay,...”

Focus on a small moment from your experiences.

It’s hard to not want to recap our entire childhood or the full summer before something happened for context when sharing a personal story. However, it’s usually more effective to select a very specific moment in time and try to accurately describe what happened, who was involved, and how it made you feel and react. When writing about a moment, try to place readers there with you–help readers to understand what happened, who was involved, where it happened, why it happened, and what the results were. If this is a more creative assignment, you might even include some sensory descriptions to make the moment more of an experience for readers.

Fully explain the quote or focus of each point.

In reflective writing, you are usually asked to share your experiences in relation to something–a perspective in a text, learning about writing, the first-year experience, a summer internship, etc. When introducing this focal point, make sure you fully explain it. That is, explain what you think the quote means and provide a little summary for context. Or, if you’re reflecting on writing skills learned, before you jump to your learning and growth, stop to explain how you understand the writing skill itself–”what is analysis?,” for example. Usually, you want to fully explain the focus, explain your personal experiences with it, and then return to the significance of your experiences.

Use “I” when appropriate.

Often, in high schools, students are taught to abandon the first-person subject altogether in order to avoid over-use. However, reflective writing requires some use of “I.” You can’t talk about your experiences without using “I”! That being said, we’ve saved this advice for the bottom of the list because, as we hope the above tips suggest, there are a lot of important things that likely need explaining in addition to your personal experiences. That means you want to use “I” when appropriate, balancing your use of “I” with your explanation of the theory, quote, or situation you were in, for example.

Reflection conclusions can look forward to the future.

In the conclusion, you may want to ask and answer questions like:

  • What is the significance of my experiences with X?
  • What did I learn from reflecting on my experiences with Y?
  • How might this reflective work inform future decisions?
  • What specific tools or strategies did this activity use that might be employed in the future? When and why?

Write the reflection introduction last.

We always recommend writing introductions after you’ve drafted your entire essay–this allows you to actually introduce the specific essay you’ve already written (it’s easier to do and more likely to be strong). Reflective introductions have a little bit more flexibility. You do want to introduce the focus of your essay right away–and you might do that by naming it, by sharing a related anecdote, by naming a previously held idea/belief that has changed through learning happening during this course, or by explaining a reading or class discussion that make you curious about the focus you selected.

A Link to a PDF Handout of this Writing Guide

Module 1: Success Skills

Reflective writing, learning objectives.

  • Examine the components of reflective writing

Reflective writing includes several different components: description, analysis, interpretation, evaluation, and future application. Reflective writers must weave their personal perspectives with evidence of deep, critical thought as they make connections between theory, practice, and learning. The steps below should help you find the appropriate balance among all these factors.

1st Step: Review the assignment

As with any writing situation, the first step in writing a reflective piece is to clarify the task. Reflective assignments can take many forms, so you need to understand exactly what your instructor is asking you to do. Some reflective assignments are short, just a paragraph or two of unpolished writing. Usually the purpose of these reflective pieces is to capture your immediate impressions or perceptions. For example, your instructor might ask you at the end of a class to write quickly about a concept from that day’s lesson. That type of reflection helps you and your instructor gauge your understanding of the concept.

Other reflections are academic essays that can range in length from several paragraphs to several pages. The purpose of these essays is to critically reflect on and support an original claim(s) about a larger experience, such as an event you attended, a project you worked on, or your writing development. These essays require polished writing that conforms to academic conventions, such as articulation of a claim and substantive revision. They might address a larger audience than you and your instructor, including, for example, your classmates, your family, a scholarship committee, etc. It’s important before you begin writing, that you can identify the assignment’s purpose, audience, intended message or content, and requirements.

2nd Step: Generate ideas for content

As you generate ideas for your reflection, you might consider things like:

  • Recollections of an experience, assignment, or course
  • Ideas or observations made during that event
  • Questions, challenges, or areas of doubt
  • Strategies employed to solve problems
  • A-ha moments linking theory to practice or learning something new
  • Connections between this learning and prior learning
  • New questions that arise as a result of the learning or experience
  • New actions taken as a result of the learning or experience

3rd Step: Organize content

Researchers have developed several different frameworks or models for how reflective writing can be structured. For example, one method has you consider the “What?” “So what?” and “Now what?” of a situation in order to become more reflective. First, you assess what happened and describe the event, then you explain why it was significant, and then you use that information to inform your future practice. [1] [2] Similarly, the DIEP framework can help you consider how to organize your content when writing a reflective piece. Using this method, you describe what happened or what you did, interpret what it means, evaluate its value or impact, and plan steps for improving or changing for the future.

The DIEP Model of reflective writing

The DIEP model (Boud, Keogh & Walker, 1985) organizes the reflection into four different components:

Describe what happened, what did you do; Interpret: what does the experience mean to you as a learner; Evaluate: how valuable was the experience?; Plan: what will you do with your learning?

Figure 1 . The DIEP model for reflective thinking and writing has you first describe the situation, interpret it, evaluate it, then plan what to do with that new information.

Remember, your goal is to make an interpretive or evaluative claim, or series of claims, that moves beyond obvious statements (such as, “I really enjoyed this project”) and demonstrates you have come to a deeper understanding of what you have learned and how you will use that learning.

In the example below, notice how the writer reflects on her initial ambitions and planning, the a-ha! moment, and then her decision to limit the scope of a project. She was assigned a multimodal (more than just writing) project, in which she made a video, and then reflected on the experience:

Student Example

Keeping a central focus in mind applies to multimodal compositions as well as written essays. A prime example of this was in my remix. When storyboarding for the video, I wanted to appeal to all college students in general. Within my compressed time limit of three minutes, I had planned to showcase numerous large points. It was too much. I decided to limit the scope of the topic to emphasize how digitally “addicted” college students are, and that really changed the project in significant ways.

4th Step: Draft, Revise, Edit, Repeat

A single, unpolished draft may suffice for short, in-the-moment reflections, but you may be asked to produce a longer academic reflection essay. This longer reflection will require significant drafting, revising, and editing. Whatever the length of the assignment, keep this reflective cycle in mind:

  • briefly describe the event or action;
  • analyze and interpret events and actions, using evidence for support;
  • demonstrate relevance in the present and the future.

The following video, produced by the Hull University Skills Team, provides a great overview of reflective writing. Even if you aren’t assigned a specific reflection writing task in your classes, it’s a good idea to reflect anyway, as reflection results in better learning.

You can view the transcript for “Reflective Writing” here (opens in new window) .

Check your understanding of reflective writing and the things you learned in the video with these quick practice questions:


Improve this page Learn More

  • Driscoll J (1994) Reflective practice for practise - a framework of structured reflection for clinical areas. Senior Nurse 14 (1):47–50 ↵
  • Ash, S.L, Clayton, P.H., & Moses, M.G. (2009). Learning through critical reflection: A tutorial for service-learning students (instructor version). Raleigh, NC. ↵
  • Process of Reflective Writing. Authored by : Karen Forgette. Provided by : University of Mississippi. License : CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
  • Reflective Writing. Provided by : SkillsTeamHullUni. Located at : . License : Other . License Terms : Standard YouTube License
  • Frameworks for Reflective Writing. Authored by : Karen Forgette. Provided by : University of Mississippi. License : CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike

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  1. Reflective Writing

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  2. How to Write a Reflection Paper

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  3. Reflective Writing

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    reflective writing considers what time frame(s)


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  3. Reflective Writing

    Reflective writing includes several different components: description, analysis, interpretation, evaluation, and future application. Reflective writers must weave their personal perspectives with evidence of deep, critical thought as they make connections between theory, practice, and learning.

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    Shorter Time Frames. Reflections: Reflective writing can be used at any time, formally or informally, to assess understanding and give students time to process information.