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Study Skills- Reflective Writing

A study skills guide on developing your reflective writing at university.

What is Reflection?

'Reflection is a purposeful activity in which you analyse experiences, or of your own practice / skills/ responses, in order to learn and improve' (University of Birmingham, 2015, p. 2). 

The definition above highlights the purpose and benefits of reflection as well as some key elements:

  • Reflecting allows us to look back on an experience with purpose or intent, often to understand it more fully or improve in some way
  • It encourages us to analyse and evaluate the situation and our role in it. Essentially, thinking critically about the situation as opposed to passively recalling it.
  • Reflecting is an opportunity to learn and improve, so we are also looking forward. When reflecting we are considering what went well and what we could have done differently so we can apply this learning to future events.

Many of us do these things naturally, for example when commuting or driving home you might reflect on the day, identify your successes and think about what you would do differently if you could. An academic reflection, however, formalises these kinds of thoughts into something more structured, evidenced and often written. 

Reflection is purposefully considering an experience or particular subject. Formal reflection can feel uncomfortable at time as you are expected to consider a past experience, honestly. This may mean that you are considering what you would change next time. 

It may feel less daunting if you acknowledge that you reflect on a daily basis and make changes, what is required at university is just a more formal process. 

So, we can add some more key features to the list above:

  • Often models or theories are used to structure the reflection, some common ones might be Gibbs' or Schön's reflective models (we'll look a little at these later).
  • Academic reflections require evidence to support your thinking. Evidence and literature is included to help you to reflect more objectively and to offer a different perspective to your own.
  • Reflections are often written in a formal style, using academic language and referencing.


We reflect on activities throughout our lives that may be challenging or unexpected. When thinking of an event, we do not consider it in isolation but put it into context. Did we behave differently due to being tired for example?

When reflecting it is important to ensure that you introduce the topic. 

This might include starting by answering questions such as WHAT happened, WHEN did it take place and WHO was there?

However these questions are descriptive and it is important to ensure that you are critical in your reflective writing. 

This might include asking questions such as WHY did the event occur, HOW did it happen or SO WHAT


Discover more about developing your reflective writing skills in the video below:

When writing critically it could be helpful to consider the Plymouth Model of Critical Thinking. It is a structure that is designed to help you move from descriptive to analytical and evaluative questions. 

It can be applied to your whole reflective assignment or individual paragraphs to ensure that you do not miss key analysis from your work. 

A link to the Plymouth Model and a link to resources to support you in being critical are below, along with a quiz about critical and descriptive writing- can you identify the difference? 


Hull University Library (2014) Reflective writing. Available at: (Accessed: 3 August 2023). 

Plymouth University (ND) Critical thinking. Available at: (Accessed: 28 May 2024).

University of Birmingham (2015) A short guide to reflective writing. Available at: (Accessed: 8 August 2023).