Reflective writing involves describing your experiences and critically analysing what you’ve learnt from those experiences. There are two steps:
First, thinking about and analysing your feelings and actions around an experience.
Second, writing your critical reflections to gain insight and knowledge to help you in the future.
Important points on language
Pronouns: In writing reflectively, you can use personal pronouns such as ‘I’ and ‘we’.
Tense: You should describe events that have already happened in the past tense, but use the present tense for your current evaluation, analysis and conclusion. Use the future tense for any plan of action.
Make sure you check with teaching staff or your assignment for specific requirements in your subject or discipline.
Types of reflection
Reflecting on events: this may include experiences, tasks or observations during placements, internships or other work.
Reflecting on new information: this may include new theory or concepts learnt during lectures, assessments, discussions or reading.
Models of reflective writing
There are many models to help you reflect on an event or new information. They all follow a common pattern of moving from describing to interpreting and planning the next steps. These models can also help you to structure your writing in a reflection.
If you haven’t been given specific instructions, use either the What? So what? Now what? or Gibbs model to structure your writing.
What? So what? Now what?
The What? So what? Now what? (Rolfe et al., 2001) model is often applied in the Health and Physical Sciences.
What was the experience or new information?
What is your understanding of it? Why did it happen? Who was involved?
What was your role and what actions did you (and others) take?
Why does this matter? What was the impact on you and why?
How do you feel about it? How does it connect to you and your learning?
Can theory or evidence from literature support your thinking?
What did you learn from it? What will you do because of this experience?
How will you apply what you have learnt in the future?
Is there anything more to be understood? What are your next steps?
Adapted from Bartlett and Derrington (2021).
Gibbs reflective cycle
The Gibbs Reflective Cycle (Gibbs, 1988) is a 6-step reflective model. It is often applied in Education, Nursing, Engineering and Applied Sciences.
What happened? Where, when and with whom?
During my acute placement in palliative care, I was asked by my clinical preceptor to conduct a comprehensive pain assessment on a patient that I had been delegated. The patient had been diagnosed with stage four cancer and was scheduled to undergo Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) in the coming days…
What were you thinking or feeling when it happened?
I sympathised with the patient and their family about how their initial wishes to undergo the VAD process may no longer be applicable. Although I was aware of this potential outcome, I instigated the matter promptly as I felt concerned that my patient…
What was good and bad about the experience?
While this experience offered me opportunities for my own professional development, my patient’s family members may have perceived it as negative, as the changing circumstances made it much more difficult for them to grieve and accept loss…
This is one of the most important sections of your reflection.
What can you make of the experience?
Why was this experience important to you?
Does your analysis incorporate theory or evidence from literature?
To be eligible for VAD, one must meet the legal criteria, which includes maintaining the mental capacity to make and communicate appropriate decisions for oneself (White et al., 2020). Although my patient was originally given the go-ahead to be considered for VAD, they had started to lose their cognition prior to undergoing the VAD process, therefore, the initial proposal needed to be re-reviewed. This experience was important to me because…
What did you learn? What else could you have done?
This experience provided me with a practical understanding of how fast a patient can rapidly deteriorate. I also accumulated insights into the legislations affecting one’s ability to make decisions and pursue treatment options and scheduled processes...
6. Action Plan
If it were to happen again, what would you do? How will you apply what you have learnt?
If I ever encounter similar situations, I will follow the same methods and communication techniques that I demonstrated through this experience. Depending on the organisation or environment, I may now also search for appropriate…
The above examples have been adapted and used with student permission. For the full sample of a Gibbs reflection with annotations, see the Word and PDF files at the bottom of the page.
Tips for reflective writing
write your reflections as soon as possible after the event
discuss with friends or family to get more insight and/or other perspectives
focus on both positives and negatives.
include your own or another person’s personal information
include location or any other identifiable information
judge or criticize others or yourself too harshly.
For a full sample of reflective writing with annotations, see the Word and PDF documents below.
Bartlett, C., & Derrington, K. (2021). Types of assignments. In C. Bartlett, T. Cawthray, L. Clark, S. Conway, K. Derrington, A. Devi, A. Frederiks, L. Gunton, W. Hargreaves, D. Howarth, S. Irvine, M. Jeffers, K. Lovric, R. McGregor, E. Peters, L. Pickstone, B. Retallick, Y. Rose, A. Sahay, ... R. Tweedale (Eds.), Academic success (Australian ed., pp. 332-339). University of Southern Queensland. https://usq.pressbooks.pub/academicsuccess/ Used under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.
Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning by doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. Further Education Unit. Oxford.
Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., & Jasper, M. (2001). Critical reflection in nursing and the helping professions: a user’s guide. Palgrave Macmillan.