“An unexamined life is not

worth living”

Reflective writing
Daren Mansfield

aims & objectives
 what is reflection?
 explore a critical incident
 plan and develop structure
 models of reflective analysis (choices)
 appropriate language
 importance of being critical
 conclusions and bibliography
These Reflective Writing slides are available on

why reflect?
purpose of reflection is to
demonstrate that you are learning,
learn from experience, and embed
your experience to personally and
professionally develop in an ethos of
continuous improvement.

what is self reflection?
Self reflection is like looking into a mirror and describing
what you see. It is a way of assessing yourself, your ways
of working and how you study. To put it simply ‘reflection’
means to think about something. Reflecting and
composing a piece of self reflective writing is becoming
an increasingly important element to any form of study or
(Open University, 2016)

explore a critical incident
 what happened to you today?
 how did you react to events?
 what were the consequences?
 could your responses improve in future?
 how should you move on?
(adapted from McMillan & Weyers, 2013, 8)

identifying your critical incident
 TASK: describe your critical incident & why
it was important to you, what conclusions
can be drawn, what theories can be
applied to lead to greater understanding?
 REFLECT: does it challenge your
understanding, are there gaps in your selfknowledge & what should change?

You are working with a colleague whom
you do not particularly like. Their
manner is patronizing and you feel that
they know they are making you
unhappy. You are not sure if you are
being bullied, or if you are overreacting,
but you know how their behaviour, and
your reaction to it, is making you feel.
(Hargreaves & Page, 2013, 82)

Hargreaves and
Page, 2013, 79

 reflective writing has two key features:
 integrates theory and practice, are the theories
 what did you learn from the experience?
 case study: personal account of critical incident
where feelings are explored AND applied academic
material. Reflector demonstrated thorough
understanding of Graham and Schieles’ (2010)
critique of racial discrimination and achieved
resolution through enacting ‘shame free and blame
free culture’ (Kiekkas, 2011).

recording the reflective process
a reflective journal entry
a text on your mobile
an essay
a Twitter, blog or Facebook entry
a formal report or professional
(Hargreaves & Page, 2013, 84).

a) Structure: planning process
 Discuss your reflections with others to deepen your
insight, improve your ability to express your ideas and help
to explore a range of perspectives.
 Collect evidence. There are two sources of evidence which
need to be used in reflective writing assignments:
 Your reflections form essential evidence. Keep notes on
developments that have occurred during the process.
 Use academic evidence from published case studies and
theories to show how your ideas and practices have
developed in the context of the relevant academic

b) Structure: beginning
 Avoid writing a long narrative describing what happened, as you will
then run out of space to analyse why it happened.
 Reflect upon the experience before you start to write, although additional
insights are likely to emerge throughout. Discuss with a friend or colleague
and develop your insight.
 Select relevant examples which illustrate the reflective process; choose a
few of the most challenging or puzzling incidents and explore why they are
interesting and what you have learnt from them.
 Top tip: Start with the points you want to make, then select examples to
back up your points, from your two sources of evidence - i) your
experiences and ii) theories, published case studies, or academic
 Use the reflective learning cycle to structure your writing. (see Gibbs,

essay planning using reflection (Hargreaves & Page, 2013, 74).

c) Structure: what, so what & now
 What? (description)
 What was the event? When? Where? Who was involved?

So what? (interpretation)
 What is most important aspect of the event/idea/situation?
 Why did this occur?
 How can the event and your feelings be explained?
 Could anything have gone differently?
 How do the stages of the event relate to each other?
 Is this event/feeling similar to/different from others that you or other people have

Now what? (outcome)
 What have I learned?
 What are the implications for my future practice (would anything be done
(Hargreaves and Page, 2013,

appropriate language
 normally appropriate to use the first person ('I') but you are likely to
need to write both in the first person ("I felt…") and in the third person
("Smith, 2009) proposes that …"). Identify which parts of your experience
you are being asked to reflect on and use this as a guide to when to use
the first person.
 produce a balance by weaving together sections of 'I thought… 'I felt,
…' and the relevant academic theories. This is more effective than
having a section which deals with the theory and a separate section
dealing with your experiences.
 when writing about your reflections use the past tense as you are
referring to a particular moment (I felt…). When referring to theory use
the present tense as the ideas are still current (Smith proposes that...).
 avoid emotive or subjective terms

(Hargreaves & Page, 2013, 32)

critically analyse the event
 analyse: 'to look at all sides of an issue, break a
topic down into parts and explain how these
components fit together' using academic
references and theories to underpin your
argument and understanding (McMillan & Weyers,
2013, 270).
 in an academic context, your tutors will expect
you be 'self-aware, analytical and able to situate
your thoughts in the relevant academic and
professional context' (McMillan & Weyers, 2013, 8)

transformative reflection
 Mezirow believed that critical reflection can be the
trigger to ‘transformative learning’, reflection
as a form of thinking, assessing assumptions on
which our thoughts and decisions are based, we
can really critique, confront our actions, more
deeply (Hargreaves & Page, 2013, 29).
 Schön’s (1991) ‘reflection in action’: after the
event, you look back and re-visit your actions; time
has passed and your thoughts and feelings have
changed (Hargreaves & Page, 2013, 55).

Your opportunity to remind your reader of what
you have written about & draw your writing to
a close.
You should not introduce any new points.
What are the main points that you have made
you want the reader to take away?
Is there something in particular that you have
Are there any actions to be taken?

golden rules for reflective writing
 write only things that you know to be true: if you are
unsure, say so (I think she may have meant; I
understood him to say that. . .)
 anonymize people and places, but if you are required
to name individuals, write with the expectation that
the person will see what you have written; imagine
them reading the actual words you have written.
 store your writing securely.
(Hargreaves and Page, 2013).

still doubt yourself?
 Review your draft, highlight your main
points & search databases to use
those keywords to find scholarly
 You will become more confident in
expressing your understanding,
develop your argument & sharpen
your professional insight.

using the library: ‘reflective writing
learning business’
 SAGE Premier (5176 results)
 ABI Inform (11,698 results)

Academic Writing
 aws@lincoln.ac.uk

 Emerald Insight (24262

 AWS offers 1-1 support,
drop-in sessions &
bookable appointments

 Science Direct (6,807 results)

 Daren Mansfield

 Find it at Lincoln (54,210

 dmansfield@lincoln.ac.uk

what I learned was….
 Need for openness, honesty, & authenticity to develop
professional practice. But does your environment encourage
such behaviour?
 Literature explores the difficulties with assessment: that
students perceive what is acceptable to get the best marks
(Hargreaves, 2004). ‘Eating humble pie’ and ‘toeing the line’
(Macfarlane & Gourlay, 2009) may lead to conformist rather
than thoughtful and critical enquiry, and ‘strategic reflection’
(Hobbs, 2007). Barley refers to assessment as potentially ‘a
process of atonement rather than learning’ (Barley, 2012,
277) and Ross alerts us to the additional challenges faced
when reflecting in digital forms which add a new dimension
of surveillance and control (Ross, 2011).

final advice
• to record your reflection
• to confront painful and difficult
• to celebrate your success
• to work openly with other
(Hargreaves & Page,
2013, 78)


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Care. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Barley, M. (2012). Learning from reflective practice and metacognition – an anaesthetist’s
perspective. Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, 13(2), 271–
Brockbank, A. & McGill, I. (2003). Facilitating reflective learning n higher education.
Buckingham: Open University Press.
Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning by Doing: A Guide to Teaching and Learning Methods. Oxford:
Oxford Polytechnic, Further Education Unit.
Hargreaves, J. (2004). So how do you feel about that? Assessing reflective practice. Nurse
Education Today, 24(3), 196–201.
Hargreaves, J. & Page, L. (2013). Reflective practice. Cambridge: Polity.
Hobbs, V. (2007). Faking it or hating it: can reflective practice be forced? Reflective Practice,
8(3), 405–17.
Honey, P. & Mumford, A. (1992). The Manual of Learning Styles. Maidenhead : Peter Honey.
Macfarlane, B. & Gourlay, L. (2009). The reflection game: enacting the penitent self.
Teaching in Higher Education, 14(4), 455–9.
Macionis, J. J. (2010). Sociology. Boston: Pearson Education.
McMillan, K. A. & Weyers, J. D. B. (2013). How to improve your critical thinking and
reflective skills. Harlow : Prentice Hall.
Ross, J. (2011). Traces of self: online reflective practices and performances in higher
education. Teaching in Higher Education, 16(1), 113–26.
Schön, D. A. (1991). The reflective practitioner : how professionals think in action.
Aldershot: Ashgate.

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