Language of academic reflections
Guidance on the language of academic reflections.
|Term||How it is being used|
|Academic/professional reflection||Any kind of reflection that is expected to be presented for assessment in an academic, professional, or skill development context. Academic reflection will be used primarily, but refer to all three areas.|
|Private reflection||Reflection you do where you are the only intended audience.|
Private reflections only have to make sense to you and therefore the language and structure can take any form you like. In contrast, academic reflections have certain characteristics; knowing these will help you write good academic reflections. While this page is specifically focused on academic reflective writing, a lot of the advice is true for private reflections as well.
General language points
- Use ‘I’ and other personal pronouns (reflections are centred around you)
- Use subject-specific language and terminology (use the same language as you would in an essay, just centred around your own experiences)
- Use succinct and formal language
Language points for specific aspects of reflective writing
A summary of key points to remember at different stages of reflection:
- When describing
- When writing about thoughts and feelings
- When analysing/interpreting/evaluating
- When concluding and planning
Language points when describing
- Use clear and precise language. For example, use ‘working on a group project on […] with three other students’ rather than ‘working on a group project with some other students’
- Be as objective as possible. For example ‘The younger children were hanging out at the corner’ rather than ‘the younger children were barricading the corner’ – It may have felt that way but was that actually their intent? If it felt that way, the feelings should be expressed explicitly.
- Be concise.
- Almost always use the past tense.
- Use temporal indicators and transitional language. For example: yesterday, last week, then, subsequently, lastly, etc.
Helpful phrases are ‘I saw…’, ‘I noticed…’, ‘I/they said…’, ‘I had…’, ‘I/they did…’, ‘I heard…’
Language points when writing about thoughts and feelings
- Use thinking and sensing verbs. For example, ‘I believe…’, ‘I think…’, ‘My opinion is…’, ‘I feel…’, ‘I understand…’, ‘I was happy/angry/…’ etc.
- Be cautious not to use ‘feel’ to hide judgement or opinion. For instance ‘I felt they were wrong’, or ‘my feeling was that it was a good choice’. Both of these sentences use feelings as a way to pass judgement. The latter of the examples can be rewritten as ‘I felt confident while making the choice, because…’
- Be aware of tense. Sometimes you are remembering feelings you had at the time of the event, which should be written in past tense. Sometimes you are talking about current and persistent feelings. Use present tense for feelings you have at the time of writing.
- Feelings should be processed. For academic reflection you should not write in the heat of the moment. The feelings should be presented to aid the understanding of the situation and help you to make connections – this is not a place to rant.
Language points when analysing/interpreting/evaluating
- Use comparative/contrasting language. For instance, ‘similarly’, ‘unlike’, ‘just as’, ‘in contrast to’.
- Use causal language to show connects and conclusion. For instance, ‘as a result of’, ‘due to’, ‘therefore’, ‘because’.
Below is a downloadable flow diagram of useful language for creating the analysing, interpreting, and evaluating part of your academic reflections. It is important to note that just because you use the diagrams, you will not automatically produce good reflections and get a good mark. The diagrams can serve as inspiration and support.
Language points when concluding and planning
- Sum up/highlight the most crucial learning outcomes.
- Use future-tense verbs to indicate future actions or practice. For instance: ‘intend to’, ‘will’, ‘may’, ‘should’, etc.
Below is a downloadable flow diagram of useful language for creating the conclusion and planning aspect of your academic reflections. It is important to note that just because you use the diagrams, you will not automatically produce good reflections and get a good mark. The diagrams can serve as inspiration and support.
Ryan, M., 2011. Improving reflective writing in higher education: a social semiotic perspective. Teaching in Higher Education, 16(1), 99-111.
University of Portsmouth, Department for Curriculum and Quality Enhancement (date unavailable). Reflective Writing: a basic introduction [online]. Portsmouth: University of Portsmouth.
Queen Margaret University, Effective Learning Service (date unavailable). Reflection. [online]. Edinburgh: Queen Margaret University.