Reflection Toolkit

Structure of academic reflections

Guidance on the structure 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.



Academic reflections or reflective writing completed for assessment often require a clear structure. Contrary to some people’s belief, reflection is not just a personal diary talking about your day and your feelings.

Both the language and the structure are important for academic reflective writing. For the structure you want to mirror an academic essay closely. You want an introduction, a main body, and a conclusion.

Academic reflection will require you to both describe the context, analyse it, and make conclusions. However, there is not one set of rules for the proportion of your reflection that should be spent describing the context, and what proportion should be spent on analysing and concluding. That being said, as learning tends to happen when analysing and synthesising rather than describing, a good rule of thumb is to describe just enough such that the reader understands your context.


Example structure for academic reflections

Below is an example of how you might structure an academic reflection if you were given no other guidance and what each section might contain.  Remember this is only a suggestion and you must consider what is appropriate for the task at hand and for you yourself.


Using a reflective model to structure academic reflections

You might recognise that most reflective models mirror this structure; that is why a lot of the reflective models can be really useful to structure reflective assignments. Models are naturally structured to focus on a single experience – if the assignment requires you to focus on multiple experiences, it can be helpful to simply repeat each step of a model for each experience.

One difference between the structure of reflective writing and the structure of models is that sometimes you may choose to present your learning in the introduction of a piece of writing, whereas models (given that they support working through the reflective process) will have learning appearing at later stages.

However, generally structuring a piece of academic writing around a reflective model will ensure that it involves the correct components, reads coherently and logically, as well as having an appropriate structure.


Reflective journals/diaries/blogs and other pieces of assessed reflection

The example structure above works particularly well for formal assignments such as reflective essays and reports.  Reflective journal/blogs and other pieces of assessed reflections tend to be less formal both in language and structure, however you can easily adapt the structure for journals and other reflective assignments if you find that helpful.

That is, if you are asked to produce a reflective journal with multiple entries it will most often (always check with the person who issued the assignment) be a successful journal if each entry mirrors the structure above and the language highlighted in the section on academic language. However, often you can be less concerned with form when producing reflective journals/diaries.

When producing reflective journals, it is often okay to include your original reflection as long as you are comfortable with sharing the content with others, and that the information included is not too personal for an assessor to read.


Developed from:

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.