Reflection Toolkit

Written reflections

Putting pen to paper or typing out your thoughts can help you slow down and identify the most essential aspects of your thought processes for reflection.

There are a range of benefits that can come from writing that might help you with your reflection. While it might seem effortful to either put pen to paper or to type your reflection up on a phone or computer, there are distinct differences between speaking and writing that can make writing a great tool for reflection.


The act of writing will slow down your mind and help you focus

When writing purposely, we tend to become more conscious of our words compared to speaking.  It takes longer to write a sentence than it does to say it, and therefore we slow down our thinking. By forcing us to stay with each sentence longer, writing allows us more time to think about the particular sentence we are writing.

Moreover, when thinking we sometimes get carried away with random thoughts, but by writing down our thoughts we are given something tangible to focus on, and if we ever lose the thread we can read the last sentences and pick up the thought again. This can help you focus on the meaning of what you are writing and support the conscious examination of thoughts in general or around an experience.

This also means that you might be more careful in the way you select what is essential as you can more easily weigh up each sentence before putting it in writing, compared to when speaking.


You can examine your thoughts and revisit them

When writing reflections it allows us to take a bird’s-eye view. You can take a step back and revisit thoughts by re-reading what you wrote.

Moreover it works as a thoughts record. Your thoughts and feelings about an event will change over time, and therefore being able to read these and your learning outcomes can support you in maintaining the learning.


A few other benefits

It is challenging to capture all the ways in which writing may benefit reflection, but below are a few other benefits of writing down your reflection:

  • Writing on your phone or in a journal that you keep in your pocket or bag makes it always available.
  • If you are writing personal reflections – it’s private (unless a nosy sibling steals it!)
  • It allows for a continuous relationship with self, where you can write and revisit as you please.
  • It provides a record of learning and development.


Typical types of reflective writing

Type Comments
Reflective reports/essay
  • It is written in academic language (still in first person and centred on the personal experience) and has a logical structure.
  • Someone else will likely be reading it, hence think carefully about what you put in it. You should never feel forced to write something you are not comfortable with, and similarly you should not write something that is too personal for the person reading your reflective report/essay to know.
  • It usually deals with a reflective question/prompt or a topic.
  • This is something you are likely to do either in a course, or for personal or professional development documentation.
  • While lending itself most clearly to reflection with an audience, it can easily be done as a private reflection – if that is the case, it should/could keep the structure and considerations that is required when producing it for others.
  • Can be used both for private reflection and for reflection with an audience.
  • Works particularly well to record multiple entries, recurring thoughts, and development.

When personal

  • No need for structure or models unless you want to
  • No rules – as long as what you are doing is a purposeful exploration and challenge of thoughts and actions it is reflection.
  • Is personal and confidential (unless you choose otherwise)
  • Can take long or short entries.
  • You can repeat the same concerns multiple times
  • Can switch between reflection and ‘classic’ diary as needed – just remember it is only reflection when it purposefully strives towards better understanding.

When using reflective journals to be shared with others

  • Needs to have the consideration of audience - someone else is reading it, hence think carefully about what you put in it. You should never feel forced to write something you are not comfortable with, and similarly you should not write something that is too personal for the person reading your reflective report/essay to know.
  • Be aware of word limits and required frequency of posts.
  • Will likely require some structuring for readability.
Blog posts
  • In many ways these function in the same way as reflective journals
  • The main difference is that if it happens online or digitally, be aware of your digital footprint (for example see the Institute of Academic Development’s advice on digital footprint management), and that your audience might be unknown and large – this might affect what you want to share.
Post-it notes (or scrap paper)
  • Can capture thoughts as they come
  • Easy to have available
  • Informal – you just need enough text to remember what you mean
  • Flexible and editable
  • You can keep them or dispose of them easily
  • Can work as a good visual representation of your thoughts.  For instance, if you first write down everything in your mind about an event you can physically move thoughts, comments, ideas, and questions into clusters – this might help you to make sense and find patterns.

How to improve your reflective writing

As with anything, practice makes you better and makes the process feel more natural. Moreover, seeking feedback from others will help you. So whatever way you choose to write down your reflections, you can always hone your skills and develop your reflections by sharing them with other people.


Back to ‘Ways of reflecting’