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Prepared by Wilfrid Laurier University

Section C: How Do I Get Started?

In Section A, you were introduced to the concept of reflection and reflective writing, and you read about three masters of reflective practice. In Section B, you learned about six models of reflection that you can use to guide your reflections. In this section, you will learn about how to begin a reflective writing task.

What will I learn?

By the end of this section, you will be able to

  • how to understand your assignment directions,
  • how to recognize the expectations of reflective writing,
  • about levels of reflective writing, and
  • how to focus on tone in your reflective writing.

Before you begin writing your reflective piece, it is important that you understand the assignment. Your instructor might request that you complete a specific type of reflective writing. Some reflective writing assignments could include:

  • diary
  • blog
  • journal
  • reading log
  • e-portfolio
  • reading portfolio
  • research log
  • work placement diary
  • practice portfolio
  • reflective essay

Each of these types of reflective writing will take a different format:

  • Portfolios, diaries, and logs will require you to contribute multiple pieces of reflective writing.
  • A reflective essay is generally only one piece of writing. It could be written during the course or near the end of the course.

Identify the key words in your assignment. These words will give you direction for your assignment. Instructions may be similar to these sample prompts:

  1. Write a reflective commentary on…
  2. Give a reflective account of…
  3. Write a reflective essay on…

It is clear from the inclusion of the word “reflective” that you are required to write a reflective piece.

So, on what exactly are you supposed to reflect? A reflective piece of writing is about you, your understanding of an experience or situation, and your thoughts about your skill development over time.

Your reflective assignment may require you to reflect on one or more of the following items (Williams, Wooliams, & Spiro, 2012):

  1. Yourself
  2. How you learn
  3. How you learn from what you have done, thought, experienced, created
  4. How your knowledge and understanding have developed through your reading
  5. How you link theory and practice
  6. How your learning shapes further learning, your practice, work placement, or employment

You may be asked to reflect on a book you are reading or a piece of music related to your course content.

Sample Reflective Essay

While there is no standard format for a piece of reflective writing (unlike case studies and lab reports, for example), the sample below provides some guidance as to the components that are generally included in a reflective writing assignment. Keep in mind that while headings and separate pages are used in this sample, this may not be applicable to your own reflective writing task. You can download and print this sample reflective essay.

This sample of a Reflective Writing should serve as a useful guide to help you get started.

Download PDF

Preview: PDF Worksheet
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Your professor will likely expect you to write a reflection that is both personal and academic. A personal reflection will require you to think deeply about your own experiences. You will need to think about the ways in which your experiences have shaped you or your understanding of a particular issue. A personal reflection is about your perceptions rather than about extensive research that you have conducted.

An academic reflection will require you to think about how your experiences can be explained or understood within the context of the academic literature or theories that you have learned about. The stories, experiences, and thoughts that you share in your reflection should be connected to academic content.

Your reflection, whether personal or academic, will require you to think critically and deeply about your experiences in order to make meaning from them. Rather than a simple description or story about an event or experience, you will be encouraged to write an analysis of this event or experience.

In your reflective piece of writing, you may be required to:

  • judge the merits of your experience,
  • apply what you have learned, and
  • draw conclusions and identify implications from what you have learned.

If you write a lot of reflective pieces of writing, each piece might take a different tone. Two tones can be used in reflective writing: conversational and academic.

  1. A conversational tone is generally written in the first-person (using I).
  2. An academic tone includes more formal vocabulary and may use the third person point of view (using he/she/they).

Take a moment to read (and re-read) your assignment instructions. Complete the following table in order to verify your understanding of the assignment.

Questions to Help Me Understand My Assignment

  1. What do I have to produce (e.g., diary, log, book review)?
  2. What format should my paper take (e.g., blog post, portfolio)?
  3. How long should my paper be?
  4. How much is this paper worth for my course grade?
  5. Why am I being asked to write a reflection?
  6. What does my professor expect me to learn by writing this reflection?
  7. What do I expect to learn by writing this reflection?
  8. Who is the audience for my reflective piece of writing (e.g., myself, a peer, my instructor)?

What Are Some Practical Tips to Help Me Understand the Assignment and the Assignment Expectations?

Understand the assignment:

  • Read the assignment instructions carefully (and more than once)
  • Highlight key words

Understand the expectations:

  • Will my reflection be personal or academic? How do I know?
  • Should I take a conversational or academic tone? What instructions did my professor provide?


Wilfrid Laurier University. (2015). Sample Reflective Essay. (PDF).

Williams, K., Woolliams, M., & Sprio, J. (2012). Reflective writing. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Next Section Overview

In Section D: Writing a Reflection , we will explore pre-writing and writing strategies as well as grammar and language features of reflective writing.

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