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Reflective writing: Introduction

“Reflection is a personal activity, but in the university education it must be focused and take place within boundaries set by the academic context”

McMillan & Weyers, How to Improve your Critical Thinking & Reflective Skills

Reflection is the act of directing your thoughts to focus your attention on a subject or an experience. While it can feel uncomfortable to formally reflect, reflection is something we do naturally. The skill with reflection is understanding how we do it and this is important as you are probably already reflecting informally every day without even realising it!


We usually reflect on anything we experience where there is no immediate solution (Moon, 2007). However, such reflections are rarely written down in a formal way. This section will help you identify what reflective thinking is (this is the bit you are evidencing in your reflective writing!)

Why we reflect (in 30 seconds):



Definition of reflection

Reflection can be seen as the process of thinking carefully or deeply about a particular subject, typically involving past life and experiences. It usually also implies a deep or serious level of thought, especially within an academic context. Cottrell discusses this in practice, introducing reflection as follows:

Reflection is a natural activity. To a greater or lesser extent, we all spend time going back over what we have said or done, or what we wish we had said or done. Often, reflection accompanies hindsight: we realise long after an event how things might have been different, or how some small event was more significant than we realised. This is reflected in everyday expressions:

If only I had known then what I know now...

With hindsight, I now realise...

If I had the chance, I would do it all over again...

- Cottrell (2010) in Study Skills Handbook, page 173

If you are being asked to reflect at university, either as part of your course or as part of your personal development/Hull Employability Award, your reflections will help you guide future actions. This makes reflection a very valuable process as it can drive positive change. To help reflect upon what you do whilst at university, you need to develop the skill of writing about your experiences. If you write regularly in this context, you will find it becomes much easier and rewarding. As with any other academic skill, you will only develop your reflective abilities through practice.


Tip: Reflective writing comes from reflective thinking first, so read this section on reflective thinking before moving on.


Reflection is an important skill as it enables us to look at past events and make the most of those experiences. This helps us to identify what went really well so we can keep doing it, what didn't go so well and if there is anything you would do differently in future.

Do not fall into the trap of focusing on the past. The most important part of reflection is looking forward to future events. This helps us use knowledge gained from our previous experiences to keep doing the things that have worked previously, or to try new things when things have not gone so well in the past.