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Reflective writing: What is reflection? Why do it?

“Whether we focus on problematic experiences or positive ones, reflecting on them will provide us with opportunities for growth and development.”

Bassot, The reflective journal

What is reflection? Why do it?

To build on the definition of reflection from the previous page, it is useful to consider its purpose while you are at university. The following points are the core reasons why you may be asked to reflect (or why you may want to reflect yourself):

1) Consider the process of our own learning

Think about how you learn with the aim of improving this process. This is particularly useful for revision.

2) Critically review something

Think about a particular event or personal aspect. This could be your own behaviour, that of others or the product of behaviour.

3) Build theory from observations

Think about your experiences and observations to construct your own theories. Often we use the theories of other authors and this provides you with an opportunity to construct your own.

4) Engage in personal or self-development

Reflection is focused on producing useful outcomes from the future. It can help you becoming more self-aware and can make you a better learner, researcher, practitioner or employee.

5) Make decisions or resolve uncertainty

Thinking about previous experiences can help you make decisions about new ones

Note: While all of these reasons for reflection are valid, different disciplines place emphasis on different areas. You do not necessarily need to cover all of the above in every reflective assignment. Think about why you are being asked to reflect and make sure you focus on the most appropriate area.


Having an experience in itself is not a guarantee that learning will take place. All the major theories of reflective practice suggest that reflection on an experience provides the context for learning. It is this reflection that leads to the formulation of new concepts and ways of thinking - not the act of having an experience. Gibbs (1988), for example, maintains that:  

‘It is not sufficient simply to have an experience in order to learn. Without reflecting upon this experience it may quickly be forgotten, or its learning potential lost. It is from the feelings and thoughts emerging from this reflection that generalisations or concepts can be generated. And it is generalisations that allow new situations to be tackled effectively.’

Gibbs (1988) in Learning by doing: a guide to teaching and learning methods

Why reflect?

A positive by-product of engaging in the reflective process is that it can help you grow in self-confidence. Some of the other areas of self-change could include:

  1. gaining control over your own thoughts and emotions, especially when confronted by others and new situations
  2. developing deeper insights
  3. make more informed judgements
  4. monitoring your own performance
  5. gauging not only your progress, but also your speed of change
  6. tapping into your true motivations for doing something (e.g. examining your commitment to others)
  7. establishing your learning preferences and thinking styles
  8. developing a realistic image of yourself.

Therefore, whether you are examining yourself or your academic work, you need the ability to stand back and see the broader picture.


Self confident


Reflection is an important part of learning through experience. By reflecting on our experiences, we maximise the potential of any new learning. This is particularly important when considering positives. They are often harder to recall than the bad elements of any experience.