Skip to content

Reflective writing: Differences between discursive and reflective writing

“Guidance for most academic writing emphasises the use of precise and objective language. Putting your reflection into words, in contrast, requires subjective language, since it is primarily your personal responses and views that are sought.”

McMillan & Weyers, How to improve your critical thinking & reflective skills

Differences between discursive and reflective writing

Writing reflectively requires a personal style of writing that you may not be used to. Most assignments at university are discursive, using reason and evidence to present an argument. This style of writing is impersonal and is usually written in the third person. Reflective writing, however, in centred on first-person experiences, supplemented with references to the literature alongside personal thought. First person writing involves talking from a personal perspective (this involves the using the first-person singular pronoun "I" or the first person plural, "we"). The table below contrasts discursive and reflective writing:

Discursive writing

Reflective writing

Based on broad reading of the subject area, uses reason to develop an argument

Examines personal responses to experiences, events, ideas and information

Impersonal style (written in the third person)

Personal  style (written in the first person)

Examines the strengths and weaknesses of the theories, arguments and research of others, compares and contrasts ideas and theories

Looks for meaning, analyses the significance of personal responses to opinions, experiences, events, thoughts and feelings

Limited to academic evidence

Not limited to academic evidence

Presents and justifies arguments

Looks for solutions to problems


Reflective writing is very different from the discursive style that you may be used to. It is written in the first person, examines personal experiences and is not limited to academic evidence. Unless you have experience with reflective practice, your first attempt(s) at reflective writing may feel very uncomfortable. This is because it requires a very different style and approach to your usual writing. Stick with gets much easier with time and practice.