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An introduction to social work
An introduction to social work

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Reflective writing

You have now considered reflection as a way of thinking and learning. Now you will move on to think about reflective writing. Many of the expectations of reflective writing will be very similar to the kinds of writing you may already be used to, such as the requirement to acknowledge your sources by using references and using clear language that is easily understood by your reader. There are also, however, important differences which you will also need to think about, should you go on to study for the social work degree.

This is a photograph of someone writing in a notebook.
  1. The questions may not require an ‘essay’ answer and may therefore need a different approach and structure from the conventional one of introduction, main paragraphs and conclusion.

  2. While most professional writing (e.g. reports, records) are written in the third person, reflective writing requires that you write about your own experience and consequently the use of the first person (‘I’) is actually encouraged.

  3. While you are still expected to use your reading or ‘theory’, this will need to be linked to your discussion of your own experiences and also what you have learned from these experiences.

If you already have experience of writing in higher education, reflective writing may feel odd at first. One social work student who was already a graduate commented that while her experience was that academic writing ‘is looking at writing in the third person’, reflective writing is about something different:

Well, you write that to your Auntie Jane, you don’t write it for a course, I’ve never written it for a course ... In this course you are going to be asked to write about yourself big style. You have got to be king. You have got to be in the centre.

(Social work student)

Although reflective writing is not exactly like writing a letter to ‘Auntie Jane’ or a personal blog, this student was picking up correctly that reflective writing has something in common with writing a diary or journal (or blog) and that most academic writing does not encourage you to write about yourself and your own experiences.

Activity 13 Reflective writing

Timing: Allow 30 minutes to complete

Spend 15 minutes writing as freely as you can about your thoughts on your learning so far. This writing is only for you to see, so don’t worry too much about how you organise your ideas or even about your language (words used, sentence construction, spelling, grammar, punctuation etc.). Just write from your own thoughts.

After writing for about 15 minutes, put your writing away somewhere safe.

Later, perhaps the next day, come back and re-read your writing. Note down your answers to the following questions:

  • Did you enjoy writing in this way, or did it feel difficult?
  • Did you feel able to forget about traditional expectations of ‘good’ writing and just let your thoughts flow?
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Some people find this type of writing hugely enjoyable, as a way to put their feelings and thoughts on paper and even to develop creative ideas. For others this is an awkward, challenging and artificial task, particularly for people who would not commonly talk about themselves reflectively, never mind commit their thoughts about themselves to paper in this way. Some people also feel very inhibited by the thought of someone reading and judging their writing, which can get in the way of expressing themselves. Free writing can be a good way to overcome feeling anxious about expressing yourself. Free writing also has a lot in common with reflective writing, as the focus is on you, the writer, your thoughts and experiences as told in the first person. If you found this activity difficult in any way you might like to keep practising this free writing exercise. Remember, you can pick any topic, based on work or personal experiences and you can jot these down on paper, phone or computer or perhaps by using voice recording software.

Key points

  • Reflection can enhance social work practice.
  • Reflection involves drawing together your experiences, study and feelings to help you evaluate practice and think about intervention and outcomes.
  • Supervision plays an important role in supporting reflection.