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Succeeding in postgraduate study
Succeeding in postgraduate study

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3.1 Some important points to consider

Be selective in your writing: When engaging in reflective writing you are always encouraged to think about how your own experiences affect you and your work. You do this by selecting key aspects and/or moments that challenge your views about an aspect of your work/personal experience, or reinforce something you’ve read in the literature or in some policy documents, for example. It is very important to be selective, to adopt a critical stance, and be honest about your experiences. There is always an element of looking ahead, based on reflection of what has been experienced, so the outcomes resulting from your critical reflection need to be clear, and you should specify what you may do differently next time.

Use the right language and an appropriate writing style: In your assignments you will be required to demonstrate that you can express yourself in English at an appropriate standard and style, and produce well-structured, coherent and succinct text. If you are writing a reflective account on a project or series of activities, it is often appropriate to use the first person (‘I’). However, different academic disciplines may demand different styles of writing from you, and it may be that in some instances you will be writing in the first person (e.g. ‘I would argue…’) whereas in others you will be writing in the third person (e.g. ‘Smith (2016) argues that’, or ‘based on evidence from Smith (2016)…’). What is important is that it is clear to the reader when a claim is your view, and when you are expressing views and claims by others.

Self-reflection: You may find that a part of your assignment is devoted to self-reflection and your own view of how you’ve developed during your studies (similar to a learning journal). The language you use for self-reflection may be different from that in the academic part of the assignment. You are expected to write in the first person (e.g. ‘I think that’, ‘My analysis is…’) and you may well be encouraged to give your subjective feelings about your progress.

Use reflective writing in professional subject areas: Some assignments (for example, within health and social care) require students to use their professional judgement to make an informed subjective comment. You might be asked to provide your own reflections and opinions on a subject. However, even though you are being asked for your subjective response to the topic, you are still expected to provide evidence to support your position.

Box 1 Tips for successful reflective writing (adapted from Syed, Scoular and Reaney, 2012)

  • use full sentences and complete paragraphs
  • you can use personal pronouns (‘I’, ‘my’, ‘we’)
  • avoid colloquial language
  • keep your writing concise, presentable and legible
  • be honest in your self-assessment
  • ensure the content is clear and shows good observation in presenting the learning event and any associated issues.

Your reflective account should also:

  • show depth and detail (a deeper approach to subject matter)
  • be thorough, demonstrate self-awareness, and show a willingness to revise your ideas
  • show evidence of critical and creative thinking
  • represent different cognitive skills (synthesis, analysis, evaluation)
  • include a statement of learning needs, linked to your personal development planning
  • propose clear action(s) in response to the reflection
  • note the questions that arise from the reflective process (and on which to reflect further).