The Key Features of Reflective Writing

Question and Answer

For most reflective writing, it’s good to start with questions about the topic—in this case, your educational experiences—and to provide thoughtful answers and insights to these questions. Such questions might include:

  • How does my performance on this assignment demonstrate my competence level for the particular core skill or program outcome?
  • How does this assignment relate to or connect to skills I’ve learned in other courses?
  • How did this assignment connect with the real world?
  • How did this assignment impact my understanding of something about the world around me? Did it challenge any of my assumptions?
  • What challenges did I have to overcome to complete this assignment? What steps did I take to overcome them, and what did I learn about myself as a result?
  • Why is this a good assignment to use as an artifact in my ePortfolio?
  • How does this assignment reflect change, growth, or progression toward goals I’ve had for this area?

Narrative Structure

Following a question and answer format is great for brainstorming your thoughts and feelings on each of your portfolio pieces, but it’s not ideal for presenting them. If you use a question and answer format similar to a “frequently asked questions” section, readers may feel they are getting little more than a completed form, rather than a true introspection. Use a narrative style instead, telling readers a story about your experiences in a way that is informative, persuasive, and entertaining all at the same time. The tone can be speculative, showing how you considered, accepted, or rejected various details or ideas throughout the process.

To do all this in a clear, concise manner, you will need a coherent structure for your reflection. Here are several outlines based on narrative and reflective examples in the Norton Field Guide to Writing, Third Edition. You may find that certain outlines work better for different kinds of artifacts. Don’t be afraid to try each outline to see what works best:

Outline One

  • Introduction: Begin by defining or describing your piece or perhaps with an anecdote or observation.
  • Body: Explore your piece with anecdotes, observations, definitions, or speculations.
  • Conclusion: End with a telling image, material for further thought, a statement about the implications of your piece.

Outline Two

  • Introduction: Introduce your piece as a whole.
  • Body: Break the piece into parts, presenting reflections on each part.
  • Conclusion: End with a thought about the implications of the piece.

Outline Three

  • Introduction: Introduce the story of the piece, describing things like setting, people, places, etc.
  • Body: Tell what happened, how issues were resolved, etc.
  • Conclusion: Say something about the piece’s significance.

Outline Four

  • Introduction: Start at the end of the story, tell how the story ends up, then introduce the piece.
  • Body: Go back to the beginning of the story, telling what happens chronologically and describing important parts.
  • Conclusion: Say something about the piece’s significance.

Common Ground with Readers

While reflective writing is as much for the writer as it is for the reader, you will still want to engage your audience to share in your journey. You are exploring the purpose and meaning of your work both intrinsically and in the larger contexts of your life, and often what you’ll find will appeal to others as well. Try to connect your personal experiences to universal ideas; those triumphs and struggles we tend to face at school, at work, or at home. For example, in writing about your experiences you can raise questions or points about how others might handle similar situations or solve similar problems.

Provide specific details

The more details you provide about your piece, the more readers will understand it. The same goes for any background information, issues, or thoughts you have about the piece. Try to use anecdotes, examples, facts or statistics, descriptions, causes and effects, definitions, classifications, comparisons, steps in a process, dialogue with others, and so on.