What is the best reflective writing structure?

Student writing reflective essay

The best reflective writing structure is the one that works for you. Reflection is entirely personal, so if you adopt the structure of someone else, then you may be trying to “fit a square peg into a round hole”. It won’t quite work for you.

So, tip number one for ensuring you produce a good reflective writing structure is to write what seems right and natural to you. 

Having said this, however, there are some key components of reflective writing that anyone marking your work would expect. Academic reflective writing generally requires the following three elements to be considered in this order:

  1. What happened? A summary of the elements on which you are reflecting. For university students, for instance, this could be a summary of what you read, the lectures you attended and so on. You don’t need to summarise the content itself, rather you ought to say what happened, such as which chapters you read, what lectures you went to and so on.
  2. What did you feel about it? Provide a detailed explanation of your emotions. What did you feel when you read those chapters? Frustrated? Annoyed? Relaxed? Amazed? Discuss your overall feelings about what you studied. Did it help you understand the subject? Are you finding the topic easy or tough? 
  3. What does it mean for the future? Explain how you will change or adapt your future thinking or behaviour. For instance, if reading a textbook chapter made you frustrated and tired you might think that an audiobook version could help in the future. Or, if you found a lecture stimulating and thought-provoking you might think you would look out for other lectures on similar topics. 

So, tip number two is to consider these three essentials of reflective writing as central components in your own work. You do not have to write them in that order – as already said, do what works for you.

If your reflection is covering several weeks of study you may wish to break it down into week-by-week sections. Or, you may find it easier to write if you break it down by themes, such as the elements of all of those weeks that amazed you, the elements that helped you understand and so on. Either way is OK, but breaking a long-term reflection into sections provides clarity. If you do break it down by themes, rather than weeks, that will show deeper thinking as you integrate ideas across all your weeks of study.

Tip number three for a good reflective writing structure is to consider how you will break it down into sections to create clarity. Themes will demonstrate deeper thinking.

One other aspect of your structure that is essential for academic reflections is ensuring it is connected with theories and properly referenced. You need to link what you say to theory wherever possible. If, for example, you say that you did not understand something as a result of reading the textbook, but felt good about it after the lecture, try to consider what that might mean from a theoretical basis. Could it be, for instance, that it ties in better with your individual style of learning? If so, you could create a link to they theory about that and reference it. This demonstrates even deeper thinking about your own learning.

So, the final tip here, tip number four, is to connect what you say to theory and reference it.