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Writing in the sciences...: Reflective Journals

What is Reflective Writing?

Reflective writing differs from the more objective forms of writing you do in assignments and reports.

Reflective writing encourages you to reflect upon your own thoughts, actions and experiences as they relate to what and how you are learning.

"Learning to write reflectively will equip you with the relevant ethical and analytical ability to benefit from your practical experiences.Reflection may be articulated differently, depending on whether you are speaking or writing about your experiences."

(Howatson-Jones, L (2010). Reflecting writing. In Reflective practice in nursing. Exeter; Learning Matters p. 120-121)



What is a Reflective Journal?

A reflective journal is a personal and unstructured form of reflective writing. In a learning journal you can write about:

  • what you and others did on any particular occasion
  • what you thought; what others might have thought
  • what you felt; what others might have felt

Why write a reflective journal?

  • helps clarify thinking
  • allows you to express feelings about yourself/peers/lecturers/course content/your writing/others' writing
  • helps identify misunderstandings / non-understandings
  • can help you identify learning needs
  • can inform dialogues between you and your lecturer / peers
  • allows you to perceive links between knowledge/experience - past/present


Your journal could include reflective running notes on:

  • experiences with others
  • personal experiences which impinge on your work
  • interactions with peers / lecturers
  • things you did / would not say, but did think
  • feelings about your writings
  • comments on your reading
  • any increase in your knowledge
  • increase in your ability to articulate and identify issues
  • the expansion of your depth of understanding
  • changes in beliefs, theories, attitudes, relationships or practices

  (Adapted from Gillie Bolton (2005). Reflective Practice: writing and professional development.2nd Ed.)

Guided reflection

Guidelines for keeping a reflective diary/journal & writing up critical reflective incidents

  • Keep a journal of experiences over the year
  • Write up the journal entry/incident
  • Below the entry write up your reflections / analysis notes of the situation
  • Write up experiences the same day if possible
  • Use actual dialogue wherever possible to capture the situation
  • Make a habit of writing up at least one experience per work day/shift
  • Balance problematic experiences with satisfying experience
  • Challenge yourself at least once a day about something that you normally do without thought / take for granted
  • Ask yourself 'why do I do that?'  (i.e. make the normal problematic)
  • Always endeavour to be open and honest with yourself - find the authentic 'you' to do the writing

Ask yourself: 

What did I learn from the situation?  

In what way has it assisted my learning to be a health practitioner? 

Could the situation have been better managed?

(From: Johns (1992) & Carper (1978) in P. Palmer, S. Burns and C. Bulman, C.,  Reflective Practice in Nursing (1994). London. Blackwell Scientific Publications. p. 112).