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Study Skills


“We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience” (attributed to John Dewey, Educator and Philosopher)

Reflective writing is a common assessment task at university because it trains you to give serious thought to your learning experiences. By reflecting on experience, you can deepen your understanding and better apply your learning in your profession after graduation.

Your lecturers aim to help you develop reflective practice that will serve you throughout your academic and professional life. This page will help you to meet your lecturers' expectations by:

  • self-evaluating your current strengths and weaknesses
  • considering the purpose of reflective writing tasks
  • practising reflective thinking to deepen your understanding of your learning
  • structuring your reflective writing effectively
  • making appropriate language choices to signal your thought processes.

Download this summary sheet for your own reference.


Introduction to reflections

This section will provide a general overview of reflections.

Self evaluation


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Before you continue, reflect on your previous writing experiences. How would you rate your ability in the following reflective writing skills? Rate your ability from ‘good’ to ‘needs development’.

Reflect on your answers. Congratulations if you feel confident about your skills. You may find it helpful to review the materials on this page to confirm your knowledge and possibly learn more. Don't worry if you don't feel confident. Work through these materials to build your skills.

An overview of reflection

Watch this video for an overview of reflection. It is divided into two parts: reflective thinking and reflective writing.

Pause at the end of reflective thinking. Consider what you have learned so far and write down three things you want to remember. Then, continue. 

Consider what you have learned. How does it compare with what you previously knew about reflection?

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Check your understanding by creating a summary of the main ideas of the video. 


Reflective thinking

The following materials will introduce you to the practice of reflective thinking.

The practice of reflection

Reflective thinking should be seen as a practice, not a task. Regular reflection makes you more aware of your strengths and weaknesses and deepens your understanding of your discipline. If you develop the habit of reflecting on your learning, you will be more successful when you do get a reflection task for assessment.  

Remember, reflective thinking usually includes: 

FocusYou focus your thinking on one topic, usually a learning experience. At university, it may be something that you have experienced on your course or learned in lectures. You may choose it yourself or it may be assigned by your lecturer. 
ProcessYou may follow a reflection model that is common in your discipline, and you may ask yourself a series of questions to guide your thinking. 
GoalThe goal may be something abstract, like developing self-awareness or deepening your understanding of your discipline. It may also be something more concrete, like an action plan for change. Check your task instructions. 

Many different reflection models exist. However, they all share the common aim of guiding learners through the process of describing an experience, interpreting it and then learning from it. One simple framework for the process, adapted from Driscoll (1994), is: 

What?Describe the learning experience and how you responded to it. 
So what?Analyse, explain, interpret or evaluate what happened. 
What next?Plan how you will use your new understanding in the future. 
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Whatever reflection model your lecturer recommends, you should ask yourself a series of questions to guide your thinking. The following task will guide you through the reflection process. At each stage, pause to consider the questions.

Reflect on your experience doing this task. What did you find challenging? What do you want to remember for the next time you reflect on a learning experience? 

Applying your learning

Consider what you have learned about reflective thinking so far.  You may not need to write reflections for all of your units, but consider:

  • What memorable learning experiences have you had so far at CDU? 

  • What have you learned from them? 

  • How could you find time to reflect in your daily life? Would keeping a learning journal help you?


Reflective writing

The following materials will introduce you to the practice of reflective writing.

Introduction to reflective writing

 We have looked at the process of reflective thinking. Now, what do you need to know about reflective writing?  

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Read this reflective paragraph. Can you find where the student answers the questions what, so what and what next? 


Reflective vs academic writing

 Some students feel unsure about the level of formality they need to use in reflective writing. The following material aims to clarify this. 

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Read these three extracts from 1) a personal message 2) a reflection and 3) an academic text. What similarities and differences do you notice in the texts? 

Consider the differences you have noticed between the three texts. In the task below, you can see a collection of items that describe writing. Drag and drop them to the most appropriate column on the table.


Applying your learning

Read a draft reflection that you are working on.  

  • Does your draft clearly address each stage of the reflection model used in your discipline? 

  • Have you used an appropriate level of formality?

  • Is your draft well organised? Look at the material on paragraphs if you need revision. 

  • If your lecturer requires you to refer to research or theory, have you used appropriate synthesis strategies and citations? Look at the material about references and paraphrasing if you are not sure. 

The language of reflection

If reflective practice is new to you, you may be unsure how to express your thoughts in writing. The following materials focus on language choices to help you express yourself clearly and appropriately. 

Descriptive vs reflective language

Inexperienced reflective writers sometimes confuse description and reflection. Some feel that if they are describing their feelings, they are reflecting; however, they need to expand on this to interpret or explain their feelings.

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Read the following extracts and decide which are descriptive and which are reflective. Pay close attention to the language that the students use to signal their thought processes. 

The language of reflective writing

When reflective practice is new to you, you may be unsure how to clearly signal your thought process in writing. The following language framework can help you get started. 

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  • Download and print this useful language and keep it above your desk for reference when you are writing. 
  • Read through the language frameworks and complete the task below.



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Tone in reflection

Reflective writing is personal, and sometimes you may describe quite strong emotions and reactions to learning experiences. However, you must maintain a professional tone. 

These two examples describe the same incident, but only one is written in the appropriate tone for a reflection task. Read them both and consider which one you would submit for assessment. 


The client was utterly miserable when we couldn’t change the brief because of govt regulations. We tried to sort it out, but the meeting fell apart and turned into a useless slanging match. 


The client was frustrated when we could not change the brief because of government regulations. We tried to address the issues, but the meeting degenerated into a counter-productive argument. 

The second example demonstrates a more professional tone. Remember, reflective writing avoids: 

  • emotive - overly emotional - language (utterly miserable

  • informal language, such as idiom (slanging match) and phrasal verbs (sort out, fall apart, turn into

  • contractions (couldn’t) and abbreviations (govt

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Read this reflection extract and identify language that should be improved. Click on the language to check your answers. 

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Read the extract again and fill the gaps with more appropriate language choices.

Building your range of language for expressing your emotions will enable you to write clear and appropriate reflections.


Applying your learning

Reflect on what you have learned in this material and consider how you can use it in your own work. 

Drafting a reflection

1. Use this framework to help you draft a reflection.

2. Exchange your draft with a peer studying the same unit and give each other feedback.

Remember: the framework below is generic. If your lecturer recommends a specific framework, you will need to adapt this according to the instructions in your unit. 

Useful strategies
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Reread and evaluate an assignment that you have written for one of your units. 
  • Does the structure follow the reflection model recommended by your lecturer? 

  • Have you moved beyond description to explain or evaluate your role in the learning experience? 

  • Have you demonstrated that you can plan to apply your new understanding? 

If you are working on a reflective task now, exchange your drafts with a peer. 
  • Can your peer identify each stage of the required reflective learning model in your draft? 

  • Can you identify each stage of the required reflective learning model in your peer’s draft? 

  • Highlight the language that helped you understand your peer’s thought processes. 

  • If you see emotive or informal language, suggest more appropriate choices. 

Next steps


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Reflect on your learning. 

Revisit the self-analysis quiz at the top of the page. How would you rate your skills now? 

Remember that writing is a process and mistakes aren't a bad thing. They are a normal part of learning and can help you to improve. 

If you would like more support, visit the Language and Learning Advisors page. 

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