Safe Reflective Writing Essays

A great deal of your time at university will be spent thinking; thinking about what people have said, what you have read, what you yourself are thinking and how your thinking has changed. It is generally believed that the thinking process involves two aspects: reflective thinking and critical thinking. They are not separate processes; rather, they are closely connected (Brookfield 1987).

Figure 1: The Thinking Process (adapted from Mezirow 1990, Schon 1987, Brookfield 1987)

Reflective thinking

Reflection is: 

  • a form of personal response to experiences, situations, events or new information.
  • a 'processing' phase where thinking and learning take place.

There is neither a right nor a wrong way of reflective thinking, there are just questions to explore.

Figure 1 shows that the reflective thinking process starts with you. Before you can begin to assess the words and ideas of others, you need to pause and identify and examine your own thoughts.

Doing this involves revisiting your prior experience and knowledge of the topic you are exploring. It also involves considering how and why you think the way you do. The examination of your beliefs, values, attitudes and assumptions forms the foundation of your understanding. 

Reflective thinking demands that you recognise that you bring valuable knowledge to every experience. It helps you therefore to recognise and clarify the important connections between what you already know and what you are learning. It is a way of helping you to become an active, aware and critical learner.

Reflective writing is:

  • your response to experiences, opinions, events or new information
  • your response to thoughts and feelings
  • a way of thinking to explore your learning
  • an opportunity to gain self-knowledge
  • a way to achieve clarity and better understanding of what you are learning
  • a chance to develop and reinforce writing skills
  • a way of making meaning out of what you study

Reflective writing is not:

  • just conveying information, instruction or argument
  • pure description, though there may be descriptive elements
  • straightforward decision or judgement (e.g. about whether something is right or wrong, good or bad)
  • simple problem-solving
  • a summary of course notes
  • a standard university essay

See next: How do I write reflectively?

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What is Reflective Writing?

Have you been told to write a reflective essay for your aged care, disability or community care qualification?

Don’t worry if you haven’t done it before, it’s more manageable than you think.

Reflective writing is one of the assessment methods you’ll encounter as part of your aged care, disability or home and community care training course. Most of the time, you’ll have to write about your experiences while doing your work placement hours.

Many aged care students, however, are unsure of how to actually do it. If you’re in the same boat, we’ve come up with a guide to help you get started. But before you get to writing, you should first be aware of what it is and what’s its for.

Writing reflectively means taking a look at your experiences and recording what you’ve learned from it. This is a useful skill to have as a care worker because it allows you to identify what you did right and what you could’ve done better. This is also true for your attitude and how you feel about the actual tasks you did.

Reflection is particularly important in community care like aged and disability care because you are directly responsible for other people. The person you’re supporting may have unique needs so reflecting on your experience makes you see how you affect them and how they affect you.

Another big part of reflection is listening to feedback from other people. These may be your actual clients, your peers, your supervisor or anyone else involved. Being open to different perspectives allows you to form a better idea of how you are doing.

How to write reflectively

There are many ways to write a reflection, but the basic steps are:

1. Describe your experience

Essays usually start by sharing a personal experience and how you first felt about it. This can be a task you did, an issue you faced or any other event big or small. You can give your personal opinions and observations here because this will be the basis for what you will write later on.

Try to answer questions like, “What happened?” and “How did I react?”

2. Connect it to your previous knowledge or experiences

The next step is to use your previous experiences to make sense of what happened. You can try to connect the experience to any similar scenarios you’ve been in before and compare how you reacted then and now.

Answer questions like, “Have I faced this task or incident before?”, “How is it different or the same?” and “What have I learned since then?”

3. Discuss the issue

You should then discuss the experience from different perspectives. This is to show that you understand how it is important to the aged, disability or community care industry. You can use the lessons in your course like discussing it from an organisational, ethical or social point of view.

Be guided by questions like,  “How would an aged care professional treat this situation?”, “Who or what are the involved groups?” and “How do their perspectives differ?”

4. Summarize your learning

The final step is to share how your understanding of the situation has changed because of the experience. Don’t be afraid to describe any misconceptions you may have had and how you should face similar scenarios in the future. You can also give your ideas for possible solutions or points for improvement.

Complete your essay by answering, “What has this taught me?” and “What can I do differently next time?”


Writing a reflective essay is actually more manageable than you think. How you write one is completely up to you, but these 4 steps can give you something to start with:

  1. Describe the experience or the situation you’re in
  2. Connect it to your experiences in the past
  3. Discuss the different perspectives
  4. Summarize what you’ve learned

Good luck!

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