Academic Writing

Rhetorical Functions in Academic Writing: Reflecting

In academic writing, it is often necessary to reflect on your writing or study.

Reflective Writing

Carrying out the correct study process is essential, but in order to benefit more from this, you are often asked to reflect on this process.

You are often asked to provide a record of what you did plus a reflection of how you did it and how you are using what you are taught in your classes and any practical experience you are gaining to do this.

Reflective writing gives you the chance think about what you are doing more deeply and to learn from your experience. You have the opportunity to discover how what you are taught in class helps you with your real-world or academic tasks. Writing your thoughts down makes it easier for you to think about them and make connections between what you are thinking, what you are being taught and what you are doing. Your written reflection will also serve as a source of reference and evidence in the future.

The purpose of reflective writing is to help you learn from a particular practical experience. It will help you to make connections between what you are taught in theory and what you need to do in practice. You reflect so that you can learn. Reflective writing is particularly useful to help you improve your practice, to help you use what you learn in a practical way

In reflective writing, you are trying to write down some of the thinking that you have been through while carrying out a particular practical activity, such as writing an essay, teaching a class or selling a product. Through reflection, you should be able to make sense of what you did and why and perhaps help yourself to do it better next time.

"It is not sufficient simply to have an experience in order to learn. Without reflecting upon this experience it may quickly be forgotten, or its learning potential lost. It is from the feelings and thoughts emerging from this reflection that generalisations or concepts can be generated. And it is generalisations that allow new situations to be tackled effectively." (Gibbs, 1988, p. 9)

You might reflect for many reasons in many ways, for example, in a diary or personal log.

You might want to or be asked to reflect on:

  • how to choose a subject for your dissertation,
  • how to approach your dissertation,
  • what your essay title means,
  • how you are going to approach the essay,
  • how well you wrote a piece of work,
  • how you prepared for a lecture,
  • how you listened to a lecture,
  • how you undertook a reading assignment,
  • how you performed in a recent examination,
  • how you contributed to some group work,
  • how others reacted,
  • how you did in a practical situation,
  • what experiences you gained in some part-time or voluntary work you did,
  • how you solved a particular problem,
  • how you can improve your study,
  • ....

In your reflection, you could write about:

  • what you did and why you did it,
  • what was good and bad about it,
  • why you found it good or bad,
  • what you found easy or difficult,
  • why you found it easy or difficult,
  • what you liked about what you did,
  • why you felt like that,
  • how you might want to follow it up,
  • what other people did and why they did it,
  • how did you feel about what others did,
  • how you used what you have been taught in class,
  • what other information do you need,
  • what you are going to do differently in this type of situation next time,
  • what steps you are going to take on the basis of what you have learned,
  • what you are going to do next.
  • ....

Reflective writing often involves an action plan in which you should write about:

  • what you are going to do differently in this type of situation next time
  • what steps you are going to take on the basis of what you have learned .

Kolb's (1984) experiential learning cycle is useful here:

Kolb

In this case Concrete Experience is the activity - what you did. Reflective Observation is thinking about how you did it, how you felt and how you might have done it differently. Abstract Conceptualisation is thinking about what you were taught in class, what you have read about how to do this stage and why. Active Experimentation is thinking about what you learned from your reflection and conceptualisation and planning how you might do it differently next time.

If you need to, for example, reflect on something that you have done in class.

  • Concrete experience
    • You will probably start by describing what you did.
    • You might then want to write about how you did the activity, what methods you used.
  • Reflective observation
    • You might then want to evaluate your performance. What happened and why? How well did you do?
  • Abstract conceptualisation
    • In order to do this, you need to consider what you have been taught. You might want to describe what the experts say.
    • You may then to consider your reactions. How did you/do you feel?
    • You then need to consider in what other ways you could have done the activity.
  • Active experimentation.
    • You might finish by considering how you would do it next time.

Based on Kolb's work, Gibbs (1988, p. 47) suggests the following stages to encourage deeper reflection:

Description:

What happened? What are you going to reflect on? Don't make judgements yet or try to draw conclusions.

Feelings:

What were your reactions and feelings?

Evaluation:

What was good or bad about the experience? Make value judgements.

Analysis:

What sense can you make of the situation?  Bring in ideas from outside the experience to help you.  What was really going on?

Conclusions(general):

What can be concluded, in a general sense, from these experiences and the analyses you have undertaken?

Conclusions(specific):

What can be concluded about your own specific, unique, personal situation or ways of working?

Personal action plans:

What are you going to do differently in this type of situation next time? What steps are you going to take on the basis of what you have learnt?

Gibbs

Language

Reflective writing should include both descriptions, analysis and thoughts about what you have experienced.

Unlike other academic writing, reflective writing is usually written in the first person and should definitely include your thoughts and opinions e.g. "I read the handout before the lecture. This is often recommended. I was therefore well-prepared for the lecture and understood it well. I will continue to read the handouts before the lecture".

Some useful language is:

Description

Report what you did.

Time

Yesterday, ... 
In the morning, ...
Before the class, ...
After the meeting, ...


Sequence

First, ... 
First of all, ...
To begin with, ...
Next, ...
Then, ...
After that, ...
Finally


Action

The first thing I did was ... 
I'd already ...
I went ...
I needed to ...
I had to ...

 

* For more information, see: Writing Functions 1: DescribingWriting Functions 2: ReportingWriting Functions 6: ProcessesWriting Functions 16: Reasons

Feelings

Describe how you felt.

I felt (very) pleased with ...
I was (really) delighted ...
I was quite satisfied.

 

It wasn't very nice.
I didn't (really) like ... 
I wasn't (very) happy with ...

 

I didn't like ...

 

I (really) hated ...
I was (very) annoyed ...
I was (really) angry ...
I was (extremely) irritated/exasperated/displeased/unhappy/angry.

+












-

On the one hand, ...
On the other hand, ...

 

*For more information, see: Writing Functions 18: Feelings

Evaluation

Describe what was good and bad about it.

I was (very) pleased with ...
It was fantastic/marvelous/excellent.
It was very good
I was quite satisfied.

It was OK.

I wasn't (really) satisfied.
I wasn't (very) happy with ...

It wasn't very good.

I was (really) disappointed ... 
It was (very) disappointing.
It was very bad.

+














-

The trouble was, ...
The problem was, ...
The real problem was ...
The point was ...

On the one hand, ...
On the other hand, ...

Give reasons.

I honestly feel ...
I'm convinced that ...
The main reason was that ...
This was owing to the fact that ...
This was caused by ...
This was because of ...

The reason was probably that ... 
That was probably due to ...
I'd say ... 
The problem, I think, was the fact that ...

This might have been because ...
It could have been ...
Perhaps it's ...
It's difficult to say, but I'd guess ...

+














-

Because of that, ...
For that reason, ...
As a consequence, ...
As a result, ...

One effect of this was ...
One result of this was ...
One consequence of this was .

On the other hand, ...
Alternatively, it might have been due to ..
The other reason was that ...
Besides that, ...
And on top of that, ...
What's more ...
And another thing ... 
Plus that fact that, ...

* For more information, see:Writing Functions 12: EvaluatingWriting Functions 16: ReasonsWriting Functions 15: CertaintyWriting Functions 14: Generalising

Analysis

Describe what you know from your reading and teaching about what other people have done.
Explain why they did it and what conclusions they came to.

Some people
Many people
X

say(s)
argue(s)
believe(s)
claim(s)
point(s) out
is/are of the opinion
seem(s) to believe

that

I've read

According to X,


They
He
She
X
This

is/are
may be
seem(s) to be
would seem to be

mistaken.
wrong.


I disagree with X when he

writes
says

that …

* For more information, see: Writing Functions 2: ReportingWriting Functions 11: DiscussingWriting Functions 17: Analysis

Compare what you did and the conclusions you came to with what they did.

But in fact, ...
But actually, ...
That's a good idea, but, ...
That may be so, but ...
That's probably true but, ...
I'm not so sure about that, ...
I think that's debatable.

* For more information, see:Writing Functions 13: Comparing

Conclusions

Evaluate your knowledge & practice on the basis of this.

In thinking back...
On reflection, ...
I should have ...
It would have been better to ...
I could have ...

Discuss what knowledge and skills you lack.

I can't ...
I don't ...
My --- isn't good enough.
I need to ....

Conclude.

It is

generally
widely

accepted
argued
held
believed

that ....


Therefore,
Thus,
On this basis,
Given this,

we
I

can
may

be

conclude
deduce

that... .


In conclusion,
Finally

we/may say
it can/may be said

that ....

* For more information, see: Writing Functions 31: Concluding

Action Plans

Explain what you are going to do next and justify it.

I'm going to ...
I feel it is necessary for me to ...
I've decided to ...
I now intend to ...
It's my intention to ...
I fully intend to ...
I'm going to make sure I ...
I plan to ...

I should now ...
I ought to ...

I'm planning to ...
I'll make the effort to ...
I'll see if I can ...
I'll do what I can to ...
I'm thinking of ...
I might ...

I'd prefer ...
I'd rather ...
It would be better to ...

I'll probably won't ...

I'm not keen on ...
I'd rather not ...

+


























-

The main reason is that ...
This is because of ...

Because of that, ...
For that reason, ...
As a consequence, ...
As a result, ...

One effect of this will be ...
One result of this might be...

 

*For more information, see: Writing Functions 19: Action

Example/Exercise

Read this example. Can you recognise the sections and language identified above.

Last week, I had to give an oral presentation on my progress in an assessed piece of work that my colleagues and I have been working on.  We have been developing a new advertising strategy for a well-known  international company.  We are a group of three from different countries all doing the same third-year course.

The presentation was 3.00 last Thursday. It was in a small formal lecture theatre and there was an audience of about 20, including my lecturer and the other members of my group. We had prepared the PowerPoint slides together, each person contributing one part of the whole presentation. I had to speak for 10 minutes. I started on time, but I felt very nervous to begin with. And immediately I pressed the wrong computer key and cancelled the show. That made me feel even worse. After that the next few slides went fine but when I came to the first slide prepared by one of my colleagues I started to make mistakes. I gave the wrong information, contradicting what was written. When someone asked a question, I was not able to answer and the person who had written the slide had to answer it. This happened twice more. My voice became less confident at that time and I slowly plodded through the rest of the slides. I finally finished a few minutes late. There were only one or two question, one of which I could not answer at all.

I was very worried before the presentation.  I was afraid that I would not be able to say the right things and that I would not be able to represent our progress adequately.  I had done one or two oral presentations before but had never been very satisfied with them. 
I decided to use Power Point.  I was not very secure about its use, though, because I have seen it go wrong so many times.  I thought it would be a good idea to practise in advance but I couldn’t get access to the room with the projector in so I wasn’t able to. I was quite annoyed about that.
When it came to giving the presentation, I really wanted to do it well. But, as it turned out, the presentation was terrible. It just didn’t go smoothly at all. It has left me feeling very unconfident in my ability. I even worry about it at home and it’s affecting my other courses.  The timing was terrible and everyone seemed bored. No one asked me any sensible questions, either. The PowerPoint presentation itself went wrong. I think I clicked on the wrong button. I was very nervous and my voice was very unsteady. Well, that was how I felt, anyway.

I’ve just been reading what I wrote last week after my terrible presentation. When I read what I wrote again, I do see things slightly differently.  It probably wasn’t that bad. The other members of my group actually said afterwards that I had looked quite calm, despite how I was feeling. Although, I am not sure whether they really meant it or were just trying to make me feel better. When I think back, though, if I had known that they thought I was doing all right - despite what I felt - I probably could have continued more positively. Maybe it would have been useful to practise in front of my colleagues before the real presentation. They could have then told me what they thought. I would have also got my timing right (Lowe, 2006). I had decided to use PowerPoint as I had not seen any of the other students giving a presentation without using it – so I thought it would probably be expected. And knowing how to use PowerPoint would be a valuable addition to my transferable skills on my cv. The student in the previous week had been excellent and I hoped I could be just as good.  The presentation had been interesting, informative and clear and I thought the handouts from them were good, giving just enough but not too much information.
As it was, it went from bad to worse. I know it was bad at the end because the other members of my group started to answer the questions that people were asking me.

I have talked to several of the audience and they said it was OK. My points were clear and logical and they understood what I was trying to say. They also said that when the other members of my group started answering the questions, I should have tried to prevent this. That's probably right. Maybe I need to learn to be more assertive. But I should also have made sure that I knew what I was talking about.
I have also talked to my lecturer. And he said that, despite some problems, it was OK. I need to learn how to use PowerPoint better (Lowe, 2006). I also need to make sure that I know and understand what my colleagues have put on the PowerPoints before I get to the actual presentation! I have read a little bit more about evaluating advertisements (Lavidge & Steiner), which was what their slides were about. So I am now feeling more positive generally and I can begin to analyse what I could do better in future presentations.

In general, I think it's clear that, although oral presentations can be very threatening, with proper planning they can be handled. It's important to know the subject well and understand how to work the technology. Timing is important and you can't guess; the only way to get it right is to practice.

I need to think again from the beginning about the process of giving a good presentation.  I probably will use Power Point again but I need to make sure I can use it properly.  I have looked at the help file and a manual (Lowe, 2006) and I now know which buttons to press - "N" for next and "P" for previous - it's easy. I also need to remember that I am using PowerPoint as a tool. I should not let it control me. In order to do that I need to be confident in using it – I need to practise more.

I'll probably always be a little nervous in such a situation, but next time, I will make sure that I know the subject matter well, and that I know who the computer works, before I start. That means I need to study the PowerPoint manual more. I also need to make sure I am organised enough to have a practice session with the rest of the group.

As I am finishing writing this, I am discovering how useful it is to go back over things I have written about before and read them again. It helps to see the situation differently.  The first time I wrote this, I felt that the presentation was dreadful and that I could not have done it differently.  But now I realise that it wasn’t so bad, that some of the problems were not mine and there are easy solutions to some of the others.

Press this button to check your answer: Answer