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TEP Guide: Reflective Writing

This guide contains links to resources, services and information specific to students undertaking TEP studies.

Reflective Writing

Reflective writing IS:

  • documenting your response to experiences, opinions, events or new information
  • communicating your response to thoughts and feelings
  • a way of exploring 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.

(University of New South Wales, n.d.)                                                                          

Types of Reflective Writing

A journal requires you to write weekly entries throughout a semester. May require you to base your reflection on course content.

A learning diary is similar to a journal, but may require group participation. The diary then becomes a place for you to communicate in writing with other group members.

A logbook is often used in disciplines based on experimental work, such as science. You note down or 'log' what you have done. A log gives you an accurate record of a process and helps you reflect on past actions and make better decisions for future actions.

A reflective note is often used in law. A reflective note encourages you to think about your personal reaction to a legal issue raised in a course.

An essay diary can take the form of an annotated bibliography (where you examine sources of evidence you might include in your essay) and a critique (where you reflect on your own writing and research processes).

A peer review usually involves students showing their work to their peers for feedback.

A self-assessment task requires you to comment on your own work.

Reflective Writing - YouTube Videos

DIEP Model

How do I write reflectively using DIEP?

DIEP* is a strategy to help with writing a critical or academic reflection in four paragraphs. The four steps are to describe an insight (new understanding), to interpret and evaluate it, and to plan how it might transfer to future practice or learning. First, select an experience or insight to reflect on.

Then attempt to:

• analyse your learning and deepening understanding

• evaluate your successes in understanding and development, while keeping in mind any challenges

• integrate the concepts taught in units and courses (including references to the literature or readings, where relevant)

• focus on your developing confidence and comprehension, and verbalise your feelings about your learning

• make connections with theories in your unit and/or course, and other relevant ideas / experiences

• demonstrate transfer of learning to your study, practice, and to your future professional life.

If this reflection is for an academic assignment, remember that your reflective piece should;

  • be from your perspective
  • recognise the complexity of the situation (outline context)
  • be well structured with a clear narrative (beginning, middle & end)
  • demonstrate that you have read relevant literature and readings
  • link your practice to the relevant theory
  • use appropriate writing style (grammar & punctuation)
  • be referenced


D – Describe objectively what you learned

Choose a new insight. It might be something that you understand now (that you didn’t before). Focus on what you learned and give the details of what happened. Answer the question: ‘What did I learn?’

Some suggested starting phrases:

The most interesting (surprising/ important/ significant/ …) (insight/ theory/ thing …) I read (saw/ heard/ realised/ learned…) this week is that …

One thing I realise (understand …) now is that …

A significant issue I have not addressed in my previous writing is …

Continue the paragraph with details of what, where, when, etc.

I – Interpret the insight (in one or more paragraphs)

Explain the meaning of the new insight: your understanding/ hypotheses/ conclusions/ connections with other learning/ possible complexities/ questions unanswered/ etc. You can refer to ideas and theory in your course material, in research literature and from other sources to support your explanation of the insight/s. Answer the questions: ‘What might it mean?’ ‘How might this affect other perceptions, concepts, etc.?’

Some suggested starting phrases:

This realisation may have important relevance for three reasons. First, it implies …

A possible implication/meaning of this new idea/understanding is that …

This (new) understanding of … is likely to mean three things. It could be …

E– Evaluate what you have learned (in one or more paragraphs)

Make judgments about the value of what you have learned connected to observations you have made. Refer to theory from your courses and the literature here too, to show how your insight is connected to discipline knowledge and how your thinking has changed for the better. Answer the question: ‘How is this useful for my deeper understanding of the topic?’

Some suggested starting phrases:

This concept of … is valuable for …/ will change the way I approach …

This understanding is important in a number of ways. First it …

This insight is connected with (theoretical approaches to …/ theories/ concepts/

Having realised that …, I wonder if …/ I intend to develop …

P– Plan how this learning will be applied in practice

Comment on relevance to your course, program, future profession, life... Answer the question: ‘How might this learning apply in my future?’ Use future tense in this paragraph to show transfer of knowledge to the future.

A suggested starting phrase:

This (new insight) will be useful in this course, in the (bachelor) degree, in my future career as a …, and in my life. In this course, (understanding …) could …

RMIT University *Adapted from: Boud, Keogh & Walker, 1985, Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning

Resources - Books - Reflective Practice

Language and Learning Support

Reflective writing

Would you like to know how to write reflectively in relation to your weekly journal? Click on this link to the Reflection page on the Study Skills website. 

Examples of Reflective Writing


The field notes were written by hand on lined paper. They consisted of jotted notes and mental triggers (personal notes that would remind me of specific things when it came to writing the notes up). I took some direct observational notes recording what I saw where this was relevant to the research questions and, as I was aiming to get a sense of the culture and working environment, I also made researcher inference notes  [1]   [2] .

 [3]  I found the note-taking process itself helpful, as it ensured that I listened carefully and decoded information. Not all the information I recorded was relevant but noting what I found informative contributed to my ability to form an overview on re-reading. However, the reliability of jotted notes alone can be questionable. For example, the notes were not a direct transcription of what the subjects said but consisted of pertinent or interesting information.

Rarely did I have time to transcribe a direct quotation, so relied on my own fairly rapid paraphrasing, which risks changing the meaning. Some technical information was difficult to note down accurately  [3] . A tape recorder would have been a better, more accurate method. However, one student brought a tape recorder and was asked to switch it off by a participant who was uneasy about her comments being directly recorded. It seems that subjects feel differently about being recorded or photographed (as opposed to observers taking notes), so specific consent should be sought before using these technologies  [4] .

1.  Description/ explanation of method.

 2.  Includes discipline-specific language

 3.  Critical evaluation of method

 4.  Conclusion and recommendation based on the writer's experience


Question: Discuss at least two things you learnt or discovered – for example about design or working in groups or the physical world – through participating in the Impromptu Design activities.

Firstly, the most obvious thing that I discovered was the advantage of working as part of a group  [1] . I learned that good teamwork is the key to success in design activities when time and resources are limited. As everyone had their own point of view, many different ideas could be produced, and I found the energy of group participation made me feel more energetic about contributing something  [2] .

Secondly I discovered that even the simplest things on earth could be turned into something amazing if we put enough creativity and effort into working on them  [1] . With the Impromptu Design activities  [3]  we used some simple materials such as straws, string, and balloons, but were still able to create some 'cool stuff'  [4] . I learned that every design has its weaknesses and strengths and working with a group can help discover what they are. We challenged each other's preconceptions about what would and would not work. We could also see the reality of the way changing a design actually affected its performance.

1.  Addresses the assignment question

 2.  Reflects on direct experiences

 3.  Direct reference to the course activity

 4.  The style is relatively informal, yet still uses full sentences.

 5.  Relating what was learnt.


Last week's lecture presented the idea that science is the most powerful form of evidence  [1] . My position as a student studying both physics and law makes this an important issue for me  [2]  and one I was thinking about while watching the 'The New Inventors' television program last Tuesday  [3] . The two 'inventors' (an odd name considering that, as Smith (2002) says, nobody thinks of things in a vacuum) were accompanied by their marketing people. The conversations were quite contrived, but also funny and enlightening. I realised that the marketing people used a certain form of evidence to persuade the viewers (us?) of the value of the inventions  [4] . To them, this value was determined solely by whether something could be bought or sold—in other words, whether something was 'marketable'. In contrast, the inventors seemed quite shy and reluctant to use anything more than technical language, almost as if this was the only evidence required – as if no further explanation was needed.

This difference forced me to reflect on the aims of this course—how communication skills are not generic but differ according to time and place. Like in the 'Research Methodology' textbook discussed in the first lecture, these communication skills are the result of a form of triangulation,  [5]  which I have made into the following diagram:

1.  Description of topic encountered in the course

 2.  The author's voice is clear

 3.  Introduces 'everyday' life experience

 4.  The style is relatively informal, yet still uses full sentences

 5.  Makes an explicit link between 'everyday' life and the topic

Brookfield, S 1987, Developing critical thinkers: challenging adults to explore alternative ways of thinking and acting, Open University Press, Milton Keynes.

Mezirow, J 1990, Fostering critical reflection in adulthood: a guide to transformative and emancipatory learning, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

Schön, DA 1987, Educating the reflective practitioner, Jossey-Bass. San Francisco.

We thank the students who permitted us to feature examples of their writing.

Prepared by Academic Skills, UNSW. This guide may be distributed or adapted for educational purposes. Full and proper acknowledgement is required. 

Helpful Links

CDU Library

The CDU Library homepage is your one stop shop for almost everything you need to succeed in your studies. Hosting Library Search, links to relevant databases, study guides, help and library services, as well as general information and frequently asked questions, this page is a must bookmark for your study needs.

Study Skills

A site containing a comprehensive range of study skills information to help you understand academic expectations and become a more confident student. Developing academic writing, critical thinking, and the ability to read and understand academic texts, is vital if you wish to succeed as a student and scholar.

Language and Learning Support

The Language and Learning Services team is here to support your academic development at Charles Darwin University (CDU). A free and confidential service to help you build skills including understanding assignments and work standards; how to get the grades you want; and developing your academic writing abilities.

CDU Student Homepage

Need some information or help about your time at CDU? Check out the current student's homepage, which has heaps of info about access to student services, how to find support and the services available and how you can explore your community and get involved!

Reading List

Reading Lists are a great way for your lecturers and unit coordinators to provide you with prescribed texts and recommended reading. Check out all of the Reading Lists you have access to here, and get a start on reading through your unit.

Distance Library Services

Distance Library Services are available to CDU students to help with accessing library services remotely. As a part of these services, you can request digitisation of chapters, or delivery of books to your home address. If you live near another university, reciprocal borrowing services are also available.

Recorded Workshops

Have a look at some of these recorded workshops by the CDU Library's Language and Learning team. These workshops are not live but can be played, paused, and rewatched to help you learn some key skills at University. You can book to attend live workshops through the library website.

Past Exam Papers

Using your CDU login, you can access past exam papers for your units to help prepare for upcoming exams. Exam papers can be searched for using the unit code. Not all lecturers choose to make exam papers available, please contact your lecturer if your exam papers are not listed.

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