Phrases Used In Reflective Writing Assignment

How do I Make my Writing Descriptive, Analytical, Critical/Evaluative or Reflective?

Assignment instructions outline how to address an assignment topic and indicate which of the following writing styles is expected.

  Descriptive Writing

  • provides introductory and background/contextual information;
  • lists, catalogues, outlines the way things are; and
  • does not establish relationships.

  Analytical Writing

  • explores relationships of ideas or parts of something;
  • provides possible situations and alternative responses; and
  • compares and contrasts.


  • involves making a judgement on the quality of something
  • outlines implications and solutions, draws conclusions and makes recommendations; and
  • views something from many different angles, or questions something in order to ascribe value.

  Reflective Writing

  • uses a reflection or review model to document experience, learning or realisation that took place, and future steps/actions.



The following model shows questions you need to ask of your research to help you think and then write in the appropriate style.

Figure 1. Model to Generate Critical Thinking (from Hilsdon, 2010, p. 2)



Think and write in the appropriate style

Use the following questions to help you think and then write in the appropriate style, or move your writing from one style to another. For example, if your writing is mainly descriptive yet you have been asked to evaluate, consider questions such as: Why is this significant? and What does this mean?

Descriptive WritingAnalytical WritingCritical/Evaluative WritingReflective Writing

What is this about?
What is the context/situation?
What is the main point?
What is the topic?

How did this occur?
How does it work in theory? In practice/context?
How does one factor affect another?
How do the parts fit into the whole?

What does this mean?
Why is this significant?
Is this convincing, why/why not?
What are the implications?
Is it successful? Why/why not?
How does it meet criteria?
What can I deduce from the information I have gathered?

What happened?
What did I notice or realise?
What was most important for me?
What have I learnt?
What would I do differently or the same next time?

Where does it take place?

Why did this occur?
Why was that done?
Why this?
Why not something else?

Is it transferable?
How and where else can it be applied?
What can be learnt from it?
What needs doing now?


Who is this written/designed by?
Who is involved?
Who is affected?

What if this were wrong?
What are the alternatives?
What if there were a problem?
What if another factor were added or removed?



When did this occur?




(Adapted from “Critical Thinking,” 2010; “Reflective Writing,” n.d.)



Useful words and phrases for each writing style

These phrases and words may be helpful. Also, refer to the Sentence Starters, Transitional and Other Useful Words guide.

Descriptive LanguageAnalytical Language Critical/Evaluative Language Reflective Language

The context is ...

Comparison ...and ...reveals ...

In order to identify ... it would be necessary to ...

This raised for me ...

Components of the model are ...

Application of this model to ... indicates

Given ... it can be concluded ...

For me, the most significant aspect was ...

This occurred at ...

The strengths are ...

The point ... is valuable ...

I felt/noticed/discovered/realised that ...

Key characteristics are ...

This occurred as ...

If this were applied to ...

The questions this raises for me are ...

The methodology chosen was ...

This was completed because ...

The significance/implications of ...

In future practice, I ...


In contrast to ...

If ... could be applied to ... then ...

I found this relevant as ...


Likewise/Similarly ...

The argument is convincing as ...



However/In contrast ...

This could be transferable/applicable to ...



The alternative to this is ...




If ... were altered/removed/added then ...





Writing style characteristics

Use the following chart to assess your writing and identify changes required to ensure your writing reflects the appropriate style.

Descriptive CharacteristicsAnalytical CharacteristicsCritical/Evaluative CharacteristicsReflective Characteristics

Set the scene.

Identify limitations/strengths of the context.

Evaluate the importance of the context.

Outline your new awareness/learning from this situation, what you would do differently next time and why.

Provide context.

Identify the importance of the timing of something and/or relevance of the context.

With justification, show what would occur if timing of something, and/or context were altered.

Explain what you have learnt about the significance of timing and context in your particular situation and show what you might change if in a similar situation in the future.

Give definitions.

Show how context influenced outcomes.



Give information.

Explain how this information is/was used.

Explore other possible outcomes.

Show learning or realisation given the information, how you would use/apply this information, how it will impact your practice.

List details.

Show how something can be applied to a situation.

Outline the meaning/significance/value of the information and how it could be used.



Structure information in order of importance.




Outline the impact of the information and relevant outcomes.



Outline the method used

Draw comparisons between two or more items/methods.

Explain the significance and value of the method/options.

State how you would use the method/options in a situation, why or why not.

List the options selected.

Explain why something occurred/was done/was used.

Make a judgement about the usefulness of the method/options in the current or other situations.

Explain what you now realise, stating what you would change next time and why.


Identify strengths and weaknesses of the method/options.

Evaluate success of method/options.



Illustrate how options/method impacted the event/outcome.



Identify components of a theory or model.

Show how a theory or model can be applied

Explain what can be deduced or revealed when the theory is applied to a situation and justify your reasoning.

State what was learnt from application of the theory or model, and explain why, where and when you would use this theory or model.


Compare and contrast theories and models

Justify how each theory/model may lead to different emphasis or outcomes.

State which theory/model you would prefer in a particular situation, and give the rationale for your choice.


Identify strengths and weaknesses of theories or models.

Evaluate the success of a theory or model.




Evaluate transferability to other situations.


Describe what occurred, state what/when/how/where something happened.

Discuss outcomes and show how and why these outcomes occurred.

Evaluate strengths and weaknesses.

Explain significance, relevance and value of the event for you, what you learnt and what you might do differently next time or in future practice.


Identify strengths and weaknesses

Explain significance and value of the event/argument/conclusions.

Outline what was most important to you, and why.


Draw logical conclusions

Explore impact of outcomes, justify and evaluate these impacts.



Logically construct a case/argument using evidence.

With justification, state if an argument is convincing.


(Adapted from “Critical Thinking,” 2010; “Features of Critical Writing,” 2008; “Reflective Writing,” n.d.)



Descriptive WritingAnalytical WritingCritical/Evaluative WritingReflective Writing

“Dental caries is a chronic disease affecting approximately 45 per cent of New Zealand children with an increasing number requiring tertiary treatment under a general anaesthetic” (Johnstone, 2006, as cited in Shearman, 2011, p. 15).

“Australian mothers from a low-income background were less likely to utilise preventative services . . . but they were more likely to be hospitalised and visit the out-patient clinic. It seems these families put off . . . seeking medical treatment for their children until their condition was very progressed. Similarly, ... report that ...” (Shearman, 2011, p. 18).

“Future nursing recommendations
include increased oral health assessments, improving access to primary health services, using multiple promotion initiatives ...” (Shearman, 2011, p. 21-22).

“This affects my own practice in the following areas: the manner in which I assess and relate to children, being aware of socio-political background differences to avoid judgemental attitudes, and encouraging health behaviour, by education families appropriately for their needs” (Shearman, 2011, p. 21).



“As part of their role as advocates, nurses should consider advocating in the community for their clients and increasing their political involvement to achieve health equality” (Shearman, 2011, p. 21).

“As a nurse, I need to be aware of my own cultural and social background when speaking to parents from a low socio-economic group, to avoid judgemental or accusing attitudes” (Shearman, 2011, p. 18).


Shearman, C. (2011). Dental health of children from a low socio-economic background: Socio-political nursing in the New Zealand context. Whitireia Nursing Journal, 2011(18), 15-24.




Descriptive WritingAnalytical WritingCritical/Evaluative WritingReflective Writing

“The early childhood-school relationship has been researched largely from three positions” (Henderson, 2012, p. 20).

“Learning how to ‘fit in’ seemed to capture the overall theme of this discussion and that the struggle was about navigating a relationship around the presences of an invisible barrier” (Henderson, 2012, p. 22).

“The debate in this project was significant, but it was this debate that allowed vulnerabilities to be exposed without which a rupturing of the invisible barrier may not have taken place” (Henderson, 2012, p. 24).

“If the invisible barrier is taken [as] one of the forces acting across the relationship, in what ways can early childhood teachers explore the effects of the barrier in their conversations with each other, and with their school colleagues?” (Henderson, 2012, p. 24).


“The challenge to navigate into and through the invisible barrier and create greater visibility became a central feature of the project” (Henderson, 2012, p. 22).

“These questions must also go beyond just the early childhood-school relationships, if boundaries between education systems are to be dissolved” (Henderson, 2012, p. 24).

“I would like to think it is possible to see this as a force acting across the relationship, rather than operating in just one direction” (Henderson, 2012, p. 24).


Henderson, L. (2012). The early childhood-school relationship: Overcoming invisible barriers. Early Childhood Folio, 16(2), 20-25.


Material adapted from the following sources

Critical thinking. (2010). Retrieved from

Features of critical writing and descriptive writing. (2008). Retrieved from LearnerDevelopmentUnit/Documents/AcademicSkillsResources/CriticalThinking/2-Features-of-Descriptive-and--Critical-Writing- Activity.pdf

Hilsdon, J. (2010). Model for generating critical thinking. Retrieved from pdf/8Criticalthinking.pdf

Reflective writing: A basic introduction. (n.d.). Retrieved from handouts/writtenassignments/filetodownload,73259,en.pdf


'We do not learn from experience...we learn from reflecting on experience.'

John Dewey

Reflective writing differs from other kinds of university writing that you may be more familiar with. Reflective writing is meant to encourage you to reveal your personal thoughts about your life experiences in relation to the content you are learning about in your units.  Many assessment tasks at university ask for reflection. You may see instructions like:

  • Write a reflective report on....
  • Keep a reflective journal around.....
  • Write a reflective essay on....
  • Compile weekly reflective notes about...

What is reflective writing?

Reflection means taking some time to examine your own thoughts, beliefs, values, attitudes and assumptions about your understanding of a topic, a situation or a problem. When you reflect, think about your own experiences and knowledge and how you arrived at that understanding. Often our thinking has been shaped by the values of our family and culture, an embarrassing or uncomfortable situation, our religion, past teachers, newspapers, TV shows and so on. There is no absolute right or wrong way with reflective thinking. But the key questions in reflective thinking are how? and why? rather than what?

Reflective writing varies across disciplines which have particular ways of thinking about the world, and how to interpret the meanings of actions and things. In some disciplines, for example nursing and education, reflection is used to create knowledge and improve professional practice.

Lecturers may ask you to write reflectively for a range of reasons:

  • To become an active learner by asking questions and thinking critically about your own ideas.
  • To examine what you have learned and how you have learned it.
  • To make connections, for example between what you already know and what you are learning, between theory and practice or between course content and personal experience.
  • To indicate your understanding by identifying any questions you have, and what you have yet to learn.
  • To learn from mistakes by identifying how you would do it differently next time and also to identify and accept what you could not change at the time.
  • To encourage you to become a reflective practitioner in your future career. This is the key to life-long learning, growth and meaningful change.

How to write reflectively

It is important that you write reflectively according to your unit and discipline. Read your assessment carefully, and ask your lecturer for further guidance if you are not sure.

Writing reflectively can be assisted with some guiding questions:

  • What happened during that event or experience? And why did it happen?
  • What was my role in the event? And why did I adopt that particular role?
  • What were my feelings during that experience? And why did I feel that way?
  • What were my thoughts during that experience? And why did I think that way?
  • How do I interpret what I experienced or observed?
  • What might this experience mean in the context of my course?
  • What other perspectives, theories or concepts could be applied to interpret the situation?
  • How can I learn from this experience?

There are a number of reflection models you can use to help construct your writing. One useful reflection model is "The 4 Rs" which is outlined below.  The 4Rs process is based on "Reflection-On-Action" - this means actions are analysed and re-framed after an event or observation, and potential solutions are developed. The process is designed to encourage you to address your ongoing learning from a number of standpoints, such as practical, cognitive and emotional, and from your own values, ethics and beliefs.


In the Report stage you describe, report or retell the key elements of what you have learnt, seen or experienced.


In the Relate stage you draw a relationship between your current personal or theoretical understandings and identify aspects of the observation that have a personal meaning or that connect with your experience.


In the Reason stage you explore the relationship between theory and practice and seek a deep understanding of why something has happened.
You explore or analyse a concept, event or experience by asking questions and looking for answers, reviewing the literature, considering alternatives and multiple perspectives.


In the Reconstruct stage you discuss improvements that could be made or identify something you need or plan to do or change. You should be able to generalise and/or apply your learning to other contexts and your future professional practice. This might involve developing general principles, formulating personal theories of teaching or taking a stand or position on an issue.

Useful phrases for reflecting

When you write a reflection the reader will expect to learn about your personal experience, feelings, ideas and opinions.  Use the first person (I, my, me).

Phrases below can be incorporated with your ideas to express:

  • your experience of a situation
  • personal reaction to an idea, opinion or person
  • evaluation of an argument
  • comparison with another idea
  • comment on the worth of an idea
  • identification of key issues
  • how well you understood something

Try using these phrases:

  • My experience of this leads me to believe/think/question…
  • I think/feel/believe/hope/am convinced...
  • I remember/recall...
  • This was difficult/easy/frightening/exciting etc.
  • I find this worrying/amusing/convenient etc.
  • For me, this assertion is very difficult to agree with...
  • I agree/do not agree with Smith (2013) when she argues that...
  • Based on my personal beliefs and experiences…
  • In my mind the key question/issue is…
  • It had not occurred to me that …

Further resources

Bain, JD, Ballantyne, R, Mills, C & Lester, NC 2002, Reflecting on practice: student teachers' perspectives, Post Pressed, Flaxton Qld.

Williams K, Woolliams, M, & Spiro, J 2012, Reflective writing, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

University of N.S.W. - Reflective writing

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