How To Write A Reflective Report

Reflective reporting

Reflection in this context is a process of considering what you have learned, how useful it is, and how it may affect your future personal and career development.
Critical reflection helps you to give some coherence to your learning by relating it to what you already know, and to your plans for the future.
The nature of reflection is very varied. Reflection may encompass:
  • the norms underlying your judgments
  • the strategies implicit in your behaviour
  • the theories that underpin your actions
  • your feelings about what you are doing
  • your role in the organisational (group) context
Reflective thinking is more than using logic and reasoning to construct or justify an argument or assertion. It is also about the assumptions underlying your beliefs and your actions. Think about the justification for your way of approaching a problem in terms of the rationality of your actions, the practicality of your actions and the morality of your actions.
Reflection involves thinking about what happened, what went right and what went wrong. Why things turned out the way they did. What happened as a result of your action or inaction. What you have learned. What is left to learn. What to do next time.
Reflection works best when you think about what you are doing before, during and after your learning experience.
You may write in the first person.

Professionalism and reflection

Reflective thinking is part of what it means to be a professional. In our context professionalism is characterised by:
  • A commitment to understanding and applying relevant knowledge. (Theories, methods, practices)
  • An acknowledgement of the professional skills and knowledge of others.
  • A recognition that professional judgments are open to question.
  • Being prepared to read, research and learn from others in order to fully understand.
  • A consideration of your own strengths and weaknesses.
  • Being prepared to be flexible.
A commitment to professional ethics involves
  • Honesty, openness, fairness and sensitivity when dealing with others.
  • Open and effective communications.
  • Demystifying technical language.
  • Being able to give rational justifications for your actions and decisions.
  • Respecting confidentiality.
  • Giving due credit to others who have helped you in your work and citing sources for the information you have used, etc.
  • Acceptance of responsibility for your professional actions.

Self-questioning to promote reflection

Before you begin a project ask yourself what you already know that is relevant. What would you like to learn from the project? What will you be able to do when the project is complete that you cannot do now, or how can you improve your professional performance?
During your learning ask yourself:
  • What am I learning?
  • Who and what is proving helpful?
  • What connections can be made to other areas of study?
  • How and where might I use my new knowledge and competence?
After the learning episode or project ask yourself:
  • What can I do better now?
  • What surprised me?
  • Who and what helped?
  • What questions are yet to be answered?
  • What next?

The personal debriefing approach to reflection

After completing the learning take time to think and reflect. This can involve reference to notes, discussion with others, dredging your memory in order to:
  • Describe the experience.
  • Describe how the actual practice relates to the original aims.
  • Describe events and actions, then feelings.
  • Positive and negative feelings should be described and owned. Consider for example the feelings you had of surprise, frustration, boredom, anger, excitement, pleasure, self-satisfaction. (Feelings are often a good guide to how your learning is progressing.)
  • Out of the above descriptions analyse the experience.
  • Analyse in relation to the original aims and objectives. Try to reach a judgement on what you achieved (citing appropriate evidence). Analyse the whole experience in terms of such as the thoroughness of your work, the relation to the latest knowledge and practice, how clients were handled (if appropriate) Consider equal opportunities issues if this is appropriate.
  • Consider new approaches that you might use in future work. How are your plans for the future changed?

The journal or portfolio approach to reflection

Keeping a journal, or diary, of events is a great help for reflection and promoting learning. Keeping a journal involves:
  • Expressing what happened in writing, which is itself a process of clarification
  • Writing forces you to focus on what actually happened and aids the separation of events from their interpretation and your feelings about them.
  • Expressing your feelings about events in writing helps you understand them better.
Remember the journal is a private document for your exclusive use. Keeping a journal involves:
  • Creating a personal document. Do whatever suits you best.
  • Being honest with yourself. Learn to write about how things are, not how you would like them to be. Or at least learn to separate these two :-)
  • Being positive.
  • Being spontaneous. There is no need to agonise over the grammar, or choice of words.
  • Using pictures, doodles, diagrams, mind-maps as appropriate.
  • Recording your feelings!
  • Recording experiences as soon as possible after they happen. Use a PDA or (preferably) a notebook, and/or a voice recorder
  • Making a regular time to write up your journal.
  • Dating all your entries.

Format for a reflective report

A suitable structure is as follows:

Introduction: An explanation of the aims and objectives of the learning experience.

Part 1: A reasoned, ordered and critical account of your learning. Include key theoretical, conceptual and applied learning points.

Part 2: Critically evaluate your new learning and how it relates to your existing understanding.

Part 3: A demonstration of how the new knowledge has developed you as a person and as a professional. How it might be used in a work situation. How you could have done things better.

Appendices: Original working notes, materials provided, a bibliography of references you have used indicating the extent of your reading, reference to any outcomes of the learning in the form of documents or software.

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