What Is Reflective Writing?

Written by Scott Wilson

what is reflection in writing

What is a reflection in writing? Reflection in writing is the act of including analysis or perspective on the text within the text itself. It’s a technique that is used to examine and interpret a passage or event described in a written work, and can be either a literary device or a tool for self-analysis.

Commonly found in academia, reflective writing is a genre of essay that prompts the writer to tell about a meaningful personal experience and reflect on the lesson learned or how it changed their perspective. 

Though you will likely be tasked with exercises in reflection in academic setting, you will still be expected to take a creative approach in order to engage your readers.

Telling an engaging story is important here because your essay will be most effective when your readers find themselves leaning into the page, a physical posture of their interest. 

Like a mirror, reflective writing allows the writer and readers to look back at the text and themselves to uncover deeper meaning. This allows perspectives or unexamined aspects of the text that might otherwise be hidden to be discovered and unpacked.

For the author, reflection is an exercise in self-analysis. While writing reflectively, the writer is expected to examine their own reactions and to document them as they are writing. In works of fiction, the reflection may be undertaken on behalf of a narrator and used to weave additional drama or meaning into a work.

Reflective writing describes the internal reactions of the writer and uses them to interpret the events described in the text.

Although reflection is a subjective exercise, it is often used to inject more objectivity into writing. When the writer engages in reflective writing, they can take a step back and deliver more context in the piece. This offers them a path not only to greater understanding of their own instincts and ideas, but also for the reader to better understand the work.

Creative Writing Degrees Use Reflection as a Tool for Study and Storytelling


Reflective writing is a popular academic tool in general. Students asked to summarize assignments, or keep journals, or describe their experiences are all engaging in reflective writing assignments. The use of reflection creates an academic focus and draws more learning from a given experience by giving students time to think about both the lessons and their connections.

You can expect to be assigned quite a few reflective writing assignments in the average creative writing degree program. Just as in other academic fields, reflection is of the tools that professors use to help students understand their own process and how to deconstruct their own work to improve it. But it’s also training for using reflection creatively, as a device to create new and deeper experiences for their readers.

Self-reflective narrators like Holden Caulfield and Mr. Stevens makes works like The Catcher in the Rye, and The Remains of the Day the classic works of literature they are. While reflection offers the individual writer a tool for investigating their process and methods, it can also become a tool for injecting life and drama into characters and plots.

Where would Samuel Beckett be without the use of reflection in writing? Likely waiting on a break that never comes.

In other cases, such as the works of Milan Kundera, feature entire reflective philosophical essays, both shaping the characters and offering more universal truths that are an essential aspect of the story.

Creative writing students explore both those uses of reflective writing in other literary works and ways to use reflection in their own work and study. Assignments may ask for self-reflective essays exploring your ideas and works, or for you to incorporate reflective writing into those pieces themselves. Either way, expert professors help shape your sense of reflection and its uses through the study of creative writing.

The Components of Reflective Writing

Formulaic writing is never encouraged in creative writing, especially at the college level, but there are some key parts to reflective writing that cannot be ignored. Think of these elements as ingredients for a recipe. Key components of a reflective essay are:


  • Description: Give a detailed account of the experience you had. Remember to treat your reader as though they are beside you during the experience, relying on the five senses to make the retelling of the event as real as possible. Be mindful of inundating your reader with details, instead choosing to focus on the ones that would leave holes in your story if you kept them out. 
  • Interpretation: What’s your take on the episode? What did you learn? What does it mean? Is there something bigger than yourself that chose to teach you this lesson? Why you, why then, would you have learned the same lesson if it had happened at a different time in your life? All of these questions are starting points for reflection. The interpretation of the experience should be personal, almost to the point of feeling uncomfortable to write (respect your boundaries, but push them where you are able). 
  • Evaluation: This is almost an extension of interpretation. Here, you will focus on the value of the lesson learned. You’re not here to only tell a good story about a personal experience, you’re here to explain what you learned from it and to tell your reader why it was so valuable. Maybe you don’t know the answer yet and will arrive at the conclusion as you’re planning it out. Reflective writing will be entertaining and empowering for your reader, but it offers the opportunity to be cathartic for you. Don’t be afraid to dig deep. 
  • Planning: This is your opportunity to share what you are currently doing with the lesson learned or what you plan to do with it. Life lessons are inevitable, the meaning of them left to our own interpretation. Their power lies in how we reflect on them, how we use the experiences to change us in one way or another. There is potential here to let this part of the essay feel like a call to action for your reader, or to turn a little too sweet. If that’s your thing, go for it. But don’t feel pressured to turn this reflective essay into an after school special if what you experienced and what you learned ended on a sad or upsetting note. Be authentic in what you say and how you say it, whether it be happy, sad, or somewhere in between. The most important thing you can do in any of your writing is remain true to yourself.