thoughtfully considering or meditating on a topic. The root meaning of reflect is
"to bend back," and one meaning appropriate for our purposes is "to
think quietly and calmly." When "reflective writing" is assigned, what
is suggested is a combination of calm, quiet thinking with a
retrospective focus--looking back over a period of time and considering
its meaning and significance in connection with your experience.
Reflective writing is a route to self-knowledge, as well as a genre in
which writers share personal insights with others.
Many people engage in reflective writing for personal
reasons, keeping personal diaries and journals, drafting letters they
don't send, writing personal reminiscences and autobiography, working
their way through personal crisis by setting words on paper. The
therapeutic value of writing has drawn much interest recently. Some
publicity was generated when a comparative study found that individuals
who wrote 15 minutes a day about personal traumas they'd experienced
also experienced improvement in their physical health. This suggests
that reflective writing may have more general positive effects on
It is often useful to reflect upon your personal
experience and your beliefs and values as a part of your goal-setting,
including making career choices. You may have been asked to write about
your goals and values as part of your college application process, and
if you apply to a graduate program, you will almost certainly be asked
to write reflectively on this topic.
In college, you may sometimes be asked to think back
over some portion of your personal experience in a class and comment
upon it. We frequently see a strong element of reflection required in
writing that introduces a portfolio. Such reflection focuses on areas of
growth and change, of what the writer believes to be significant about
the portfolio, what he wants his reader to pay attention to when reading
the portfolio. Reflective writing is sometimes assigned at the outset of
a course or a unit, and in this case, the student is encouraged to think
about his personal knowledge or skills in a particular area in order to
establish a baseline from which he can gauge his learning.
Reflective writing is often at the heart of the
personal essay or literary essay, published in periodicals with a
literary focus, sometimes collected in books, often reprinted in
anthologies for college writers or students of literature. Such essays
exist within the "belletristic" tradition of highly literary writing.
You may have been asked to write this kind of essay in the past, and you
may be asked to write an occasional literary essay in college. Topics
for such essays may include descriptions of personally meaningful places
or personal insights into abstractions (for example, love, friendship,
team spirit, honor) or personal narratives.
Reflective writing, then, may be undertaken for purely
personal reasons or to communicate personal insight with others. It may
serve academic or purely personal purposes. Ultimately, the purposes and
occasions for reflective writing can be as varied as are individual
lives and experiences.