One of the most commonly used and therapeutic ways to utilize your journal is to reflect upon experiences you deem profound or that had an impact on your life. Getting it all down on paper can really give you a completely different perspective on things. Writing in your journal can be an incredibly useful tool to help you better understand yourself and the world you operate in. Reflective learning journals are also a great way to find creative solutions to difficult problems.
So, what exactly is a Reflective Journal?
A reflective journal (aka a reflective diary) is the perfect place to jot down some of life's biggest thoughts. In a reflective journal, you can write about a positive or negative event that you experienced, what it means or meant to you, and what you may have learned from that experience.
A well-written journal can be an important tool. As with any tool, to get the most benefits, you need practice. This could mean forcing yourself to write, at first, but after a while, it will become like second nature. Write down your entry as soon as possible after the event. This way, the details will still be fresh in your mind, which will help later in your analysis.
5 Reasons To Write a Reflective Journal
Reflective journals are most often used to record detailed descriptions of certain aspects of an event or thought. For example, who was there, what was the purpose of the event, what do you think about it, how does it make you feel, etc. Write down everything, even if you don't have a clear idea of how this information will be helpful.
Here are some of the most common reasons why people find reflective journals so useful:
- To make sense of things that happened. What you write should sound as if you are describing the details to someone who wasn't there. Be as descriptive as possible. Just the act of writing down the details of what happened may give you perspective that you may not have otherwise considered had you just continued to think about it.
- To speculate as to why something is the way it is. Your views can come from your own common sense, or from something you have heard at a lecture or read in a book. Either way, speculating why something is the way it is can be a very useful exercise in reasoning.
- To align future actions with your reflected values and experiences. After positing your interpretation, continue to observe the subject of your speculation to decide whether you want to stick to your original views, or make changes. That is one of the great things about an online journal--you can make changes to your entries at any time.
- To get thoughts and ideas out of your head. Writing down your thoughts can help relieve pressure or help resolve problems. It will also help you focus the task at hand.
- To share your thoughts and ideas with others. Getting opinions from others about what you wrote can help you clarify your feelings for a deeper understanding of yourself.
The Reflective Journal Thought Process
When writing a reflective journal, you are simply documenting something that has happened in your life that requires you to make a change or consider the impact of your decision. Your journal, in many ways, is a dialogue that you are having with yourself. You are forcing your brain to think critically about something and to produce written words accordingly.
The worst thing you can do to a creative flow is to start inputting criticism before your thought is complete. Allow yourself the time to make a mistake and keep going. Who cares if you didn't phrase that exactly how you should have or you didn't spell that word right? Those things just aren't important here. Find whatever works for you.
4 Tips To Get Your Reflective Journaling Started
Writing a reflective journal requires not only that you describe a learning experience, but also that you analyze the topics covered and articulate your feelings and opinions about the subject matter. There is no set structure for writing a reflective journal, as the diary is meant for your own use. The writing process is entirely free-form. However, there are certain guidelines to follow that will make you more successful at this. Here are some basic tips at how to write a reflective journal.
1. Always Keep the Journal Nearby
The first step in learning how to write a reflective journal is as simple as being prepared to jot down your thoughts and opinions on something you are learning anytime the mood strikes. For example, if you have an insightful observation about a book you're reading while on the bus, it pays to have your journal with you. Penzu's free diary software come in handy in such a situation, as online and mobile entries can be made in your Penzu journal from any location.
2. Make Regular Entries
While you can write in whatever form and style you please, it's important to write regular entries, even if a moment of inspiration doesn't arise. This ensures you are reviewing content and actively thinking about what you have learned. This will develop your writing and critical thinking skills while keeping you organized. In the end, this should enable you to better understand specific topics you are studying.
3. Participate, Observe, Summarize and Contemplate
While reflecting is the main part of keeping a reflective diary, it's also vital that you first participate in a learning activity, make observations and summarize facts and experiences. For example, if you are writing a lab for science class, be sure to first cover what you did and what the goal and outcome of the experiment was prior to elaborating on your ideas and opinions of what was discovered. Reflective journaling is first about participating and observing before writing.
4. Review Regularly
Take time to read over previous journal entries and see how new experiences, additional knowledge and time have altered how you think and feel about the material you've been analyzing and contemplating. This will make the journal more valuable to you personally, as it will shed light on how you've grown.
Reflective Journal Topic Examples
To create a reflective journal that really provides detail on your overall perspective on a variety of different situations, consider using one of the prompts below to help with your thought process.
- Write about which relationships have the most meaning to you and why. Include ways you can grow to help maintain these close relationships and get rid of the toxic relationships currently in your life.
- Write about what you are learning at school or in college.
- Write about someone in your life who has experienced a positive change and how you can learn from their situation.
- Write about what you want out of the next five years of your life and what you can do to achieve these goals.
If you’re looking for more topic examples, check out these great reflective journal prompts
Reflective Journal Example
The passage below is a sample reflective diary entry about losing a job:
“This week I lost my job because my employer thought I was not consistent in my work. At first I was a little upset, because I'm always on time, and I complete what I can by the end of the day. I couldn't figure out what she meant by stating that I wasn't consistent in my work. After thinking about the situation, I realized that I can only complete the work assigned to the best of my ability. What she doesn't realize is that the problem started because I constantly received incomplete reports. Whoever ends up with my former job will have the same issues if that problem isn't addressed first. However, knowing that I did what I could will allow me to continue to move forward with a positive outlook for the future.
A reflective journal is a personal account of an educational experience that offers a variety of benefits, from enhancing your writing skills and helping you retain information to allowing you to express your thoughts on new ideas and theories.
When keeping a reflective journal, it's important that you have privacy and convenience. Penzu's online account and mobile platform offer secure access and the ability to write entries from anywhere, and your diary will never get lost or stolen.
There's no time like the present - start your free online journal today!Create your Journal »
Types of reflective writing assignments
Journal: requires you to write weekly entries throughout a semester. May require you to base your reflection on course content.
Learning diary: 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.
Log book: 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.
Reflective note: often used in law. A reflective note encourages you to think about your personal reaction to a legal issue raised in a course.
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).
Peer review: usually involves students showing their work to their peers for feedback.
Self-assessment: requires you to to comment on your own work.
Some examples of reflective writing
Social Science fieldwork report (methods section)
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   .
 I found the notetaking 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  . 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  .
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
Engineering Design Report
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  . 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  .
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  . With the Impromptu Design activities  we used some simple materials such as straws, string, and balloons, but were still able to create some 'cool stuff'  . 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.
Learning Journal (weekly reflection)
Last week's lecture presented the idea that science is the most powerful form of evidence  . My position as a student studying both physics and law makes this an important issue for me  and one I was thinking about while watching the 'The New Inventors' television program last Tuesday  . 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  . 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,  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.
The Learning Centre thanks the students who permitted us to feature examples of their writing.
Prepared by The Learning Centre, The University of New South Wales © 2008. This guide may be distributed or adapted for educational purposes. Full and proper acknowledgement is required. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Want more help?
For all your referencing, writing and academic skills support
Want to improve your grades? Try NavigateMe