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Pharmacy research project guidance: Reflective Writing

Resources and links to guide you through your research project.


This section of the guide is for students on the PM4A module.

You will have come across reflections as part of your PAD-portfolio and the current research seminar assignment will utilise this experience and challenge you to think more deeply about research and how this can impact or has impacted your development. Writing reflectively for the purposes of an assignment does not involve merely describing something that happened. Nor does it mean pouring out everything you think and feel in a totally unstructured way. Reflective writing requires a clear line of thought, use of evidence or examples to illustrate your reflections, and an analytical approach. Young woman looking thoughtful

Reflection is an important stage in effective learning and reflective practice is an integral part of continuing professional development (CPD) for health care professionals. Successful reflection enables self-awareness, personal and professional growth and it is important to develop these skills as a healthcare professional. A reflective account documents the way you have thought about and experienced a particular event or experience.

In all cases reflection is an active process that involves reviewing an experience in order to describe, analyse, evaluate and so inform learning. Reflective skills can include the ability to be:

  • self-aware

  • descriptive

  • analytical

  • constructively evaluative

Reflective writing is a way of processing your  experience to produce learning. It has two key features:

  1. It integrates theory and practice. Identify important aspects of your reflections and write these using the appropriate theories and academic context to explain and interpret your reflections. Use your experiences to evaluate the theories - can the theories be adapted or modified to be more helpful for your situation?

  2. It identifies the learning outcomes of your experience. So you might include a plan for next time identifying what you would do differently, your new understandings or values and unexpected things you have learnt about yourself.


Developing your reflective insights

Be prepared to:

  • Be objective
  • Be critical of your own interpretations/assumptions
  • Make use of evidence from a range of sources e.g., theories
  • Recognise that your own point of view will change with time
  • Discuss with others to deepen your insight and explore a range of perspectives

Reflective questions to ask yourself

  • What was I thinking and feeling - did this influence me, and why?
  • What was important for the researcher?
  • How does research fit with what I want to do in the future?
  • How have I developed as a result of the learning?
  • Have I identified gaps in my learning?

Consider the following

  • How does my experience compare to what I have read? Are there any theories that would help explain what happened?
  • What might be the results of doing research differently? What evidence is there to show things might change if done differently?
  • How has the experience changed my understanding?

Reflective writing

You should refer to the assessment (marking) criteria for the seminar assignment to identify the expectations.

Approaching reflective writing

It is a common misconception that reflective writing is describing an event, it requires much more depth and largely focusses on the analysis of the event/experience/learning/topic. There are some tips in the box above about the questions you can ask yourself which encourage reflective thinking.  Being about to reflect on your own practice is a key skill as a competent healthcare professional - analysing how you react to situations and the impact they have had on your learning and development are the key aims.  When performed well, reflective writing can help develop a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, challenge your own assumptions and biases to provide better patient care, deal with your own anxieties, support a learning plan and allow you to better understand your own values and beliefs.

Useful book on reflective practice

Using theory and evidence in reflection

Assignments involving reflective thinking often ask you to refer to both relevant theories, evidence and your own experiences, but what does this mean? Academic theories and your professional observations are both evidence that you need to use to support your points, but they are different types of evidence:

Academic theories provide a generalised model or framework to help you understand what might be happening in a situation - the reflective models (e.g., Gibbs reflective model) discussed in some of the videos below are examples of theoretical models - they gives you a structure to compare your own experiences to and language to help you explain what is happening.

Evidence provides a means to compare your understanding of the situation to published evidence to analyse your real-life experiences.  These might be papers, journals, books, guidelines or good practice recommendations - evidence is something you can reference to critique your experience against.

Your own experiences are what happens in practice; these may be more complex and richer than the evidence or theories, but it can be harder to see what is relevant. By analysing your experiences using a theory (i.e., a reflective model), you can develop some more insightful explanations for what happened. Also, use your own experiences to interrogate and question the evidence - does it fit with what happened? If not, why? Does the evidence only explain part of the story? Does the evidence need to be adapted for different situations?

Videos explaining reflection