20 Reflective Writing and Summaries

Learning Objectives

After you complete this chapter, you will be able to

  • describe the purpose and structure of two types of reflective writing assignments
  • evaluate and write a reflective response
  • provide a concise summary of a text or video

Reflective Writing

In this type of writing, your instructor wants to see that you are making personal connections between the course content and experiences in your life. Reflective writing is inextricably linked to critical thinking.

Reflective writing uses first person pronouns and writers are encouraged to support opinions and analysis by referring to personal experiences.

Self-reflection is a humbling process. It’s essential to find out why you think, say, and do certain things…then better yourself.

– Sonya Teclai (recording artist)

Formal reflective writing assignments might be one or several paragraphs long.  You should use APA formatting; include a title page and format your paragraphs according to APA specifications. Also, although you are discussing your personal experiences, most academic reflective writing assignments require you to make connections between your experiences and information from an assigned text; therefore, instructors expect you to use APA citations and references.

Watch this brief video by The University of Melbourne to get a better understanding of reflective writing[1]:

Two Types of Reflective Writing Assignments

1. Course Material Summary and Reflection

In this type of reflective writing assignment, you will need to review course materials (read an article or chapter or watch a video or movie) and write a response. Critical reflection requires thoughtful and persistent inquiry to interrogate your own assumptions and knowledge to deepen your analysis and focus your assessment of the text. In your reflection, you may choose to focus on one part of the reading rather than the entire article.

Your reflection must include two main parts: a summary of the assigned text/video and a reflection on what you learned.

Part 1: Summary

The summary portion of your response identifies the topic and author’s stance, if any. It restates the most important ideas and explains how the author supported these ideas.

In this video, Shaun Macleod explains the essentials to writing a summary[2]:

Part 2: Reflection

The reflection portion of your response assesses the text, develops your own ideas, and makes connections between your experiences and observations and the source material. Before you start writing, ask yourself some questions. What did you know about the topic before you did the reading or watched the video? What relevant experiences or observations do you have on this topic? What have you learned about this topic in other classes or in other readings or social media posts? What did you learn from the source material? Do you agree or disagree with the information that was presented in the source material? Are your experiences or observations in alignment with or in opposition to what the source material said? How does the source material reinforce or challenge my existing ideas or assumptions?

Checklist for Reading Reflections

Your reflective response should

    • demonstrate your understanding of the reading by providing a concise summary using your own words
    • make a thoughtful and balanced assessment of the materials you’ve reviewed
    • make connections between the course materials and your own experiences and/or to other sources of information on the topic
    • include APA citations for any summarized, paraphrased, or quoted information
    • identify your own lack of knowledge or personal bias without fear of losing marks; this is part of the reflection process
    • recognize opinions that you may not agree with, and consider these with respect
    • consider how what you’ve learned from the course materials has changed or confirmed your previous thinking about a topic
    • identify steps you may take to add to your understanding of this topic and/or explain how you will use the knowledge you have acquired


2. Experiential Reflection

In this type of reflective writing assignment, you will need to participate in an experience, like a lab or placement, and write a response. This type of writing is often used in programs that require students to participate in hands-on, experiential learning, like business, nursing, and education programs.

As with reading reflections, your response has two parts: a summary of your experience and a thoughtful reflection on that experience.

Your response should

  • concisely describe your experience
  • make connections between theory and practice
  • assess a theory or approach based on your observations
  • evaluate and critique your experience based on class learning
  • evaluate your level of knowledge and skills based on your experience
  • determine how you might act differently next time you are in a similar situation

  1. Academic Skills, The University of Melbourne. (2017, June 1). Reflective writing [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SntBj0FIApw.
  2. Smrt English. (2012, November 15). How to write a summary [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGWO1ldEhtQ.


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