As a large proportion of your reflective account is based on your own experience, it is normally appropriate to use the first person ('I'). However, most assignments containing reflective writing will also include academic writing. You are therefore likely to need to write both in the first person ("I felt…") and in the third person ("Smith (2009) proposes that …"). Identify which parts of your experience you are being asked to reflect on and use this as a guide to when to use the first person. Always check your guidelines if you are not sure. If guidelines are not available then, in your introduction, explain when and why you are going to use "I" in your writing.
You will produce a balance by weaving together sections of 'I thought… 'I felt,…' and the relevant academic theories in the same section or paragraph. This is more effective than having a section which deals with the theory and a separate section dealing with your experiences.
Try to avoid emotive or subjective terms. Even though you are drawing on your experiences (and they may well have been emotional), you are trying to communicate these to your reader in an academic style. This means using descriptions that everyone would understand in the same way. So rather than writing, "The client was very unhappy at the start of the session", it might be better to write, "The client was visibly distressed", or "The client reported that he was very unhappy". This shows that you are aware that the client's understanding of 'unhappiness' may be quite different from yours or your reader's.
When writing about your reflections use the past tense as you are referring to a particular moment (I felt…). When referring to theory use the present tense as the ideas are still current (Smith proposes that...).
Some examples of how this works in practice:
One objective of the session was to help the client to understand the connection between her thoughts, feelings and behaviours. This is an important aim of HSD (Bloggs, 2009). To achieve this objective the following HSD method was used ….. (Smith, 2006). At times during the session I was too directive and could have used more open questions to allow the client more opportunity to verbalise her understanding.
During the session the client stated… I wish I had explored this further.
Assessing students’ reflective thinking could reveal learning outcomes which summative assessment could not. Therefore, the researcher as course instructor decided to look into students’ reflective writing for a more insightful feedback on their learning outcomes. One cohort of students in an environmental management course were requested to write reflection notes at the completion of each assignment, and towards the end of the course a piece of reflective essay. The students’ reflective writings were then analysed for snippets of evidence that purportedly meets the course learning outcomes. These evidences of students’ learning outcomes were gathered and examined for emerging patterns and trends in the students’ reflective thinking that relates to the course objectives. The document analysis method was applied to identify and match the students’ reflective writings with the learning objectives. Findings reveal students’ achievement of learning outcomes and higher order thinking skills, as outlined in the course objectives. It is hoped that findings from this research will further support the significance of reflective thinking on learning. Reflective notes provide meaningful feedback on learning to instructors that could be acted upon towards improvement of a course. Educators and educationists could look at students’ reflective writings as an effective form of assessment that would provide a more insightful assessment of students’ learning and thoughts.