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Here to help: reflective writing

An important part of the Institute’s qualifications and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) scheme is the inclusion of reflective writing.

An important part of the Institute’s qualifications and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) scheme is the inclusion of reflective writing. This is because it can, through thoughtful deliberation, act as a valuable learning experience. The aim of this “here to help” guide is to give you some ideas about the process of reflection.

This is something that we all do, every day, even if only subconsciously. We think about something that took place, how we felt and consequently what we might do differently next time. However, we don’t usually follow a formula for doing this, or write it down (unless we keep a diary!); rather, these emotions, thoughts and subsequent actions appear over time.

Reflective writing is a means of formalising such situations. It can be difficult to reflect when you are caught up in an event, but by standing back shortly afterwards, looking at it and reviewing what happened and thinking carefully about what it meant for you and your ongoing development you can improve your own and possibly others’ professional practice.

When writing a piece of reflection, it is vital to remember that it is much more than just a description of an event, it is instead an explanation and exploration of what happened. In many cases there will be a word limit and you won’t be able to write about everything that happened, so you will need to carefully select what illustrates your point most succinctly and reflect on those aspects.

Effective reflective writing involves an analysis that identifies both strengths and successes, and weaknesses, errors or failures. You need to try to be as objective and honest as possible, which for some may be more challenging than other forms of academic writing. It is much more personal than other forms of academic work, such as essays, and, therefore, it is reasonable to use “I”, “for me” and “we” to explain your thoughts, feelings and actions, but the reflection should also be thoughtful and calm, no matter what you may have felt when the event happened.

Reflective writing should demonstrate an understanding of the possible reasons for anything that didn’t go well, what you learnt or now understand as a result, and how you plan to improve by building on your strengths and developing and implementing mechanisms for reducing your weaknesses. This will help you show what it means for you in your ongoing development as a practising biomedical scientist. You will gain a lot more if you honestly reflect on things that didn’t go well, than if you just reflect on everything that went according to plan.

It is important to follow any specific guidelines on the type of reflection that is required for what you are doing, but whatever they are, the key aspects are the description (what happened or what is being examined), interpretation and critical analysis (what are the key things about the event and what did you learn) and outcome (what does it mean for you in the future).

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