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Critical reflection for assessments and practice

Critically reflective language and writing

"Our language is the reflection of ourselves..."

Mahatma Ghandi - Cries of Never (1916)

Our language is part of our identity. How we speak or write or paint or move when communicating shapes our sense of self and our presence in this world.  Critical reflection uses particular language and writing styles.

What is reflective writing? 

Critical reflection uses particular language and writing styles, often linked to your study area. For example, critical reflection in Health disciplines is linked to evidence-based practice and therefore uses a combination of clinical language and first-hand clinician perspective. In contrast, critical reflective writing for a dance student may have technical terms and creative language. Regardless of area, reflective writing at uni needs you to link your reflection to theories. This means that there is a formal tone to reflective writing assessments.    

What does critical reflective writing include?

Critical reflective writing is not just a summary or description of an event or something that you have observed. Description is needed for context in a critical reflection but the core of good reflective writing is exploring the significance of events (the ‘why’ and ‘how’) by providing analysis and insights into your thinking.  

In critical reflective writing you need to:







This helps you to develop new insights and perspectives which can inform your future practice. 

Language of reflective writing


The language used in reflective writing allows you to discuss your personal experiences, feelings and ideas. It’s fine to refer to yourself and use “I”, “my” and “me”. 

You can also use action verbs when writing about your feelings and opinions, for example, “I felt…”, “I think…”, “I realise…”. 

Remember you also need to include theory to support what you are saying. Take a look at the language of reflective writing for more support in this area. 


What? So What? Now What? Model 

Just as there are models to help you critically reflect on your actions, thoughts and feelings, there are also models to help you write critical reflections. 

The 'What? So What? Now What?' model guides your own reflections and learning from events that are significant for you. It gives you prompts to help you identify and discuss the different components of critical reflective writing. 

Click on the plus symbols (+) below to see what is discussed in each section. 

What? So What? Now What? template

To help you put this model into practice for your own context, download the template provided below to use for assessments. 

Essay versus critical reflection essay

At uni a common form of critical reflection writing is the critical reflection essay. For a quick recap on the major differences, look at this table.

Essay Critical reflection essay
Central argument Central experience, learning event, problem or reflective focus
Theory Personal experience plus theory
Third person First person
Past tense Past, present and future tense
Formal language Formal language
Well organised structure Well organised structure
Analyse and articulate Analyse and articulate


Try to express your reactions, feelings, attitudes and views in an open and honest way. Avoid writing what you think others ‘want to hear’.


Your Task

Remember that a critical reflection should describe, analyse and evaluate? Use this checklist to shape up a draft critical reflection based on a recent experience. Don’t forget to use the SWOT model to help prompt your writing

  • A brief description of the event or context
  • What you noticed
  • What you were thinking and feeling
  • Why this learning is significant to you
  • What you have learnt from this experience
  • How this will inform future practice.
Critical writing - what to include checklist (PDF, 25KB)