Different Forms of Writing Academically
Writing a piece of reflection is different to more traditional forms of academic writing in that it is more subjective. That is, rather than being purely objective, it reveals and reviews personal bias and feelings.
Writing reflectively requires you to draw on your experiences, perceptions, values, beliefs and assumptions to explore a particular issue or problem.
Some of the common differences between reflective and academic writing are outlined below.
- Is a personal or subjective account
- Might not clearly define the content
- Is written in first person
- Considers your personal views and looks at issues from multiple perspectives (includes non-experts)
- Finds solutions to problems
- Stays open to perplexity
- Aims to explore the process of your learning
- Is frequently written over a period of time
- Can have a messy structure and appear disorganised.*
- Is an impersonal/objective account
- Will have very specific content
- Usually does not include first person**
- Considers others’ views (experts in the field)
- Argues and justifies
- Compares and contrasts
- Attempts to smooth out perplexity
- Aims to represent what you have learnt
- Is usually written for a specific assignment
- Has a clear structure with introduction, body and conclusion.
*Note: Always read your assignment brief – some reflective writing assignments are also highly structured similar to an academic essay.
**Note: Always check with your lecturer or tutor; some disciplines or assignments encourage the use of first person in their academic writing assignments
Reflecting and writing about how you are personally connected to your studies and readings promotes deep insightful thinking.
Regular practice develops your writing muscles and enables you to construct and structure your ideas and resultant arguments more succinctly in your more formalised academic assignments and writing.
When developing your writing style, try to avoid being overly informal. Just because what you are writing about is based upon your experience does not mean you can ignore the more formal academic style. Everything you submit as a set assignment, regardless if it is a reflective writing exercise or not, needs to be proofread and polished before submission.
Original informal text:
“In my opinion, if there are too many ‘buts’ in my choosing to practice in a rural area then I must not be ready for it, so it’s better for me to stay put.”
Alternative more formalised text:
“The reservations I currently feel about practicing in a rural setting suggest that I am not yet ready for such a move. So at this stage I plan to work in the city on graduation.”
Examine the examples below, which frame four styles of writing used in the university: academic, pure description, reflection, and critical reflection. Note the author’s style of writing and how this varies in each paragraph.
Have a go at Activities One and Two, on the right-hand side of the page, to reflect on what you have learnt in this section.
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- In the first sentence the author, using formal language, introduces her argument and backs it up with an expert scholar in the field.
- Sentence by sentence the author draws on other scholars’ work to illustrate why the use of imagination is essential for this kind of research writing and in doing so provides depth to her argument. The whole paragraph is based on the expert opinions of other scholars.
- Notice that although the author writes in the first person there is no attempt to include personal or emotional observations.
- Here the author presents the basic facts of what occurred and the consequences of cheating according to her limited understanding at that point in time.
- The writing here is one-dimensional. There is no attempt to reflect on the agency’s silence and seemingly lack of interest in her students’ behaviour.
- The author does not reveal any personal or emotional feelings apart from her threat to withdraw marks.
- Descriptions are important for setting the scene, and providing the necessary information in both academic and reflective writing but take care that pure description does not dominate your writing. The trick is to write enough but not get lost in the details.
- In this piece the author begins to challenge her personal and professional assumptions in relation to ethical practice and her lack of experience in teaching students from a different cultural background.
- Evidence of reflecting on her own ignorance and making the necessary adjustments to her thinking to help explain her students’ behaviour and her own negative feelings and possible misunderstandings.
- The writing here is multifaceted – it looks at the situation from multiple perspectives and discloses vulnerable aspects of the author’s own nature.
- In this piece the author weaves back and forth between personal insight and scholarly texts to deepen and consolidate the academic integrity of her argument.
- The author draws on scholarly texts to counter balance and illustrate her own visceral experiences and lack of cultural insight.
- Notice how although the subjective voice of the author leads the argument, she consolidates every key idea with a scholarly text – this not only prevents the writing from becoming opinion-based but also shows how each personal insight is chosen carefully to contribute specific meaning to the overall argument.
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