As part of your degree studies you will sometimes be asked to write a reflective paper. Check the instructions in your course book and your marking schedule to find what sort of writing you are being asked to do. Sometimes it will be a whole reflective paper but sometimes you might be asked to incorporate your reflections into other writing. You might be asked to reflect on your practice. You could also be given a case study, asked to explain what you would do in this particular situation, and then reflect on the possible consequences of your actions. Often a reflective paper will also ask you to integrate theory into your reflection. Reflective writing should help you to better understand what it is you are learning.
A reflective paper is not just expressing your opinion; it will require you to evaluate practice (Watson, Burrows, & Player, 2002). This means not just describing a situation, but going deeper and analysing your practice and then considering the value of what you did or did not do. In particular you will need to explain how and/or why you did certain things. It will be useful to consider reflective writing as being on three levels:
As with every assignment, remember that you will need to write an introduction and a conclusion to this work.
Freshman showcase 2012 preparing for the reflective essay. (n.d.). Retrieved from teacherwb.com/CA/...Reflective-Essay-w-student-organizer.doc
Ministry of Social Development. (2010). Supporting teen fathers: A resource for service providers. Retrieved from http://www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/publications-resources/planning-strategy/teen-fathers/
Reflective writing. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www/lc.unsw.edu.au/onlib/pdf/reflective.pdf
Watson, F., Burrows, H., & Player, C. (2002). Integrating theory and practice in social work education. London, Endland: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
NB: on pages 178-180 the Integrating theory and practice in social work education book has a very good example of a weak descriptive essay, followed by a good analytical essay, on the subject of two chairs.
As faculty working with students to explore topics of interests we frequently request that they review the literature to gain an understanding of what is known and unknown about a topic and then present their findings in an integrated manner. While many students are familiar with developing papers termed “literature reviews” or “reviews of the literature,” these types of papers frequently do not afford the students the opportunity to integrate what has been found. Thus faculty have begun to require that students present their findings and thoughts via what is known as an “integrated paper format.”
For graduate students the term, “integrated paper” sometimes stirs up a state of confusion. Is an integrated paper a literature review, a research proposal, or an essay? Well the answer is simple, no. An integrated paper is a type of review of the literature that includes the analysis, synthesis and evaluation of information on a well-defined content area and includes the writer’s original thoughts and ideas on the topic which are based upon the available evidence.
The integrated paper begins with a brief introduction to the area of interest and focuses the reader’s attention on the issue and background of the problem. This brief introduction leads the writer into a review of each of the pertinent areas that must be explored to gain an understanding of the many facets associated with the subject of interest. It is the writer’s responsibility to provide logical transitions from one pertinent area to another. It is through these transitions that the reader begins to understand the larger picture. While discussing the findings within a pertinent content area the writer should:
- distinguish between assertion and evidence in the studies
- identify methodological strengths and weakness of the studies
- identify relationships among the studies
- identify major trends or patterns in the results
- note how the reviewed articles relate to your topic
- identify gaps in the literature
- finally, consider designing a table(s) that compares important characteristics of studies reviewed.
After discussing each of these pertinent areas, it is the writer’s responsibility to write a conclusion that provides closure for the reader. The conclusion should be coherent and well pointed and lead the reader’s attention to the direction which the writer perceives is the logical next step. If the review is multifaceted and challenging for the reader to make all the necessary connections the writer should provide a summary section prior to the conclusion. The summary section should present the key points that resonated from your review of each pertinent area presented. Once the reader has processed through this integrated summary the writer can provide the paper’s conclusion and direct the reader to the next logical point of inquiry.
As a faculty member, I have found that reviewing my expectations with regard to the integrated paper at the beginning of the semester provides the students with a clear road map for success. Constructing a grading rubric that coincides with these expectations also adds clarity to the process for the student. But clearly, writing an integrated paper requires reflection and critical thinking, plus ample time to organize your thoughts in both a non written and written format and a willingness to write multiple drafts. Students don’t always immediately recognize the depth that instructors are looking for in these papers so any direction we can offer them at the start will help them better meet our expectations.
Genevieve Pinto Zipp, PT, EdD, is an associate professor in the Department of Graduate Programs in Health Sciences at Seton Hall University’s School of Health and Medical Sciences.
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