Reflective writing: description

time to complete: 20 minutes

If you are required to write a piece of reflective writing for your course, you might be given a specific model or framework to use, or even be asked to choose one on your own. There are many models of reflective writing e.g. Kolb (1984), Atkins & Murphy (1993), Priscoll (1994) to name a few, and they might be more or less suitable for your context e.g. type of reflection you are asked to do.

One popular model frequently used in academic writing is the Gibbs Reflective Learning Cycle (Gibbs 1988), which we will be looking at together.

Description

As shown in the graph above, the first stage in Gibbs’ reflective learning cycle is the description. This section focuses on an event(s) that happened in the past. Therefore, your language here may be organised in a chronological order and describe actions and general context to help the reader understand the situation. 

The section addresses the what, who, where, when, etc. details of your context. You can generate ideas by asking yourself the following questions:

To find out some common linguistic features used in the description section, click below:

In the description section/step, you will notice the frequent use of time markers e.g.

… two years ago

While I was working as a teaching assistant…

When I worked as an intern in a software company… 

Later that day… 

After a while… 

After that…  etc.

In the description section/step, you will notice the frequent use of past tenses. This language shows that the event you are describing was in the past and provides an accurate chronology e.g.

 

Before I applied to graduate school, I volunteered in a care home for 3 months. (Simple Past)

 

The doctors were able to reassure Mrs Stacy that Elle was making a good recovery, but that at this stage they were still unsure. (Past Continuous)

 

Mark was a consultant surgeon from Africa who had travelled to give a lecture and had a stroke on his second day in the country. (Past Perfect)

In the description section/step, you will notice the frequent use of words/phrases that describe people, places, things, actions, ways, etc. These are verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs.

e.g.

The principal at the school asked me to teach an elementary class the following day because the main teacher had unexpectedly called in sick. She provided me with all the necessary information about class size, student profile and she also gave me past lesson plans.

 

Although time markers and past tense are fairly consistent across different fields, the specific vocabulary of description used in this section will depend on the subject of your module and the specific context you are asked to reflect on.

Let’s now do some practice. You will read the description section of a reflective account from nursing and identify its content and language.

Task: Read the extract below and answer the following questions:

  • When and where did the situation take place?
  • Who was involved?
  • What background information does the writer provide about the context?
  • What happened? What did the writer do next?
 
Note down your answers in your notebook, then compare with our answer key.

During my placement on a diabetic ward a male patient called Jack (pseudonym) was admitted with abdominal pain. He had a diagnosis of learning disabilities and was not able to communicate verbally. The patient was unable to consent to being included in my reflective account so I asked his mother, who had power of attorney for his health for informed consent and she agreed (Royal College of Nursing 2017). His mother explained to the Nursing team that Jack often shows nonverbal indicators of being in pain but did not specify which types of behaviours to look out for. She explained that Jack would roll in bed but this was for self-regulation purposes and not an indicator of pain. Later in the evening Jack started to become agitated and was pinching at his stomach and grinding his teeth very forcefully. Although I was not certain which visible signs meant Jack was in pain it did appear that he was experiencing some abdominal discomfort and required reassurance. I spoke to Jack and explained that I was going to talk to the nurse about providing him with something to help with the pain.

  • When and where did the situation take place?
  • Who was involved?
  • What background information does the writer provide about the context?
  • What happened? What did the writer do next?

 

During my placement on a diabetic ward a male patient called Jack (pseudonym) was admitted with abdominal pain. He had a diagnosis of learning disabilities and was not able to communicate verbally. The patient was unable to consent to being included in my reflective account so I asked his mother, who had power of attorney for his health for informed consent and she agreed (Royal College of Nursing 2017). His mother explained to the Nursing team that Jack often shows nonverbal indicators of being in pain but did not specify which types of behaviours to look out for. She explained that Jack would roll in bed but this was for self-regulation purposes and not an indicator of pain. Later in the evening Jack started to become agitated and was pinching at his stomach and grinding his teeth very forcefully. Although I was not certain which visible signs meant Jack was in pain it did appear that he was experiencing some abdominal discomfort and required reassurance. I spoke to Jack and explained that I was going to talk to the nurse about providing him with something to help with the pain.

Task: Read the extract again and answer the questions below to practise identifying language in the description section.