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FYS 171 Politics and the Media in Modern American History: Research Journals

Writing a reflective essay on research strategies

Writing a reflective essay on the research process

Writing a reflective essay on the research process is an opportunity for you to think back on what you have learned, to recognize your achievements and to identify the challenges that you faced. It is your opportunity to describe your research strategy, process, and what you learned from it.

Use the reflective essay to communicate specifics about your improved understanding and use of library services, resources, and collections as they applied to your paper or project. Explain what advancements you see in your ability to conduct research and what skills, techniques or strategies you have learned.

Some prompting questions that may help you reflect on the process that you followed in your research are:

Consider the process: how you crafted your thesis, selected your search tools, developed search techniques, and chose which Library collections to explore.

  • How did you think about and refine your preliminary research topic? Reflect on the process of adapting your interests into the scope of the paper, and how you may have modified your topic given the time you had available for research and writing, the required length of the paper, and the nature of the information you found.
  • What specific strategies did you develop for finding relevant information? Which discoveries did you make by chance and which through planned search strategies?
  • What specific library search tools did you use and why?

Consider your sources: the types and formats that you chose, how deeply or widely you explored your topic area, how you evaluated and selected materials, and how carefully you cited what you selected.

  • Did you have trouble finding some types or formats of information and if so, how did you overcome this challenge?
  • Did your assumptions about what information would be available change throughout the research process?
  • Did you have some reasons for not selecting specific resources, even though they appeared promising?
  • What did you learn about finding information on your topic or in your discipline? Was it necessary to move outside your discipline to find sufficient sources?

Pulling it all together: how you used these sources to support your thesis and what original ideas stemmed from the synthesis of your research.

  • How adequately did the sources you used provide support for your thesis?
  • How did you balance the evidence that you found?

See below for more information and ideas on reflective writing models.

Research Reflection Journal - DEAL Model


What is reflective writing?

Writing reflectively involves critically analyzing an experience, recording how it has impacted you and what you plan to do with your new knowledge. It can help you to reflect on a deeper level because the act of getting something down on paper often helps people to think an experience through.

There are many ways to approach reflective writing. One such method is the D.E.A.L. model:

Describe your experience objectively. If you were formulating you topic, you might describe the various topic you considered, what you thought about each of them, why you discarded certain topics and how you finally arrived at your chosen topic. If you were searching for information, you might describe what database you used, what search terms you used, what results you got, whether they were useful and how you changed your search terms to get better results. If you were evaluating you search results, you might describe why you thought each source was useful/not useful and/or why you thought each source was reliable/not reliable.When you read through and analyze your chosen sources, you might record how each sources contributes to your research: does it represent a certain conclusion? Does it use an interesting methodology? Does it have useful facts or data? Does it have a useful quotation? When you are writing your paper, you might describe what part of the paper you were writing.


Examine and evaluate your research process by considering the following questions:

  • What was the goal you were trying to accomplish?
  • Were you able to effectively achieve your goal? Why or why not? What worked and what didn't work?
  • Which skills, ideas or knowledge did you bring to the experience that helped you meet your goal?
  • Which skills, ideas or knowledge did you lack that hindered your ability to meet your goal?
  • Did you acquire any new skills, ideas or knowledge?
  • Did you bring any assumptions into your research that were upheld, challenged or changed? Why?
  • Was this an easy or hard task? 
  • What are your next steps?

Articulate and Learn

Use your responses to the prompts above in both the “Describe” and “Examine” sections of this reflection template to create a thoughtful essay wherein you articulate what you have learned.Each of the following questions should be addressed in your essay:

  • What did I learn?
  • How did I learn it?
  • Why does it matter?
  • What might/should be done in light of it?

Research Reflection Journal - Giibs Reflective Cycle

Description - Describe in detail the part of the research process you were working on and what you did.

Feelings - Try to recall and explore the things that were going on inside your head while you were researching or writing. How you were  feeling when you began your research session? How did the process make you feel and why? How did you feel about the outcome/results you obtained?

Evaluation  - Try to evaluate or make a judgment about what has happened. Consider what was good about the experience and what was bad about the experience or didn’t go so well.

Analysis -  Break the event down into its component parts so they can be explored separately. What went well; what did you do well; what did others do well; what went wrong or did not turn out how it should have done; in what way did you or others contribute to this.

Conclusion - This  differs  from  the  evaluation  stage  in  that  now  you  have  explored  the  issue  from  different  angles and have a lot of information to base your judgment. It is here that you are likely to develop insight into  you  own  and  other  people’s  behavior  in  terms  of  how  they  contributed  to  the  outcome  of  the  event.  Remember  the  purpose  of  reflection  is  to  learn  from  an  experience.  Without  detailed  analysis  and honest exploration that occurs during all the previous stages, it is unlikely that all aspects of the event  will  be  taken  into  account  and  therefore  valuable  opportunities  for  learning  can  be  missed.  During this stage you should ask yourself what you could have done differently.

Action Plan  -  During this stage you should think yourself forward into encountering the event again and to plan what you would do – would you act differently or would you be likely to do the same?

Research Reflection Journal - Rolfe Framework for Reflexive Practice

Rolfe Framework for Reflexive Practice

According to the Rolfe Framework,  The  questions ‘What?, So what? and Now what? can stimulate reflection:

What ...                         
... is the problem/difficulty/task/goal?
... was my role in the situation?
... was I trying to achieve?
... actions did I take?
... were the results?
... was good/bad about the experience?

So what  
...does this tell me/teach me/imply/mean?
...did I base my actions on?
...other knowledge can I bring to the situation?
...could/should I have done to make it better? my new understanding of the situation?
...broader issues arise from the situation?

Now what ...  I  need  to  do  in  order  to  improve my results?
...broader  issues  need  to  be  considered  if  this  action  is  to  be more successful?
...might  be  the  consequences  of this new approach/action?

From: Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001) Critical reflection in nursing and the helping professions: a user’s guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.