Dissertation Diary

What is a Reflective Log or Reflective Diary?

A Reflective Log (or Reflective Diary, as it is sometimes called) is a common requirement in UK university assessments. For many courses, it is essential for students to be able to effectively analyse their own progress and apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations. This will enable them to become strong, independent practitioners.

A Reflective Log is the perfect way to encourage this approach alongside with reflective reports. It is essentially a log or diary that contains regular entries by the student, detailing their experiences and emotions with regard to their learning process. It also includes references to relevant theories to connect the student’s academic knowledge with their practical work. The log can be used to verify a student’s intellectual engagement with the course material or practical assignments, as well as their independent work outside of lectures and seminars.

How to Write a Reflective Log

It is normally expected that students will maintain a Reflective Log or Diary throughout the duration of a module or module component, with entries made at regular intervals. Some courses will require students to hand in their entries periodically throughout the course, while other will simply set a final deadline for submission of the log as a whole.

Students often have the option of entering their reflective notes in online format, which many find quicker and easier than a traditional hand-written diary. For others, the physical process of writing something by hand can help stimulate their reflective mindset. Furthermore, some courses provide structured log entry forms that students must use.

Regardless of which format is chosen, the Reflective log should be kept diligently and students should aim to include as much critical reflective material as possible, often supported with reference to academic resources and lecture materials.

What to Include in your Reflective Log or Diary

The specific content requirements of a reflective log vary depending on the course and subject matter, but the overall approach is always the same. Typically, students are asked to note down their personal responses to lectures or training sessions. This involves a brief summary of the activity and a serious and detailed account of the student’s exploration of it. Unlike other forms of academic assignment, in Reflective Logs students are encouraged to express their thoughts and emotions. In many ways, a Reflective Log provides a self-analysis of the student and their skill development.

You should also be sure to provide some kind of evidence to support your claims, such as references to particular achievements or mentions of theoretical course material. This will ensure that your log or diary is not too informal or casual, but meets the academic standards expected at a higher level of study.

In addition, special attention should be paid to any activities where the student was particularly challenged, or struggled to complete tasks effectively. This is an essential part of the learning process and examiners want to see that a student was resourceful enough to apply their acquired knowledge to eventually overcome any initial failings.

Keys to Success

Be Critical – Although a Reflective Log requires a slightly less formal approach than essays or exams, you should still be sure that it is a serious and critical piece of scholarly work. The best way to do this is to focus more on the analysis of events than their description. Although you need to state what actions were undertaken, this should be brief and to the point. Save the extended descriptions for your analysis of those descriptions.

Be Specific – Also make sure that you are very specific in your language use. For example, it is not sufficient to write that you felt anxious or worried during a particular task. Instead be very clear about which aspects of the task concerned you and why, and how you dealt with that anxiety. Similarly, if a found a task very easy, be sure to consider why you felt that way, and how you could improve even more. Also be sure to write about the ways that specific elements of tasks were useful to your skill development, or in helping you to understand the theoretical content of the module.

Be Thorough – A Reflective Log normally requires students to write about all the processes surrounding their practical experience. You are expected to include thorough discussions of the planning stages, the tasks themselves, the outcome of tasks, your critical reflection on them, and a subsequent plan for your future development.

Use Evidence – The log or diary should also include a good amount of supporting evidence to back up your reflective claims. Most obviously you can refer to concrete examples of your actions or experiences. In other words, rather than simply stating that you became confident using a certain method during a session, instead describe precisely what actions you undertook and what elements of that action helped you to become practised at specific skills. You can also use evidence from established sources, such as scholarly journals, theoretical texts, and industry publications. These can be used to support your assertions of your own development, both through reference to relevant theories and to common approaches to practice within your field.

Develop a Structure – Writing a Reflective Log will be much easier if you develop a consistent structure that can be used for all the entries. Some students find it helpful to divide each entry into the stages of the task (planning, action, reflection, etc) and write about them separately. Others prefer to divide the entries according to the thematic content of the writing (description, reflection, evidence, analysis). Having a consistent approach like this makes the actual task of writing much quicker, and it also ensures a clear format for readers and examiners.

What to Do if you Fall Behind with your Reflective Log or Diary

While students are expected to maintain the log as an ongoing activity throughout a course, sometimes circumstances prohibit this. Although neglecting to maintain a Reflective Log is not something that should be encouraged, it is possible to catch up if you’ve failed to make entries on a regular basis. In actuality this makes the task of writing a Reflective Log much more difficult, but it IS possible.

If you fall behind, the easiest way to catch up on Log entries is to review your notes for each date and try to remember the experiences and emotions you felt at that time. If you are writing several log entries all at once, it is important to try to recollect your feelings about the subject matter at the date of the entry. Part of the expectation for Reflective Logs is to track a student’s learning process over the course of a module, so when writing overdue log entries it is very important to demonstrate an evolution of knowledge and confidence. You can do this by remembering your feelings at various stages of the course, and expressing some concerns about your abilities early on. In later entries you can use a more confident and self-assured tone.

Writing a Reflective Log is a very useful experience for most UK students because it helps them understand their own strengths and weaknesses. It is a relatively simple assignment and a good opportunity to improve your course marks overall!


Matin Hampton, University of Portsmouth, 2013. Reflective Writing: A Basic Introduction. Available: http://www.port.ac.uk/departments/studentsupport/ask/resources/handouts/writtenassignments/filetodownload,73259,en.pdf Last Accessed 08 May, 2013.

Ursula Lucas and Leng Tan, 2007. Developing a Reflective Capacity Within Undergraduate
Education: the role of work-based placement learning. York: Higher Education Academy.

Pete Watton, Jane Collings and Jenny Moon, 2001. Reflective Writing: Guidance Notes for Students. Available: http://www.exeter.ac.uk/fch/work-experience/reflective-writing-guidance.pdf Last Accessed 08 May, 2013.

University of Reading, 2013. Study Advice : Reflective Writing. Available: http://www.reading.ac.uk/internal/studyadvice/StudyResources/Practicebasedlearning/sta-reflectivewriting.aspx Last Accessed 08 May, 2013.

All You Need To Know About Your Dissertation

1. Dissertation Overview

Your aim is to produce the best possible dissertation. Essentially this is a 2-stage process:


To prepare you to complete the dissertation and allow you to submit a well-thought-out dissertation proposal, in other words, simply to 'get you thinking'.


Research and composition of your dissertation.

2. Pre-proposal Stage

Image courtesy of Nichola Hayes

The following learning activities named e-tivities (i.e. online active and interactive learning) have been provided to guide you through the Pre-Proposal stage:

  • E-tivity 1: Researching your focus
  • E-tivity 2: Recognition of student's own skills and expectations
  • E-tivity 3: Planning your dissertation
  • E-tivity 4: Analysis of previous dissertation proposals
  • E-tivity 5: Revisiting your topic
  • E-tivity 6: Planning a good dissertation.

These e-tivities involve the use of asynchronous discussion forums and two wikis.

In addition to the e-tivities and wikis, you have the opportunity to develop a personal reflective diary or blog which over the course of your dissertation will provide a valuable record of your thoughts, source references, online resources, and any problems encountered.

3. Post-proposal Stage

Although this stage of the dissertation will not come into play until later on, the central element of the post-proposal stage is the relationship with your supervisor. While your supervisor will be able to provide friendly and encouraging support for your dissertation, and be in regular contact, many students find it helpful to have a clear statement of the role supervisors can perform.

The role of the supervisor

  • The supervisor is NOT a co-author.
  • The supervisor's role, after the proposal has been submitted and approved, is to assist, (a) in helping students to clarify their topic and identify the important research questions which it raises; and (b) while work proceeds, for instance by advising on how to cope with problems encountered and whether new ideas are worth developing.
  • You are at liberty to arrange at a mutually convenient time with your supervisor during the course of your post-proposal stage. These meetings can be done in a number of ways such as face to face, email, synchronous online conversation, or over the telephone.

4. Your Reflective Diary (Blog)

Image courtesy of Nichola Hayes

Storing all the decisions you make throughout the course of your dissertation, the data you discounted, the challenges a dissertation can present and how you handled them can be a tall order. Wouldn't it be nice if we had a memory overflow?

A blog is a web log - a type of website where you can document in chronological order text, pictures and any other files that you encounter during the course of your dissertation. Its reflective nature makes it an excellent tool for documenting your dissertation path and will aid your writing. You can also make your blog available for your supervisor to comment on and it will provide a good basis for consultation.

There are many third-party blog creation sites. By choosing to create a blog you have the assurance that your resource will not be lost. Should the company fold your data will be protected. We would like you to use a Blog to create a personal resource, which we refer to in the pre-proposal activities as a reflective diary.

5. Developing Your Ideas

Your dissertation is a personal project and you will devote some considerable time to it. It is an iterative process where you will build upon the skills and knowledge you have already acquired in your studies. The illustration visualises the iterative nature of analysis and research while writing.

  • Analysis - being your 'thinking';
  • Research - being your reading of the subject;
  • Writing - being your note taking, contribution to forums/wikis and your personal reflective diary as well as drafts of your dissertation proposal and ultimately your dissertation submission.

These elements have a symbiotic relationship: you cannot write without thinking; you cannot think without reading; you cannot read without having thought about what you intend to achieve - in this case the best possible dissertation reflecting your own interests and dedication.

Your dissertation is a personal project and you will devote some considerable time to it.

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