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Your first step should be to ensure that you receive useful feedback from your supervisor, ideally using a consistent point of reference so that you can more easily reflect on your progress. This activity asks you to reflect on your writing and to prioritise two or three areas for development. Your supervisor may add to or amend the criteria used in this activity, which are intended as an initial point of reference and not as a definitive list of 'expectations'.


  1. Open this feedback document (.doc) which has been adapted from two Assessment Plus resources and is organised to cross-reference with activities in the academic writing package. Read one of your submitted essays and assess your level of confidence about meeting each of the criteria by ticking the boxes labelled:

C   Confident: I think I have met this criterion to the best of my ability in my essay writing so far

P   Partially confident: I have tried to meet this criterion but would appreciate more feedback

N   Not at all confident: I do not understand this criterion and need more guidance

The form is a Word document and can be completed electronically or by hand.

  1. Now identify two or three 'actions' for yourself which you will address in your next essay. These might include anything from asking your supervisor to explain their comments on your essays to experimenting with different planning techniques.


After identifying your actions:

If you are not at all confident about some of the criteria, check the relevant section in the Academic Writing resource. Critical evaluation can seem to be an especially 'woolly' area at first, and although it is generally not prioritised for first year biological scientists, you should ensure that you understand its requirements for later in your studies. If, having referred to the online package, you are still unsure, speak to your supervisor or Director of Studies.

At the very least, you should now have a firmer idea of those areas of your writing that you need to improve upon. Keep in mind that these are your own perceptions and that that you should also seek the opinion of your supervisor.


Reflection on your writing

Why reflect on past writing?  

It is easy to get caught up in the fast pace of the University Term and to treat every essay in isolation rather than seeing each essay as an opportunity to improve on the last. Taking time to reflect before launching into the next essay is a useful investment of your time on more than one level. Firstly, you are less likely to replicate any mistakes made in your previous assignment.  Secondly, you will develop a greater sense of how you are progressing, which can be reassuring during those times where you may feel you are plodding along without improving. The inevitable setbacks are put into perspective when you can reflect on the bigger picture. Be realistic: don't try to tackle every area at once during your first year. Don't rush to 'tick off' criteria, because expectations in each area will rise as you progress through your course.

You might find recording your progress and action points a worthwhile investment of time.

Reflective journal

One issue to emerge from reflecting on your work is which areas for development / action you should prioritise when you have more than one essay to tackle with conflicting deadlines. There are many other influencing factors such as extra-curricular demands on your time or delays in accessing resources and guidance. Each person's situation is different and it is therefore impossible to provide a 'one-size-fits-all' template for a reflective journal. Look at a completed template (pdf) here.

Now open this blank example (.doc) and adapt to suit your own purposes if necessary. You might be writing for more than one supervisor and prefer to keep notes on each separately. It is useful to take a little time to note your thoughts when you finish each essay before receiving feedback just to see if patterns emerge which you can address if necessary. For example, you may realise that you are too critical of your own ability, or that the time and place you write influences the feedback you receive.

The template might be useful for some throughout their course, whilst others find that they dispense with it as their confidence increases. Some students may be more comfortable with a short 'to-do' list. Reflect upon and improve your work in whichever way suits you best, but keep an open mind and be prepared to adapt your strategy if it does not seem to be working.