Dissertation Critical Reflective Theory

Dissertation writing is an important part of most post graduation and doctorate programs. Dissertation is basically a research that is intended to test the student’s ability to apply the theory into practice. The dissertations are mostly submitted at the end of study program and therefore the student is expected to make best use of the knowledge gained throughout the course syllabus.The dissertation is written into sections and sub-sections so as to make it easy to read and comprehend. Literature review forms an important part of the whole dissertation. Whatever subject-related data is gathered through different sources is presented under the literature review. Mostly it comprises the secondary data i.e. the data or the opinions of other experts on the dissertation topic originally collected for some purpose other than the current research. But a successful dissertation is not just discussing what others have written on the subject. An effective dissertation discusses as well as questions the views of the experts logically. This is referred to as the ‘critical review’.

Critical review in dissertation

Sometimes the students get confused between critical review and literature review. A few even misinterpret both these terms to be the same. While literature review is a collection of facts and figures on dissertation topic, the critical review is about questioning the reliability and feasibility of these facts and figures for the dissertation. Writing the critical review demands thorough understanding of the literature review. The literature should not only be read but every piece of information should be logically analyzed. The views of number of experts are gathered on the same topic or sub-head and all these views are then compared in the light of objectives of the research. Critical review is basically personal interpretation of the data. It is not just summarizing the data but also pointing out to any weaknesses and contradictions. The difference between descriptive and critical review can be best explained through the following table:

Descriptive writing

Critical analytic writing

States what happened.Identifies its significance.
States what something is like.Evaluates strengths and weaknesses.
Lists details.Evaluates relative significance of details.
States the order in which things happened.Makes reasoned judgement.
Says how to do something.Argues a case according to the evidence.
Explains what a theory says.Shows why something is relevant or suitable.
Notes the method used.Identifies whether it is   appropriate or useful.
Says when something occurred.Identifies why the timing is important.
States the different components.Weighs up the importance of different component parts.
States options.Gives reasons for selecting options.
Source: Cottrell, S. (2003).The Study Skills Handbook. 2nd ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. p232.


The objectives of the research should be very clear in the mind of the writer while writing the critical review. This is because the literature review is mostly about the secondary data which has originally been collected in a different context. So the information may be correct but it may not fit the context of the research. The critical review identifies the significance of what is written under literature and evaluates it in detail. While writing the critical review, one should try to collect evidences in support or against of every significant information. This can be done by referring to the works of 4-5 authors or experts of the same area. For writing a good critical review it is important to collect relative information from different sources. This helps in gaining arguments for and against the literature.

Importance of critical review

Critical review provides a reason for everything. The statements and views are not simply stated as in literature but are also analyzed to judge why or why not these statements are significant for the objectives of the research. Critical review is judgmental writing and involves personal views supported by evidences. The reliability of evidences is very important hence the sources should be renowned and trusted. Writing critical review is bit difficult as compared to writing the literature. Critical review demands logical thinking and analytical capability on part of the writer and a good investment of time and sincere efforts.

Ankita Agarwal

Analyst at Project Guru

Ankita is working with the editorial board of Project Guru as a Research Analyst and Writer. With Masters in Commerce and Business Studies, Ankita learned much of what she knows about management through experience. She has previously worked in various financial institutions like Birla Global, HDFC Ltd. and Citi Financial. She is self-motivated and writes for the Knowledge Tank section of Project Guru. She has authored more than 80 articles so far in Human Resources Management, Strategic Management, Finance and Marketing. She likes to pen her thoughts about the latest issues gripping these areas across the world.

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What Is a Reflective Report?

As the name suggests, a Reflective Report is a piece of writing that summarises a student’s critical reflection on a subject. While traditional academic writing discourages first-person accounts, Reflective Reports rely on them. Reflective Reports are frequently used as part of the assessment of practical projects. In group projects, individual Reflective Reports can document each student’s own contribution to the collective work.

How Is a Reflective Report Different from Other Types of Academic Assignment?

The reflective report is different from traditional assignments because it allows students to explore their own experiences and viewpoints. In these assignments you will not be expected to maintain impersonal objectivity; instead you are expected to highlight your own actions, emotions, and opinions. To be successful, students should critically evaluate their own actions and progress, and demonstrate an ability to link their personal experience with theoretical knowledge.

What Does a Reflective Report Normally Contain?

The contents of the Reflective Report will vary according to the discipline, but it typically provides an overview of the practical project and a thorough account of its progression. Students should highlight their own role in the project if it is a group assignment, and they should always provide a critical analysis of their own achievements. In general, Reflective Reports often address the following points:

• What were the project goals and how did you attempt to achieve them? Describe your project plan and how it addressed the requirements of the assignment and your broader area of practice.

• What did you learn? Connect theoretical knowledge from your course to the practical work you undertook. Discuss how particular actions reflect major theories in your field.

• What did you do and feel? Describe your own opinions about the project, including choices that were made and actions that were taken. What were your own contributions and why did you perform in the way that you did?

• What did others do and feel? If this is a group project, discuss the opinions that other group members conveyed to you, and the actions they took. Did you disagree about any points, and if so how did you resolve these issues?

• What was the outcome? Critically assess the success or failure of your practical work. Point out the ways that it benefited users, and/or met the project objectives.

• What were your personal strengths and weaknesses that were revealed? What have you learned about your own professional development from this project? What skill areas do you still need to develop?

• What would you do differently next time?

What Use Are Reflective Reports to Students?

Many students enjoy assignments that contain Reflective Reports, because they allow them to think critically about their own scholarly development and practical progress. Reflective Reports also develop a capacity for critical reflection on professional performance. This is key to developing ethical practice in a wide range of fields, from business to medicine to teaching. People who have experience with Reflective Reports are better able to reflect on their day to day practice, and they also have the ability to summarise and contextualise their performance for colleagues and governing authorities.

How to Write a Good Reflective Report

Be critical. Although the content of a reflective portfolio will be more personalised than other assignments, you should use the same level of critical analysis as you do for any essay or exam.

Be thorough. Make sure that you write about all the stages of your project, from the planning phases through to completion. You also need to include a comprehensive post-project analysis.

Don’t be afraid to state what went wrong! Writing about the least successful aspects of your project allows you to demonstrate a capacity for true critical analysis. It also lets examiners see that you are self-aware and capable of independent professional development.

Don’t be afraid to state what went right! Some students find it difficult to write confidently about the most successful parts of their work. Scholars are normally expected to be highly objective, and they are often discouraged from celebrating individual achievement or personal contributions. However, in the Reflective Report you should be sure to state clearly and concisely how your own actions contributed to a successful outcome.

Analyse outcomes and suggest future improvements. To earn the highest possible marks your Reflective Report should include a detailed critique of the project outcomes. Part of this should include a few well-thought-out suggestions for improving similar projects in the future.

Mistakes to Avoid in Writing Reflective Reports

The most common mistake in Reflective Writing is to be either too objective and scholarly, or too emotional and non-critical. Either mistake is equally wrong. Students should aim for a middle ground in their writing, in which they highlight their own personal feelings and reflections but analyse these with reference to theoretical course material.

Avoid blaming others for things that went wrong. Try to maintain some level of objectivity with regard to both failures and successes. To avoid being overly personal, emphasise the way that theories from your field could address any weaknesses that you encountered.

Finally, be professional. It is true that Reflective Reports require a less formal style of writing, but students sometimes believe that this allows for illegible handwriting and poor grammar. Remember that this is still an academic assignment, and all the normal standards of presentation apply!


Higher Education Academy, 2009. Reflective Learning. Available: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/hlst/resources/a-zdirectory/reflectivelearning. Last Accessed 01 May, 2013.

University of Kent, 2013. Reflective Learning Study Guide. Available: http://www.kent.ac.uk/learning/PDP/reflectivelearningstudyguide1112.docx‎. Last Accessed 01 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.

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