explain the difference between expressive and reflective writing

explain the difference between expressive and reflective writing

The Importance of Expressive and Reflective Writing

1. Introduction

Writing is an art that has been around for centuries. With improvements in technology, it is a growing field that has taken on many different forms. The advent of the computer has given people the ability to work with words in a way that has never been possible before. The traditional methods of writing have greatly evolved over the last two decades, although the core principles have basically stayed the same. Journal writing, which has been around forever, has transformed into blogging. This move has allowed people to write down their innermost thoughts and share them publicly. Writing has also expanded to include a more interactive aspect. E-mails are the replacement for letters, and instant messaging the replacement for phone conversations. Both of these methods have taken on a more casual tone and include elements of spoken language that would not normally be included in written form. In taking a step back and looking at the words we are writing, it is important to consider what is being gained from these new methods. At the core, regardless of what form it is in, writing is meant to convey information. In our fast-paced world where information is constantly being exchanged, there are times where it is essential to slow down and critically think about what we are writing. The most beneficial ways to accomplish this are through the practice of expressive and reflective writing.

2. Understanding Expressive Writing

Although emotion regulation theory is mainly concerned with emotional expression, it has been used to explain the effects of expressive writing on health outcomes. Pennebaker (1997) proposed that holding back emotional expression is costly. If a person is holding back an emotional response, it means they are already in a state of emotional arousal and thus it will require effort to inhibit the expression. Providing an opportunity for the expression of previously inhibited emotions seen in expressive writing can be seen as less effortful, as the situation is no longer being actively avoided and considered in detail stressful or emotionally upsetting. This can lead to a de-escalation of negative affect in the long term and thus cognitive and emotional changes around the target memory. This proposal is consistent with the observed increase in short-term negative affect seen in many expressive writing studies, as the emotional expression is followed by an eventual decrease in negative affect during the writing period. Pennebaker’s hypothesis suggests that it is the change in emotional expression and appraisals that drive the long-term effects of expressive writing. Though speculative and yet to be fully tested, the application of emotional regulation theory to expressive writing has potential and may form the basis of future expressive writing research.

Emotion regulation theory is a useful framework for understanding the function of expressive writing. According to this theory, different strategies are involved in the process of modulating affect in the service of the accomplishment of personal goals. Pennebaker and Harber (1993) applied emotion regulation theory to expressive writing and postulated a basic expressive writing process. They proposed that expressive writing involves a meaning-making process that changes the person’s cognitive and emotional understanding about a target experience. This reorganization of the target memory changes its impact on the person’s affect and cognition, and the changed cognitive and emotional states associated with the target memory are thought to influence future behavior. They concluded that expressive writing produces its health effects by changing the ways that people appraise and cope with their traumatic experiences. This cognitive behavior hypothesis of expressive writing is psychological in nature and is distinct from potential biological explanations.

3. Understanding Reflective Writing

Reflective writing enables you to examine various experiences that affect your learning development. Reflective writing can be unstructured and does not need a definitive structure or pattern. However, in most cases, it is formal and structured and has a clear pattern. Reflective writing can be used to analyse and critically evaluate an event, idea, or theory, and in doing so, you can learn from the experience and make sense of it. Reflection can enhance your personal development by leading to greater self-awareness and a better understanding of what motivates you. It can also provide you with clear feedback and a learning opportunity. Reflective writing is not just a description or summary of something that you have observed. Instead, it has an analytical approach which can often lead to clearer understanding, but not always, as the more you are exposed to something, the more complicated and confused it may become. Typically, there is a purpose to your reflection. This can be: – to consider whether an alternative approach may have led to a better outcome – to make sense of an event that at first seemed illogical or difficult to understand – to envisage how future experiences could be improved in some way – to learn from an event, something which most decisions, whether right or wrong, can lead to a learning outcome.

4. Comparing Expressive and Reflective Writing

Comparing expressive and reflective writing since the late 1960s, a substantial body of literature has explored the distinctions between descriptive writing, reflective, and expressive writing (Langer, 2000; Feltham & Dryden, 1993; Roesch, 1997; Stuckey, 1991; Weigert, 1997). In some cases the terms are used synonymously or a distinction is not made, while other authors clearly define the terms they are using. Langer (2000) distinguishes the two types of writing in terms of their structures, linguistic and thought processes, with the view that the nature of writing determines the possibility for deeper thinking and understanding. She suggests that clarity, order and coherence of text is reflective of the same thought structures and that the teaching of descriptive, clear and coherent writing is not the teaching of higher order thinking, it is “in correspondence with the limits in children’s ability to think critically” (p. 47). In agreement with Langer it is suggested that descriptive writing does not share the same cognitive process as to what is described being understood and an understanding of descriptive language does not guarantee that a person is able to visualize what is described (Langer, 2000). This lower order thinking is the limitation of conventional literacy despite the educational push for high standards and testing (Weigert, 1997) and is a limitation of which is not just held by children (Langer, 2000).

5. Conclusion

In conclusion, expressive and reflective writing is very important in the development of an artist. These two forms of writing bring out different sides and abilities of the artist. Expressive writing teaches clarity and conciseness in writing. This form of writing is very essential in the annotation and analysis of art. An artist that can write expressively can explain his art well, a skill that at this point in time is very necessary. Many artists have given up on careers in art due to lack of money; the ability to do art of any kind is a luxury and expressive writing can ensure that an artist’s work is understandable and will therefore procure more work. To be a successful art teacher, it is essential to be able to express oneself and explain how something is done. This form of writing is very useful for an artist in that it allows one to evaluate how one felt at a certain instance in time. It is also a way of confronting, understanding, and resolving a problem. Depression, for example, produces illogical thoughts and conclusions, which can be detrimental to a person. Writing can be a guide towards a better understanding of what is troubling a person and can lead to a solution. Expressive writing can also help a person to get through tough times by serving as a release of emotion; anger, sadness, and joy can be effectively expressed through writing.

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