Making Annotated Exemplars

The Problem

Academic reflective writing is a distinct genre that is often difficult to grasp. One source of difficulty is that it lies at the intersection of subjective and objective forms of writing. Merely describing the style is usually insufficient for learners of this genre.

The Context

Examples of academic reflection can be given to students to serve as models. Such resources can be made more useful by pointing out key features by using expert annotation. This allows the example work to retain its coherency while permitting an overlay of expert commentary that seeks to explain the highlighted features. Exemplars can be authentic work (for example, by past students or current practitioners in the field) or they can be purposefully written. Students often request exemplars when faced with assessment that demands this style of writing.

The Pattern

  1. Decide on the source of the exemplar: either an authentic or purposely-composed sample.  Permission might be necessary from past students and only sections from whole works should be selected. Usually the exemplar is closely related to an assessment task. Purposely-composed exemplars can be aspirational, that is, they provide an excellent example of the genre. Other examples should also be provided, which represent a reasonable or ineffective piece of work.
  2. To compose an exemplar, choose a critical incident or issue that is not the same as the assessment task, but in a related area. Follow the prompts from the 4Rs to report on the issue and provide an initial response about its relevance or importance. Relate the issue to your own experiences in the field to show your knowledge and views about this issue in relation to your expertise. Reason about the issue, drawing on references to key literature, theories or other resources. Compare and contrast with other similar issues and outline causes and effects of particular responses to the issue. Identify how you could change your ideas or practices to improve or address the issue.
  3. Decide what to annotate. Annotations should highlight: where the writing departs from associated genres; where particular levels of reflective thinking are being employed; where assessment criteria are being satisfied; where common mistakes are evident, etc.
  4. Prepare the resource in a word-processor. Use comments and change-tracking to compose the annotations (e.g. track-changes). Print the work to a published format (such as PDF) with, and without, the annotations. This allows flexibility in the use of the resource. For example, the resource without annotations can be used with students to practise their own assessment. Afterwards they can compare their own marking and comments with the supplied version. This can setup productive conversations around key aspects of the genre along with the effective meaning of the stated criteria.
  5. When marking subsequent assessment pieces, capture writing fragments and your own associated comments to include in refinements to the resource.

Related Patterns

Analysing Reflective Texts (ART)



  1. Annotated Student Reflection Examples from different faculties
  2. An annotated example with the Nursing standards and the 4Rs
  3. An annotated exemplar from Education



This pattern has been initiated by Mary Ryan and Michael Ryan (Education). Jennie Duke (Education) has used an existing exemplar and created her own unit-specific exemplar to assist students.