Action Log Formats For Essays

Types of reflective writing assignments

Journal: requires you to write weekly entries throughout a semester. May require you to base your reflection on course content.

Learning diary: similar to a journal, but may require group participation. The diary then becomes a place for you to communicate in writing with other group members.

Log book: often used in disciplines based on experimental work, such as science. You note down or 'log' what you have done. A log gives you an accurate record of a process and helps you reflect on past actions and make better decisions for future actions.

Reflective note: often used in law. A reflective note encourages you to think about your personal reaction to a legal issue raised in a course.

Essay diary: can take the form of an annotated bibliography (where you examine sources of evidence you might include in your essay) and a critique (where you reflect on your own writing and research processes).

Peer review: usually involves students showing their work to their peers for feedback.

Self-assessment: requires you to to comment on your own work.

Some examples of reflective writing

Social Science fieldwork report (methods section)

The field notes were written by hand on lined paper. They consisted of jotted notes and mental triggers (personal notes that would remind me of specific things when it came to writing the notes up). I took some direct observational notes recording what I saw where this was relevant to the research questions and, as I was aiming to get a sense of the culture and working environment, I also made researcher inference notes  [1]  [2] .

 [3]  I found the notetaking process itself helpful, as it ensured that I listened carefully and decoded information. Not all the information I recorded was relevant, but noting what I found informative contributed to my ability to form an overview on re-reading. However, the reliability of jotted notes alone can be questionable. For example, the notes were not a direct transcription of what the subjects said but consisted of pertinent or interesting information.

Rarely did I have time to transcribe a direct quotation, so relied on my own fairly rapid paraphrasing, which risks changing the meaning. Some technical information was difficult to note down accurately  [3] . A tape recorder would have been a better, more accurate method. However, one student brought a tape recorder and was asked to switch it off by a participant who was uneasy about her comments being directly recorded. It seems that subjects feel differently about being recorded or photographed (as opposed to observers taking notes), so specific consent should be sought before using these technologies  [4] .

 1.  Description/ explanation of method.


 2.  Includes discipline-specific language


 3.  Critical evaluation of method


 4.  Conclusion and recommendation based on the writer's experience

Engineering Design Report

Question: Discuss at least two things you learnt or discovered – for example about design, or working in groups or the physical world – through participating in the Impromptu Design activities.

Firstly, the most obvious thing that I discovered was the advantage of working as part of a group  [1] . I learned that good teamwork is the key to success in design activities when time and resources are limited. As everyone had their own point of view, many different ideas could be produced and I found the energy of group participation made me feel more energetic about contributing something  [2] .

Secondly I discovered that even the simplest things on earth could be turned into something amazing if we put enough creativity and effort into working on them  [1] . With the Impromptu Design activities  [3]  we used some simple materials such as straws, string, and balloons, but were still able to create some 'cool stuff'  [4] . I learned that every design has its weaknesses and strengths and working with a group can help discover what they are. We challenged each other's preconceptions about what would and would not work. We could also see the reality of the way changing a design actually affected its performance.

 1.  Addresses the assignment question

 2.  Reflects on direct experiences

 3.  Direct reference to the course activity

 4.  The style is relatively informal, yet still uses full sentences.

 5.  Relating what was learnt.

Learning Journal (weekly reflection)

Last week's lecture presented the idea that science is the most powerful form of evidence  [1] . My position as a student studying both physics and law makes this an important issue for me  [2]  and one I was thinking about while watching the 'The New Inventors' television program last Tuesday  [3] . The two 'inventors' (an odd name considering that, as Smith (2002) says, nobody thinks of things in a vacuum) were accompanied by their marketing people. The conversations were quite contrived, but also funny and enlightening. I realised that the marketing people used a certain form of evidence to persuade the viewers (us?) of the value of the inventions  [4] . To them, this value was determined solely by whether something could be bought or sold—in other words, whether something was 'marketable'. In contrast, the inventors seemed quite shy and reluctant to use anything more than technical language, almost as if this was the only evidence required – as if no further explanation was needed.


This difference forced me to reflect on the aims of this course—how communication skills are not generic, but differ according to time and place. Like in the 'Research Methodology' textbook discussed in the first lecture, these communication skills are the result of a form of triangulation,  [5]  which I have made into the following diagram:


 1.  Description of topic encountered in the course

 2.  The author's voice is clear

 3.  Introduces 'everyday' life experience

 4.  The style is relatively informal, yet still uses full sentences

 5.  Makes an explicit link between 'everyday' life and the topic


Brookfield, S 1987, Developing critical thinkers: challenging adults to explore alternative ways of thinking and acting, Open University Press, Milton Keynes.

Mezirow, J 1990, Fostering critical reflection in adulthood: a guide to transformative and emancipatory learning, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

Schön, DA 1987, Educating the reflective practitioner, Jossey-Bass. San Francisco.

The Learning Centre thanks the students who permitted us to feature examples of their writing.

Prepared by The Learning Centre, The University of New South Wales © 2008. This guide may be distributed or adapted for educational purposes. Full and proper acknowledgement is required. Email:


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(Also known as Activity Diaries or Job Activity Logs.)

© Veer

Uncover more time in your day.

How much time do you spend at work doing things that don't contribute to your success? At first, you may say "not much." But – especially if you haven't used Activity Logs before – you may be surprised by how much more time you can find.

When you properly understand how you use your time at work, you can minimize or eliminate low value activities. This means that you can do more high value work, while still being able to leave the office at a sensible time.

So, how can you understand this? One useful way is to keep an Activity Log, and that's what we're looking at in this article.

About Activity Logs

An Activity Log (also known as an Activity Diary or a Job Activity Log) is a written record of how you spend your time.

By keeping an Activity Log for a few days, you can build up an accurate picture of what you do during the day, and how you invest your time. You'll find that memory is quite a poor guide, and that keeping the Log is an eye-opening experience!

Your Activity Log will also help you understand whether or not you're doing your most important work during the right time of day. For instance, if you're more energetic and creative in the morning, you'd be better off doing your most important work during this time. You can then focus on lower energy tasks, such as responding to emails or returning calls, in the afternoon.

Activity Logs are also useful for helping you identify non-core activities that don't help you meet important objectives. For example, you might spend far more time than you think surfing the Internet, or getting coffee each afternoon. When you see how much time you're wasting on such activities, you can then change the way that you work to eliminate them.


Don't confuse Activity Logs with timesheets – these are used for reporting on your use of time, and for tracking the time you spend on a task or job.

How to Keep an Activity Log

To keep an Activity Log, download this template, or open up a new spreadsheet and set up the following column headers:

  • Date/Time.
  • Activity description.
  • How I feel.
  • Duration.
  • Value (high, medium, low, none).

Then, without changing your behavior any more than you have to, note down everything that you do at work, as you do it.

Every time you change activities, whether replying to email, working on a report, making coffee, or gossiping with colleagues, note down what the activity is, the time of the change, and how you feel (alert, flat, tired, energetic, and so on).

Then, at a convenient time, go back through your Activity Log and write down the duration of each activity, and whether it was a high, medium, low, or no value task. (Evaluate this based on how far it contributed to achieving your job goals.)

Learning From Your Activity Log

Once you've logged your time for a few days, analyze your Activity Log. You may be alarmed to see how much time you spend doing low value jobs!

You may also see that you are energetic in some parts of the day, and flat in other parts. A lot of this can depend on how you are, the rest breaks you take, when and what you eat, and the work that you're doing.

Once you've analyzed your Activity Log, you should be able to boost your productivity by applying one of the following actions to various activities:

  1. Eliminate or delegate jobs that aren't part of your role, or that don't help you meet your objectives. These may include tasks that someone else in the organization should be doing (possibly at a lower pay rate) or personal activities such as sending non-work e-mails or surfing the Internet.
  2. Schedule your most challenging tasks for the times of day when your energy levels are highest. That way, your work will be of better quality, and it should take you less time to do. (Our article, Is This a Morning Task?, has more on how to discover your peak time of day.)
  3. Minimize the number of times you switch between types of task. For example, could you check and reply to e-mails at only a few times of the day, or process all of your invoices at the same time each week?
  4. Reduce the amount of time you spend on legitimate personal activities such as making drinks. (Take turns in your team to do this – it saves time and strengthens team spirit!)


Sometimes, spending too much time on low-value or low-priority tasks can be a symptom of procrastination. Find out how to deal with this here.

Key Points

Activity Logs are useful tools for analyzing how you use your time. They help you track changes in your energy, alertness and effectiveness throughout the day, and they help you eliminate time wasting activities, so that you can be more productive.

Once you've analyzed your Activity Log, you should be able to boost your productivity by eliminating or delegating low-value activities, scheduling challenging tasks for the time of the day when you feel your best, minimizing the number of times that you switch between types of tasks, and reducing the time you spend on personal activities.

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