Words fail me

Graham Hopkins introduces a new fortnightly column on the writing skills required in social care.

“Writing is easy,” said author Gene Fowler. “All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.”

Many people have no problems at all with writing. It’s just the paperwork they can’t stand.

However, for lots of other people in social care, writing is a worry. It takes up more and more time – contact sheets, file recording, memos, letters and those dreaded reports – and yet is possibly the only job skill that attracts next to no training. It’s something we are all simply expected to know how to do. And know how to do well.

And make no mistake, writing is a skill. And as with all skills, it can be learned and improved with practice. Over the coming months this regular fortnightly column will look at the writing skills required to communicate effectively in the social care world.

It has been argued that 55 per cent of effective communication is non-verbal (body language, emotion and the relationship between people communicating) and 38 per cent is tone. The words themselves account for just 7 per cent. Talk to someone face-to-face and we have access to all our communicative skills. Talk to them on the phone and we have only 45 per cent. Write something and all we have are the words. So we have to make them count. We have to make them tell.

Taking real examples of social care writing we’ll offer ideas and suggestions for you to embrace, discard or ridicule – not so much a “now we’re cooking master class” as a rustling up of some food for thought. All presented, of course, in a deliciously non-threatening, non-violent, none-too-serious way.

And along that way, we’ll explode some writing myths. You know the type of thing: thou shalt not start a sentence with “and” or “but”. But you can. And that’s that.

We’ll dissect style, cut up wordiness, pull apart jargon and dismantle complicated sentences. We’ll look at broad subjects, such as how to structure a report, and more specialised items, such as why bullet points can be effective. And if there’s some aspect of writing you want us to cover – simply let us know.

Rightly, more and more social care writing needs to be easily understood by others outside of the profession – in particular, clients. We’ll be offering tips on how to write in plain English and how to present information to a variety of audiences in meaningful and interesting ways.

Shakespeare once wrote “to write and read comes by nature.” The Write Stuff is for those who might struggle a bit – whether they admit it or not.

That’s quote enough of that

– “The inspector pointed out a cracked mirror. The manager said he would look into it.”

From a social services inspection report on a home for older people

– Social worker: “Is your accommodation damp?”

Client: “Oh yes, I’ve got condemnation running all down the walls.”

From a social services worker in Cheshire

Contributions welcome. Please send them to graham.hopkins@rbi.co.uk  

I’m sorry?

– “Many other dimensions of life in a successful city have to be addressed as part of an holistic approach to sustainable renaissance.”

A chief executive of a city council

– “Staff address the resident by their preferred nomenclature… A therapeutic milieu is provided and considered an intricate part of the care planning process.”

A quality assurance brochure for a private residential care home

Please send in examples of jargon, gobbledegook and management-speak to graham.hopkins@rbi.co.uk  

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