In the beginning

Graham Hopkins suggests that a well-crafted
summary will encourage people to read your long report.

Your main task as a writer in social care is
to make things easy for your reader (no Will Self-inspired
sesquipedalianism1 permitted). And if you have just
pushed the button to print off copies of your 60-page report on how
the department’s rivers of revenue have come apart at the funding
streams (or whatever), you ought to be aware that to receive such a
document is scarier than a duty social worker’s phone ringing at
4.45pm on a Friday.

Even if your report abounds with elegant
flair, remember one thing: readers won’t touch the quality, if
they’ve been scared off feeling the width. What really helps the
put-upon reader is a summary: a shortened version distilling the
essential detail in order to save the reader time and trouble.

And that’s “summary” by the way. Not
“synopsis” – more likely to be an abbreviated version of a book or
piece of prose. Not “abstract” – which to most people, anyway,
means “difficult to understand”. Not “outline” – which usually
indicates a general idea without specific details yet in place. Not
“r‚sum‚” which has too many accents and which would
lead Americans to expect they are about to read a CV. And most
definitely not “executive summary” – a pompous piece of posturing,
if ever there was one. The plain title of “summary” does the job
splendidly. Hurrah.

And be upfront with your summary. It should be
the first thing you read – after the title or cover page (and, yes,
before a contents list; and, yes, before an introduction). But many
social care writers do worry that if people read the summary they
won’t bother with the full report, as if seeing a trailer stops
people watching the whole film. Yet these writers have toiled in
hell over their report and they feel it deserves to be read in
full. The reader must suffer as they have. So, if they succumb to a
summary, they usually stash it away at the back – hoping you don’t
come across it until it’s too late.

Having properly given it pole position in your
report, you just need to write it. It’s interesting how many
summaries fail to summarise. Quite often they appear to be little
more than bloated introductions, full of background information
such as why the report is being written, who was involved, methods
used and so on. A summary should – preferably in no more than one
side of A4 – pick out the critical details, decisions and
conclusions of the report.

One final thought. A liberating aspect of
report writing is being free to write sections in any order. You
don’t have to write it in the order you present it. Indeed, it is
advisable that while a summary ought to be the first thing you
read, it should be the last thing you write.

1 Sesquipedalianism: “words
characterised by lengthiness”

That’s quote enough of that…

“Young people do not express dissatisfaction
with their rooms but the fact remains that they appear small and

From a social services inspection report on a
children’s home.

X has a congenital condition the origin of which is unknown.” From
a GP

Thanks to Richard Lord, social worker,
Huddersfield. Contributions welcome. Please send them to

I’m sorry?

“This framework for establishing
patient/client interface needs to be constructive enabling us to
hear views that might not otherwise be heard so influencing the
strategic direction and day to day experience of clients/

From an outer-London health trust’s discussion
document on how to find out what patients think of its

Please send in examples of jargon,
gobbledegook and management-speak to

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