Write here, write now

The Write Stuff

E-mail your question, query or comment about social care
writing to graham.hopkins@rbi.co.uk
and we’ll post it up with an answer here on the

Here we provide some advice on:

* Use of analysis in
* Confidentiality
* Help with curriculum vitae
* Use of past or present tense
* Where should a summary go?
* What should you include in a summary?

Q. Could you please clarify what makes a good analysis in
assessments such as a Core Assessment?

Neil Smith, Hull

A. An undoubted pitfall of case recording is
that a record or assessment is not used as a tool for analysis. The
shift in recent years from reflecting the interaction between
practitioner and service user appears to have been towards using
written information as evidence for individual or organisational

A case record, as the excellent web resource Write Enough (www.writeenough.org.uk)
says, “should be more than a complex diary of the
practitioner’s actions and the response of the service user. To use
it in such a way is like buying a video recorder and then only
using its clock to tell the time. Practitioners should use case
recording to support analysis and reflection.

“Analysis provides a clear direction to ongoing records
and assists practitioners in identifying what information should be
recorded. However, analysis often takes place outside day to day
recording and is facilitated by specific formats. Initial and Core
Assessments, social histories and case summaries are all examples
of formats that support analysis. They require practitioners to
organise, manipulate and evaluate the information gathered in the
case files. They provide an opportunity to assess the user’s
needs, monitor progress, evaluate the effectiveness of
interventions, and to identify patterns that may not immediately be

“Often case recording can become almost a subconscious
activity, like driving a car along a familiar road. You arrive but
can’t say exactly how you got there. The regular use of tools for
analysis in the case record keeps recording a proactive activity
that supports ongoing assessment, planning and

The practical advice includes:

• Do not record simply what is happening, use analysis to
move beyond this to suggest why particular situations and events
are occurring
• Use chronologies and assessment records to help you to
organise and to analyse information
• Use case summaries as a way of reviewing progress and
evaluating the effectiveness of interventions
• Use training, journals and articles to keep up to date with
developments in research to inform your practice.

Q. My question is one of a “confidentiality”
nature. When writing reports about a particular service user, I
sometimes have to mention associations with other service users (I
work in Children’s Residential). When referring to other services
users should I protect their identity by using initials or just
refer to them as ‘other’ service user. I feel that to refer to them
by name is a breach of their confidentiality and Data Protection,
as it is possible that documents get passed to other agencies not
directly involved with others who are not the subject of the

Graham Jones

A. In her book, For the Record, (Russell House
Publishing, 1-903855-01-2, £41.45) Liz O’Rourke says
rightly that information about other service users should not be
recorded in any case file other than their own. However, where an
incident may involve two or more service users, only a minimal
reference, necessary to make the information meaningful, should be
made to other service users.

Thus to be meaningful, I would suggest that, where the identity
is important (for example, in building up evidence of potential
peer conflict) writing another service user’s name out in
full would be preferable to initials or anonymity.

You might also take a look at www.writeenough.org.uk
which looks at good practice in recording – and has a section
on children’s residential services.

Q. I would like to have access to a website or agency
that will assist me in completing an up-to-date and articulate

Ann Baxter, student social worker

A. Just as the details in your CV (Curriculum
Vitae, “a course of life”) are different and personal
so can be the design and content. There is no fixed way to do this.
However, first of all consider who is going to receive the CV and
try and pitch it to what you consider might be their

There are no shortages of templates and advice available out
there. If you have a good Windows package there might be templates
you could use. If you want a bit more help just enter
“CV” into Google or other internet search engine and
you’ll be presented with loads of further options.

Tense situation

What is the best format of writing
core group meetings when working with children and families? I
don’t know whether to use the present tense or past


A: You can write reports in either present or
past tense, but the important thing is to be consistent and not
mix’n’match unnecessarily. Usually if you’re writing up minutes or
making a record after the event it seems sensible to record
everything in the past tense, but to leave any direct quotation in
the present tense (if used). So: Martin felt that his key worker
was being unfair: “She is always telling me to do stuff,” said
Also, make use of common sense – don’t stick everything in the past
tense if it seems absurd. For example, The family centre was based
in the town centre; so, unless it’s moved it is more sensible to
say, “The family centre is based in the town centre.”

Summarise in the morning

Is a summary best at the beginning
or end? Is this dependent on, e.g. the purpose/status of the report
and so on?

Mike Attewell, Children’s Centre Co-ordinator, Early Years and
Childcare Team, Peterborough

A: It’s amazing how many people get this
back to front – by putting a summary at the end rather than
at the start of a report. Always remember that your main task as a
writer in social care is to make things easy for your reader.

And 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. All reports – but especially
anything over two pages – should make use of a summary.

And that’s “summary” by the way.  Not
“synopsis”.  Not “abstract”.  Not
“outline”.  Not “executive summary” –
which is just pompous posturing. The plain title of
“summary” does the job splendidly. 

So 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. Yet these writers have
toiled in hell over their report and it deserves to be read in
full. The reader must suffer as they have. So, they usually stash
their summary away at the back – hoping the reader
doesn’t come across it until it’s too late. 

What should go into a summary
– I never know what to leave out?

Sarah Colville, Nottinghamshire

A: Having properly allocated 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 be precise and
to the point, picking out the critical details, decisions and
conclusions of the report. The length of the summary naturally
depends on the length and complexity of the report: a three page
report might only need a sentence or two as a summary. But no
matter how long the report, a summary should take up no more than
one side of A4. 

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.

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