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Getting a good report
This week I’ve been teaching some students about writing mental health tribunal reports. I’ve been compiling some materials for this, and one of these is a news story about Judge Jeremy Lea who has criticised a social worker for writing a report that was far too wordy and jargon-filled. In fact, he said it might as well have been ‘written in a foreign language’. Reports for tribunals (and other courts) are a specialised area that not all health and social care staff will be involved in, but I think a lot of the principles of report writing can cover a number of different setting, and is a skill required by many staff who are involved in recording the care they are delivering for people.
Keeping it simple
These are some of the expressions the report writer used that the judge was so critical of: ‘imbued with ambivalence’, ‘commonalities emanating from their histories’ and ‘such is this connection they may collude to undermine the placement.’ Exactly! You see sometimes people think that in order to write a professional looking report it has to be full of long and complex words. A report should be readable, and understandable to the reader. For that reason, you should avoid jargon – there might be terms and abbreviations you use in your job, but not everyone will know what they mean. Even a judge or a tribunal chairman!
Keeping things simple does not mean being colloquial or over-familiar. This is a professional report, not a punchy tabloid news story, so avoid slang and lurid detail. You also want to present a balanced report, not one that appears biased.
Learning from mistakes
Here are some of my thoughts about what makes for an effective report-based on my own experience (and mistakes!)
- Beware of cutting and pasting. In the age of computers we may have compiled a previous report on someone, but remember if you are using parts of a previous report, make sure it is up-to-date. Also make sure it is addressed to the people who are reading the report – it is for their purposes.
- Make sure you are clear about your sources of information. If you are writing that someone may present a risk to themselves or others, what are you basing that on? Where is your evidence? If someone else told you then you need to say that. What will be your response if the person disputes this evidence?
- Don’t waffle for the sake of filling up space. Report readers can soon see through that. If you have not a lot of information to write about someone, it is much better to say why you haven’t.
David Beckingham – QCS Expert Mental Health Contributor
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