‘If it’s not written down it didn’t happen’: Social worker perspectives on contemporary writing and recording demands

Lillis, T.; Leedham, M.; Twiner, A.; Moore, J. and Whitehead, M. (2016). ‘If it’s not written down it didn’t happen’: Social worker perspectives on contemporary writing and recording demands. In: Joint Social Work Education and Research Conference (JSWEC) 2016, 15 Jul 2016, Milton Keynes.

Abstract

The production of written texts is a high-stakes activity in professional social work, playing a central role in all decisions about services and simultaneously used to evaluate social workers’ professional competence. Social work writing (often referred to as recording or paperwork) is frequently the target of criticism in reviews and public media reporting. Despite its significance, little empirical research has been carried out on writing in professional practice.  ‘Writing in professional social work practice in a changing communicative landscape’ (WiSP) is a 2-year, ESRC-funded project which aims to address this gap. Involving 50 social workers from a range of social work domains, including children’s, adults and mental health, the project explores the range of written texts produced, the writing practices of social workers and the perspectives of social workers on the nature and place of recording in everyday professional practice.

  The aim of this presentation is twofold:
1)      To briefly illustrate and (provisionally) evaluate the two core methodologies being used in the project- ethnography and corpus linguistics;
2)      To discuss some of the key challenges the team is facing in seeking to research highly confidential data, including the contrasting timescales of funding agencies as compared with those of local authorities and unresolved ethical issues relating to observation and informed consent of service users.

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