Writing in professional social work practice in a changing communicative landscape (WiSP)

Lillis, Theresa; Leedham, Maria and Twiner, Alison Writing in professional social work practice in a changing communicative landscape (WiSP). UK Data Service. https://doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-853522

No digital document available to download for this item
(Request a copy from the author)
DOI (Digital Object Identifier) Link: https://doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-853522
Dataset Google Scholar: Look up in Google Scholar


The production and use of written texts is a high stakes activity in professional social work, playing a central role in all decisions about actions and services for people and at the same time used to evaluate social workers' professional competence. However, little empirical research has been carried out to date on the writing demands and practices of everyday social work and their changing nature given the range of technologies being used. The research project ‘Writing in professional social work practice in a changing communicative landscape’(WiSP) is an ESRC-funded research study involving five local authorities in the UK, exploring both the range of written texts produced and the writing practices of social workers. The research centres on three main domains of social work - children’s, adults’ generic care and adults’ mental health. The main objectives of the study were to: 1. Offer a detailed description and analysis of the texts and writing practices in professional social work, identifying key problems, solutions and challenges. 2. Develop an innovative theoretical approach for researching professional social work writing by bringing together the fields of New Literacy Studies, genre studies, discourse studies and studies of the 'written record' in contemporary bureaucracies. 3. Advance methodologies in the field of writing research by integrating ethnographic, corpus and process approaches. 4. Establish strong stakeholder engagement in all stages of the research that will lead to specific interventions in social work practice and training and contribute to policy debates about recording practices in social work. The project uses an integrated language methodology, including ethnographic description, discourse analysis using corpus software and the detailed tracking of the production of texts, in order to: map the types of writing that are required and carried out during the course of everyday practice; quantify the amount of writing that is being done and explore how writing is being managed alongside other commitments; identify the technologies mediating specific writing practices and the extent to which these enable or constrain effective writing and communication; track the trajectories of texts relating to specific cases; identify the writing challenges that social workers face, the problems identified and solutions adopted.

Data collection consists of the following 5 datasets: a) 4,570 texts of social worker writing (casenotes, assessment reports, emails and miscellaneous 'other') collected constituting a corpus of just under 1 million words. A list of the most 100 frequent words, a word cloud of key semantic domains and selected concordance lines are also provided. b) 81 semi-structured interviews undertaken with 65 social workers and 6 managers focusing on the core participant interview questions. Interviews with a further 8 additional participants - with service managers and directors, a welfare rights worker and a student social worker - focusing on specific issues were also recorded and transcribed. c) 10 weeks of researcher observations comprising fieldnotes of social workers' activities (‘daily observation chronologies’). d) 483 days of social worker writing activity logs detailing writing and other activities undertaken. e) 42 text clusters. Each of these gives a summary of a social worker case plus associated texts (casenotes, emails, assessment reports)

Item Type: Research Dataset Record
Dataset Status: Finalised
Alternative Title: Writing in social work professional practice (2014-2018)
Dataset Access: 10.5255/UKDA-SN-853522
Access Restrictions: The Data Collection is available for download to users registered with the UK Data Service. All requests are subject to the permission of the data owner or his/her nominee. Please email the contact person for this data collection (cc'ing in the ReShare in
Collection Method: WiSP combines the methodologies of ethnography and corpus linguistics to provide rich data sets of social workers’ writing. Interviews were conducted across five participating Local Authorities in the UK and observations, writing logs and text collections were carried out in three of these LAs. In each case, access was first granted by the Local Authority, then social worker participants were sought through email, requests at meetings and word-of-mouth. Through extensive negotiation with representatives of Local Authorities around the potential value of the research project, we successfully secured access to data from the three main social worker domains of practice - children’s care, adults generic care, adult mental health care, and within these from a range of specific practices, e.g. social care relating to adoption, child sexual exploitation, dementia. The procedure for sampling and creating each of the five datasets uploaded to Reshare was as follows:- a) The corpus contains social workers’ casenotes, emails, reports and other texts from 38 participating social workers in the three main Local Authorities. All texts provided by the social workers were accepted. b) The set of transcripts results from semi-structured interviews with social workers and managers, as well as service managers and directors, a welfare rights worker and a student social worker, across the five participating Local Authorities in England. c) The ‘Daily Observation Chronologies’ comprises a summary plus selected field notes for each of 10 weeks of researcher observations. d) The logs of social worker writing were written by participating social workers throughout 20 working days in the three main Local Authorities. e) The text clusters are researcher accounts of specific social work cases and the written texts associated with each case.
Processing: See previous
Start Date: 1 April 2014
End Date: 30 November 2018
Temporal Extent: 2014-04-01 - 2018-11-30
Geographical Coverage: England, UK
South-West Co-ordinates:
Southern Limit
Western Limit
Not Set
North-East Co-ordinates:
Northern Limit
Eastern Limit
Not Set
Related Resources:
Retention Rule: 10 years
Retention Date: 5 January 2029
Retention Action: Review
Retention Comment: I'm not sure of the retention date and actions - all data are anonymised. I know we had discussions on this during the project and set a date for review and belive this is 10 years from project end (we'll be reminded). If this is essential to add here I can check this again - but this ORO entry will just point to the ReShare archive of the datasets so no action required by the OU.
Copyright Holders: © 2020 Theresa Lillis, © 2020 Maria Leedham, © 2020 Alison Twiner
Keywords: corpus; interviews; social work; professional writing; ethnography;
Academic Unit or School: Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies (WELS)
English Language & Applied Linguistics
Languages and Applied Linguistics
Item ORO ID: 77178
Depositing User: Maria Leedham
Date Deposited: 30 Jul 2021 12:00
Last Modified: 15 Jun 2024 11:00
URI: https://oro.open.ac.uk/id/eprint/77178

Actions (login may be required)