Welcome to WiSP
Writing in professional social work practice in a changing communicative landscape (WiSP)
Writing is a key part of every social worker’s job – case notes, assessment reports, emails, letters, support plans… There is a lot debate about the amount of writing being done (is too much time being spent on ‘recording’?) and the quality of written records. However, little empirical research has been carried out on writing in social work practice. The WiSP project seeks to fill that gap by language researchers working closely with social workers and social work agencies.
To provide a detailed description and analysis of the texts and writing practices in professional social work
To develop an innovative way of researching the ‘written record’ in institutions, using different methodologies (ethnography, corpus linguistic and process approaches.)
To involve stakeholders (social workers, social work agencies, service users, inspection bodies etc) to ensure that research findings will have an impact on education, training and policy initiatives.
What is this research project about?
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.
The economic and societal impact of this research lies in its potential to develop highly-effective writing practices which will make a significant contribution to efficient and cost-effective social care provision.
Why research social work writing?
Concerns are often expressed about writing in social work professional practice, two key ones being:
1) the amount of writing that social workers are having to do with some claims made that writing takes up more than half of social workers’ time
2) the quality of writing that social workers produce.
The latter is most often framed in terms of ‘poor recording’ with recent government sponsored reports pointing to the importance of improving recording practices and systems or nested within broader concerns about effective communication, as has surfaced in some high profile cases where ‘communication’ has been mentioned as a cause of problems.
Is writing taking up too much precious social work time?
Is writing detracting from other work that social workers consider important?
Is there really an issue with ‘quality’- and what is meant by ‘quality’?
What functions does recording have and can these all be met?
Whilst social work (often with either an explicit or implicit criticism of their recording) often comes under considerable attack in the media, similar concerns are raised about writing in many professions and are likely to increase given the ever rising demands to ‘record everything’.
The findings and insights generated from the WiSP project will therefore be of broader relevance, raising questions about the nature and place of recording particularly in those professions seeking to offer services to the public in transparent and equitable ways.
How are we researching…
The overall aim is to build a rich picture of what it means to write and record in contemporary social work practice.
To do that we are using a combination of ethnographic and corpus methodologies in approaching data collection and analysis.
The particular ethnographic methodology we are using is what we call a ‘text-oriented ethnographic’ approach. This approach focuses on individual social workers and their text production, whilst taking into account immediate contexts of production as well as institutional practices shaping such contexts.
A key aspect of the project involves building a corpus of 1 million words of professional social work writing. The corpus will include the range of social work texts as well as a substantial subcorpora of a key writing practice in all social work domains, case notes.