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A Writing Guide for Social Work

This guide has attempted to help us hone our writing process by offering best practices, examples, and exercises for each step, but we should remember that the project of “learning to write” never ends. Each of us will continue to learn for exactly as long as we continue to write and think critically. This ongoing process can sometimes be painful, but more often it will offer us new ways to re-evaluate our work earlier in each project.

Recognize Patterns

As we receive feedback, we should learn to recognize when others’ reactions appear to highlight patterns. These patterns can help us at any stage in the process.

  • Example — Outlining: I myself tend to put important claims near the end of my critical writing. At heart I suppose I am a storyteller, so I like to leave the “climax” for late in my work—but this narrative habit makes an argument more difficult to follow, particularly within the U.S. American academic context. Over time, upon feedback from many others, I recognized this pattern, so now, even as I develop my outlines, I tend to ask myself: Does this belong at the end...or at the beginning.
  • Example — Proofreading: Early in my writing career, I had a tendency to use nominalizations. A pattern of feedback—which didn’t always identify nominalizations themselves—gradually taught me to recognize when my writing was becoming needlessly abstract and stilted. I learned to eliminate nominalizations before I learned the name for them, by looking for those stilted sentences in my proofreading process.

Keep Up a Dialogue

Writing can often feel like an isolated and isolating practice, something we do alone in front of a computer. We may need a patch of silence in order to get words on the page, but we should also actively cultivate collegial relationships with our fellow students. “Revising buddies” can help us develop best practices much more effectively than our instructors’ comments on our papers (which often arrive too late to help us improve any one specific project).

Every paper develops an argument, and every paper also participates in a conversation. It’s easy to forget that second part, but collegial relationships can help.

Further Resources

This guide has focused on one primary, specific writing situation: writing as a student within college-level social work courses. But we will face many more writing contexts throughout our professional lives, and each will bring new challenges, which will mean we’ll need to fine-tune our writing process over and over again. Fortunately, a variety of useful resources have already been created to help us move forward.

Outside Resources:

  • Writing Skills for Social Workers: This volume focuses specifically on the writing situations we will face as practicing social workers. It is available at the UT Arlington library.
    • Reference Citation: Healy, K., & Mulholland, J. (2012). Writing skills for social workers. Los Angeles: Sage.
  • Writing with Style: APA Style for Social Work: This volume provides APA style advice specifically tailored for social workers.
    • Reference Citation: Szuchman, L.T., & Thomlison, B. (2004). Writing with style: APA style for social work. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole-Thompson.
  • Proposal Writing: This volume focuses specifically on the writing situation we face when we need to prepare a grant or research proposal.
    • Reference Citation: Coley, S.M., & Scheinberg, C.A. (1990). Proposal writing. Newbury Park: Sage.
  • Communicating in the Health and Social Sciences: This guide provides a broader context for the writing we do in social work.
    • Reference Citation: Higgs, J. (2005). Communicating in the health and social sciences. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • The Purdue Online Writing Lab: As suggested throughout this guide, the Purdue O.W.L. should remain a useful resource throughout our careers.
    • Reference Citation: The Purdue University Writing Lab. Purdue online writing lab. (2012). Retrieved from http://owl.english.purdue.edu.
  • Guidelines for Social Work Literature Reviews: This is actually a resource available on the Purdue O.W.L., specifically focused on writing literature reviews.
    • Reference Citation: Driscoll, D.L. (2010). Social work literature review guidelines. Retrieved from http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/666/01/

UT Arlington Resources:

« Why Proofread?


A Writing Guide for Social Work
Created in 2011-12 by Christopher D. Kilgore for the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Arlington