BY TOM QUILTER
In the social care, education and health sectors there are thousands of opinions, theories and unique voices. What skills does a writer need when writing for such a diverse, vocal and ardent audience?
Writers need to avoid choosing a side
Writing for social care, education or health professionals and service users is a minefield. There exists an ‘us and them’ culture that divides individuals or groups down ideological or practical lines.
Parents, young people and the professionals working for local authorities, community interest groups, charities or the private sector are often at odds with one another. They will have their own ideas based on their philosophies and aims and outcomes as to what good provision looks like and where resources should be focused. For example, how to address rising school exclusions. Or whether inclusive mainstream provision is preferable to separate specialist provision.
There is also a historical lack of trust. Parents who have previously accessed poor services may be sceptical about the integrity of service providers. Professionals who have come up against challenging pressure groups may see them as a drain on resources and capacity. Small organizations that have lost core funding may harbour negative feelings towards the local authorities who withdrew their money. When writing for all these people, writers may feel drawn into ‘choosing a side.’
The fractious relationships between these groups, service providers and individuals can lead to tension, loss of trust and people refusing to work with each other. This leads to communication breakdown, disengagement with services and poor morale. This leads to worse outcomes for those accessing vital services.
Breaking down barriers and supporting the mending of relationships between service providers and individuals is therefore essential to improve support, provision and outcomes. This is the foundation of co-production. As written in this article on the Social Care Institute for Excellence website, services must, ‘develop their culture so that co-production runs through the whole organisation and everything it does.’ This includes the tone of the blog and article writing. Those looking to improve outcomes in their sector must avoid increasing divisions by picking a side to a degree that you alienate the other. They should be part of bringing people onto the same page to address shared challenges, not fuel the fire that has been burning down the bridges.
So, how can one write in a way that is engaging and considerate to a diverse range of stakeholders while still aiming to instigate positive change?
The quickest way to lose your audience is to write inaccessibly. If you pepper your article with technical jargon, you’ll lose service users and their families. Make it overly simple and you risk losing your professional readership.
Finding the right tone is challenging, but possible. As Tracey Hawthorne writes in her article Keep Your Writing Simple – Use Plain English, ‘Using plain, simple language doesn’t mean “dumbing down” your writing. It means getting your message across, clearly and unambiguously, the first time.’
Writing in this way shows you have considered all who may be interested in your article. This avoids alienation which leads to better engagement.
Facts and figures – using evidence to increase credibility
Opinions abound within these sectors: about funding, the law, services and more. I can’t count the number of meetings I’ve attended that have been taken over by arguments over differing points of view.
What cannot be argued with are facts and figures. However, it is essential that all data you use is well researched and correct.
Using correct facts and figures strengthens your credibility. Using incorrect data risks losing your readership. Remember, in these sectors you’re writing for experts by profession or experience. Your data will be scrutinized and you will be found out!
Case studies – personalise and engage
It is worth remembering that those working in these sectors want to support better outcomes for those that need them. Those who access these sectors want to be considered as a human, not a number.
Case studies alongside your quantitative data will bring your narrative to life and help you to show the impact services can have. A well-researched and well-written case study will show you understand the human impact of services, support and culture.
Ultimately, everyone’s human
Writing for experts in the field, whether service users or professionals, is a challenge. All will be under their own pressures, have their own priorities and have their own ideas about what is best for their sector.
A good article will contain reliable facts and figures, reference policies and the law and will show understanding and compassion regarding the human impact of the sectors. An article with all those elements will be read with interest, whatever conclusion you come to.
It is important to keep your article accessible, considerate and reflective of the challenges across the sectors. It is also vital that it is honest and factual or you will find it hard to maintain credibility.
It’s a fine line to walk, but one that is possible if you approach the subject matter and the people impacted with the respect and consideration they deserve.
About the Author
Tom Quilter has worked with children and young people and their families for over 15 years. He started as a support worker and worked his way up in various management roles, to Senior Development Officer in a national charity. He’s currently working for the National Children’s Bureau where he manages the Information Advice and Support Network. As part of his role, he writes blogs and articles reflecting on the whole SEND system.