Reshaping Technical Communication: New Directions and Challenges for the 21st Century

By Barbara Mirel | Go to book overview

APPENDIX C:
EXCERPT FROM MINISTRY REPORT

Objectivity

Perhaps the most critical recording problem facing social workers is the profession's persistent and pervasive myth of “objectivity, ” the word most often used to describe the ideal social work record. Although the lengthy and detailed reports of the past were sometimes too biased and often revealed as much about the worker as the client, the contemporary concern with opinion-free, factual, and scientific recording denies the actual situation that workers face: whenever they write about someone's life they must interpret, theorize, speculate, and judge. In fact, most records require social workers to assess, recommend, council, argue, justify, and otherwise present perspectives based on observation, judgement, and personal belief. Truly objective statements are measurable or independently verifiable, and that restricts workers to dates, addresses, telephone numbers, weight, height, and other quantifiable data. Even hair colour and gender may be open to interpretation.

As a result of the impossible demand to be “objective, ” workers are forced to be unhelpfully brief—recording only those facts that seem unquestionably true but that offer little opportunity for insight to writer or readers—or so vague as to be meaningless. At times, workers employ highly technical language, or jargon, in an effort to sound dispassionate or to conceal their own feelings and impressions.

An even more damaging response to the requirement of “objectivity” is the use of those impersonal forms of writing that are often, but mistakenly, viewed as “professional”: “It is believed that…”; “The worker recommends…”; “Assessment of the situation indicates that…” Such language masquerades as objective and detached but, in fact, simply disguises interpretation and raises opinion to the status of certainty.

This is no trivial matter of style, but an issue that goes to the heart of the profession's authority. How should workers speak and write about what they know? On what basis are social work observations made? What claims support a social work perspective? Should the profession aspire to the antiseptic, impersonal language of science, or acknowledge that social work involves interpretation, hunch, intuition, and speculation?


Solution

This is a fundamental issue, and one not easily solved by individual workers or even whole agencies or other institutions. However, like most of the problems described in this report, it can be alleviated by an open and ongoing discussion

-78-

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