Academic journal article Social Work

Writing Social Work

Academic journal article Social Work

Writing Social Work

Article excerpt

I am sitting on a hard wooden chair with a small round seat. My laptop computer sits stoically in front of me on a smooth wooden table scattered with papers and diskettes. Although it is June the temperature gauge just outside my large window reads 8 degrees centigrade (about 45 degrees Fahrenheit). I watch a large black and white magpie hop around in front of a red wooden building with a metal roof that faces the window. The building is the "sauna house" of the University of Lapland. I have returned to Finland to participate in another international summer school (see Witkin, 1999).

I am feeling restless, fighting with myself to stay at the computer and continue working on this editorial. It is due soon after I return to the United States, and I would like to have it mostly completed while I am here. I remind myself that I love to write, at least some of the time. Like when I have just finished a writing project and the exquisite pain of searching for the "right" words and the talking-to-myself struggle to stay focused are memories. I am also thinking about whether what I am writing now -- these words--can be part of the editorial. After all, I say to myself, part of this issue of Social Work is about writing, and I am writing about writing.

Maybe I am just trying to write my way into this editorial. It is not that I lack ideas; in fact, the opposite is true. My struggle is how to express and organize them, to make them coherent and interesting--within a small number of pages. There are infinite ways to write about writing. Yet each beginning, each formulation, points me in a different direction--toward certain conceptions and understandings and away from others. Which ones will be enacted through my writing? Which will be given form, and which will remain in the ethereal world of thought? Can I even know what these ideas are until I write them down? (I am reminded of Lamott's [1994] comment that "Very few writers know what they are doing until they've done it" [p. 22]). These are big questions for a little essay.

At the same time, I am excited about introducing alternative writing formats into Social Work. For a profession that depends so heavily on writing, this topic gets little attention. The stylistic and structural requirements of our journals are rarely questioned or examined in relation to our professional goals. But the way we write is important, very important to how we learn and what we know. What follows are some of my thoughts on this subject.

* * *

Writing Science [1]

By the 17th century there came to be a distinction between literary and scientific forms of writing. [2] The former, associated with the arts, culture, and humanities, was concerned with language itself, how it might be used to express, explore, analyze, and create. For science, however, language simply was a vehicle for recording the regularities of nature and the methods for producing those regularities. By and large, academic and professional journals, including Social Work, have adopted the writing format developed for scientific writing. [3]

Writing science (or research) requires adherence to a prescribed structure that looks something like the following: statement of the problem, literature review, method, results, and discussion. This structure both reflects various assumptions about knowledge and serves the needs of certain segments of the scientific community. For example, following this structure gives texts an aura of authority, equating particular accounts of the world as "reality." It also keeps contributors in line. "One gets published by conforming to the literary style of a discipline-presenting argument in a way that adheres to literary canons (e.g., paying obeisance to those given high status, using its referencing style, and methodologies, presenting findings, beginnings." [4]

Science writing assumes that language reflects the world as observed by the researcher. …

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