CHAPTER XVII
LETTERS, TELEPHONE MESSAGES, ETC.

OUR review of outside sources is ended, but before leaving this part of our subject for an analysis of the last stage of all in the processes leading to diagnosis, there are certain things to be said about the various means of communication with outside sources and the relative uses to which these means may be put. Of the statements procured by different means, which ones (other things being equal) are most satisfactory--those that are (a) written replies to the questions on a form or schedule, (b) written replies to letters, (c) telephone replies to questions asked by telephone, (d) telegraphic replies to inquiries made through the same medium or (e) replies by word of mouth secured in the course of a personal interview? Many other combinations of these means are possible, of course, but taking these five main forms of communication without their variations, from which one, on the whole, does the social case worker win the best results? The personal interview has become his main reliance. There are exceptions to this, but to an increasing degree it is true in most forms of case work.

Oral testimony fails us when accuracy is vital, as in matters of time, place, amount, etc., but so does written testimony, unless we seek the original documents.1 The distinguishing characteristic of social evidence is not, however, its handling of objective matters, but its ability to evaluate human relations. It is justified as a separate type of evidence by its possible usefulness in gauging the interest, capacity, and whole atmosphere and spirit of the individual witness, including his capacity to become more interested than he now is. In subjective matters such as these there is no satisfactory substitute for the personal interview.

A policeman wrote from a small town to an associated charities secretary about a family in which the husband was very abusive. After giving certain information,

____________________
1
See Chapter XIII, Documentary Sources.

-317-

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