Writing as a Social Worker: Tips, Tricks, and Traps

A common challenge that working professionals encounter when going back to school is knowing who their writing audience is and how to write for them. Today, we'll look specifically at the field of social work and some of the common writing scenarios that social workers encounter. These scenarios include (but are not limited to) writing:

  1. course assignments,

  2. scholarly articles,

  3. job application letters,

  4. graduate school application letters,

  5. grant applications,

  6. internal client reports/records (e.g., a social work assessment),

  7. institutional reports/records, and

  8. instructions to clients.

Sound like a lot? These eight writing scenarios can be clustered into a smaller number of genres:

  1. scholarly writing (course assignments, scholarly articles),

  2. applications (job, graduate school, and grant application letters),

  3. documentation (internal client and institutional reports/records), and

  4. practical instructions (instructions to clients).

The genre (and the attendant audience) determine how you should write. For example, if you're writing an article for the Journal of Social Work, you should write and format your document in APA style. (How do I know this? It's listed in the journal's submission guidelines.) This is the same style that you use when writing most course assignments at APU, which means that your writing should be very similar in each.

If you're writing an application letter of some sort, keep in mind your audience. In most cases, applications don't include formal citations outside of your resume or curriculum vitae. If you were writing an application letter for example, you might mention that you've done work using a particular model of care, but without a citation. Compare these snippets of text:

  • Application Letter
    I have significant experience working with clients using the bridge model for transitional care.

  • Scholarly Writing
    This study was designed to evaluate the bridge model for transitional care (Alvarez et al., 2016).
    I utilized Alvarez et al.'s (2016) bridge model for transitional care as the conceptual framework for this study.

In scholarly writing, you need to document all the different steps and ground your assertions in the literature. In the application letter, the goal of the snippet is different: to state your experience, which doesn't require supporting citations.

If you're used to switching genres and audiences in your writing, this is easy to navigate. If you've mostly been writing in one genre for a long time, however, it's helpful to remind yourself of these things:

  • Who am I writing for?

  • What am I trying to convince them of?

  • What are their expectations about how I should be writing?

Writing Center Staff