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Last week, we talked about some of the common misspellings and tricky homophones that can sneak into our evaluations. This week, I’d like to walk you through some important points on tone, formality, and style.
The evaluations you prepare will be read by immigration officials, attorneys, and judges. Therefore, it is essential to write with the level of formality these professionals are used to reading. Doing so will be important for conveying your expertise and respectability while also increasing the odds that your evaluation will be considered in your client’s case.
Here are three tips to help you along the way.
Use Formal Titles
Always ensure that you ask your client what their preferred title is and use it consistently when referring to your client throughout their evaluation.
It’s important to note that many titles are not interchangeable. Here are the differences:
- ‘Mr.’ is a title for a man of any marital status.
- ‘Miss’ is a title for an unmarried woman.
- ‘Mrs.’ is a title for a married or widowed woman.
- ‘Ms.’ is a title you can use irrespective of a woman’s marital status. Therefore, it works the same way that ‘Mr.’ does for men.
- If your client has a professional title (e.g., ‘Dr.’), ask if they would prefer that you use this.
A good rule of thumb is to use formal titles when referring to any adult in your evaluations (e.g., partners, family members), not just your client. The exception to this rule is when you are referring to children, who you can refer to using their first names.
Check Your Numbers
Always ensure you’re reporting dates correctly. Whereas in the U.S., we write dates in the MM/DD/YYYY format, almost every other country around the world writes dates in the format: DD/MM/YYYY.
For example, if someone writes the date 05/03/1980, we may read it and assume it means the 3rd of May, 1980. However, this person’s intended meaning may have been the 5th of March, 1980. This is a common source of misunderstanding, so be sure to double-check all important dates (e.g., birthdays) with your clients.
Another common question regards the writing of numbers in evaluations. That is, when should you express numbers using numerals versus words?
According to the American Psychological Association’s (APA’s) style guide, you should write the numbers zero through nine using words and use numerals to express numbers 10 and above. For example:
- “Two of Mr. Martinez’s children attended college.”
- “Mr. Martinez has worked in construction for 13 years.”
Note that it’s also good practice to try and write sentences such that you avoid starting with a numeral.
Finally, it’s crucial to maintain a neutral tone in your evaluations. By doing so, you can ensure that your writing comes across as objective and impartial. Examples of words to avoid include negative, subjective, or loaded words, such as ‘unfortunately,’ ‘sadly,’ and ‘devastating.’
Likewise, remember that it is not your job to make a case for your clients or recommend a particular outcome in their case. I once reviewed an excellently prepared evaluation that was well-written (and strong clinically), but it concluded with the clinician making an impassioned plea for their client. The consequence of such an appeal is that your professional opinion may be dismissed as biased.
To avoid this, focus on reporting the facts. For example, if you felt that a client would suffer from psychological ill-health as a result of losing access to the psychological care they receive in the United States, don’t communicate this as a recommendation that they should be allowed to remain in the United States. Instead, phrase your concern as you would a professional prognosis should the client lose access to their source of psychological care.
This is just one example, so be sure to apply different writing strategies as they apply to your particular cases.
Once you’ve got the key information on the page, it’s important to set aside time to address the points above related to formatting and style. Doing so will ensure you’re putting forward work that represents the quality clients can expect from you and your practice.
An excellent strategy for ensuring this level of quality is to schedule your writing with intention. Begin by writing with a mind to getting the key details on the page, then swap to addressing tone/formality after you’ve had some distance from the work (for more on scheduling writing and breaks effectively, check out my earlier post).
Also, when in doubt, check out the APA’s style guide, which contains many useful rules of thumb for your writing.
I hope this short blog series has given you some useful tips. So, until next time, happy writing!
I’m Cecilia Racine, and I teach therapists how to help immigrants through my online courses. As a bilingual immigrant myself, I know the unique perspective that these clients are experiencing. I’ve conducted over 500 evaluations and work with dozens of lawyers in various states. Immigrants are my passion, I believe they add to the fabric of our country.
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