The language of mental health nursing reports: firing paper bullets?


Brian J.Brown School of Social Sciences, De Montfort University, Milton Keynes MK7 6HP, England.


The language of mental health nursing reports: firing paper bullets?¶A great deal of the caring work of nursing is accomplished and mediated through language. This paper attempts to characterize some of this language in quantitative and stylistic terms in an attempt to characterize the genre of nursing report language. Nursing students (n = 26) and graduate nurses (n = 3) viewed a videotape of a person being interviewed by a psychiatrist and produced written reports. These showed a large proportion of words relating to the person and to feelings and needs, compared to existing databases of the English language in general. The language produced by the participants also contained many modal or modifying words and is similar to spoken rather than written English in terms of the proportion of lexical content. There was much diversity in their descriptions and the vocabulary used to refer to the client. Graduate nurses showed more scepticism of the evidence provided by the video and advocated more investigation and questioning of the client. The use of standard forms and techniques of expression suggests that these reports were assembled on a language production line. Finally, we advocate a more systematic approach to educating nursing students about the power of the language they use.