Writing Guide

Professional social workers create a variety of documents, including proposals, case reports, and treatment itineraries. Social work programs prepare students for these tasks through writing assignments such as research papers and essays. To prepare for these writing assignments, students should have a basic understanding of grammar, punctuation, citation styles, and essay formats before entering a social work program.

Professional social workers create a variety of documents, including proposals, case reports, and treatment itineraries.

Social workers handle vital information, which makes the ability to communicate clearly in writing a crucial skill. For example, a child welfare worker gathers information concerning the wellbeing of a child. If the phrasing in the related case report is too complicated, the professional may overlook safety details, which could endanger the child. Additionally, concise wording is important. Wordy documents can take excessive amounts of time to read, which could prevent social workers from considering other cases on a suitable schedule. To master the social work writing style, students should learn to provide necessary information succinctly.

Social work programs may begin assessing writing abilities during the application process through personal statements, so applicants should polish their writing skills before applying.

Featured Programs in Social Work

Loading...Learn More
Visit Site
Loading...Learn More
Visit Site
Loading...Learn More
Visit Site

Types of Writing Social Workers Will Do in School

Personal Statements

Many applications require a personal statement that provides in-depth information highlighting the candidate’s qualifications and positive traits. Whereas a resume may briefly reference a volunteer opportunity at an organization, a personal statement could describe lessons learned while volunteering or elaborate on personal contributions that benefited the organization.

Schools examine these qualifications while reviewing statements, but they also consider the statements as social work writing samples and evaluate each applicant’s writing skills. For this reason, candidates should proofread these documents and include the standard introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. By following these practices, applicants demonstrate their understanding of college-level writing concepts.

Applicants should focus on strengths and experiences related to social work and avoid vague statements and cliches. Instead of noting their lifelong passion for the field, a student could address a single incident that sparked interest in social work. The school may provide a prompt on which applicants should base their statements. These prompts may involve career goals or ambitions in the social work field.

If the school lists personal statements as optional, applicants should consider submitting a statement to demonstrate their work ethic. However, if the school makes no mention of personal statements, students should refrain from submitting one, given the amount of application materials each school must review each year.


Social work courses may include essay examinations during which learners must answer questions in a limited time frame. Students rarely see the questions in advance. To prepare, students should become familiar with all major course components by attending classes, taking clear notes, and keeping up with readings and assignments. Study groups may also be beneficial.

To prepare, students should become familiar with all major course components by attending classes, taking clear notes, and keeping up with readings and assignments.

During the exam, students should begin by outlining the thesis and supporting evidence. This outline guides the student through the writing process and ensures the response remains on-track. These assessments often require three main supporting points, so students may include five paragraphs within these outlines: the introduction, three body paragraphs, and the conclusion.

Learners should also use time-management techniques during these assessments. Students may allot a certain amount of time for each paragraph, plus time to proofread. Using this strategy, students can write and polish each paragraph.

Candidates should carefully answer the assigned question, ensuring they read the question correctly. A single word can alter the prompt’s meaning. For example, an essay explaining how an event happened is different than one detailing why the event happened.

Research Papers

Whereas an essay may include personal opinions, a research paper focuses on facts. For example, an essay discussing a novel could include the student’s thoughts about the work. A research paper would use scholarly evidence to examine aspects of the novel, such as themes, characters, and historical significance.

Essays and research papers also differ in length. An essay may require only five paragraphs. A research paper, however, may be 10 pages or longer.

Students in social work courses can research topics such as drug or alcohol issues, government policies, child welfare, community involvement, and mental wellness. Social work research papers often include sections for methodology, literature, and research results, as well as an abstract and a reference list that fulfills APA requirements.

Students should use a variety of primary and secondary sources when writing research papers. Citing multiple sources reinforces the student’s claims. However, students should refrain from relying too heavily on quoted material; excessive quotations implies the writer does not understand the topic well enough to paraphrase the source information.

Learners may also submit papers to tutoring services before submitting to reduce the chances of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors.

How Do You Write an Essay?

Social work programs may require various writing assignments to prepare students to complete professional writing for social work practice. Each form of academic writing serves a distinct purpose, and an understanding of various writing styles provides a foundation to help students during these assignments.


Narrative papers often depict personal experiences, such as memorable vacations or first attempts at hobbies. Narrative works also include opinion pieces, such as book reports. When writing a narrative essay, students should have a clear focus.


Expository writing explores a specific topic and requires the writer to carefully examine the topic. The facts presented in an expository piece can come from research or, if the assignment’s structure limits research time, through means such as logic or an example. Cause and effect pieces, compare and contrast works, and process descriptions may all qualify as expository writing if they are meant to present information. All expository pieces should include a thesis and logical transitions.


Persuasive writing requires students to take a stance on a topic and to support that stance with evidence. Research is crucial to persuasive writing, and students should incorporate multiple sources to support their thesis. Additionally, writers should present countering opinions and prove the instability of opposing viewpoints through facts, logic, and examples. Ultimately, persuasive writing should convince readers that the writer’s position is the accurate stance on the topic.


These assignments require students to compare two or more similar concepts, such as political positions, marketing plans, or fictional themes. Professors may assign topics or allow students to select their own. Before writing, learners should brainstorm similarities and organize them into body paragraphs. For instance, a student comparing two artistic pieces may construct paragraphs about color, medium, and setting.

Cause and Effect

This type of paper explains a presumed cause for a specific occurrence. For example, a student may claim that limited health insurance options lead to untreated illnesses in the United States. With this topic, the student could divide supporting evidence into separate paragraphs, such as the cost of health insurance, the benefits of health insurance, and the process of finding insurance information. Using this strategy, the writer covers various health insurance problems to verify the paper’s main point.

Citations Guide for Social Work Students

Using source information without proper citation leads to plagiarism, the act of claiming a source’s ideas without giving the source due credit. Consequences for plagiarism can include failing assignments, failing courses, being expelled from school, and enduring a lawsuit. Since departments require different citation styles, degree candidates should ensure they use the proper citation format for each assignment.

American Psychological Association (APA) Style

APA format was established in 1929 to create a common format for writing. These guidelines allowed writers to more easily interpret one another’s findings. Professionals in fields including psychology, criminology, and business use APA style.

APA format requires specific headers, page numbers, a cover page, an abstract, divided sections, and a reference list. APA in-text citations specify the author’s last name, the year of publication, and the page number. Students may substitute these details for the work’s title, “n.d.” (“no date”), and a paragraph number or section title, respectively, if the primary information is not available.


The company decided that the new marketing policy was “their best idea in 20 years” (Simmons & Hatfield, 2016, p. 23).

Chicago Manual of Style (CMS)

In 1906, the Chicago University Press established this citation style, which professionals in fields including history and philosophy employ today. Students following Chicago style may use in-text citations but often use footnotes or endnotes instead. Chicago style also requires a specifically structured cover page, page numbers, and a bibliography.

Footnotes and endnotes resemble bibliography entries but have different punctuation. In a bibliography, students use periods to separate a book’s publisher, publication place, and publication year. In footnotes and endnotes, this information is in parentheses. Additionally, endnotes and footnotes should include page numbers.


The company decided that the new marketing policy was “their best idea in 20 years” (Simmons and Hatfield 2016, 23).

Modern Language Association (MLA) Format

Established in 1883, the Modern Language Association supplies guidelines that many English, literature, and communication departments adopt.

MLA format includes a works cited page at the end of the document and specific page headers and numbers in the upper right-hand corner of each page. Basic assignment information, such as the student’s name, the date, and the course title, appears in the upper left-hand corner of the first page. MLA does not require a cover page, which separates this format from other styles. MLA in-text citations include the author’s last name and the page number.


The company decided that the new marketing policy was “their best idea in 20 years” (Simmons and Hatfield 23).

Associated Press (AP) Style

This style, established in 1977, covers wording, organization, and source documentation. Journalists and news reporters often use this format.

AP style uses brief paragraphs and concise sentences to quicken the pace of the writing. The style requires writers to abbreviate certain words, use a person’s first name only on the initial mention, and eliminate titles. Writers should also replace vague words with more specific options.

Instead of using parenthetical citations, writers can reference the sources in dialogue format. This detail and the lack of reference list are AP style’s distinct elements.


The company decided that the new marketing policy was “their best idea in 20 years,” according to Simmons and Hatfield.

The Best Writing Style for Social Work Majors

Most types of writing in social work require learners and professionals to use APA format. This style is ideal for social work professionals, who often work with documents containing vital information. When dealing with these types of documents, clear details and concise wording are essential. The rigidness of APA style helps writers provide an organized overview of the document’s topic.

Common Writing Mistakes Students Make

Active vs. Passive Voice

When writing in active voice, writers state the doer of the action before the sentence’s verb. An example of an active construction would be, “He wrote the book.” Passive voice places the object of the action prior to the verb: “The book was written by him.” Though the information remains the same, active voice states the message more concisely.

Passive voice is a style error, not a grammar issue, and can even be useful in certain situations. Writers may use passive voice when the noun or pronoun undergoing the action supplies the sentence’s emphasis, such as in the following sentence: “The U.S. was founded in 1776.” Because passive voice serves certain purposes and has no technical grammar flaws, using unnecessary passive constructions is a common error.

In most cases, students should choose active voice for concision and clarity. Consider the sentence, “The food was enjoyed.” The reader cannot tell who enjoyed the food, whereas an active sentence with an equal number of words answers this question: “Jane enjoyed the food.”


Punctuation marks include periods, commas, semicolons, dashes, and quotation marks, and confusing their purposes may lead to flawed sentence structures. For example, a semicolon joins two independent clauses, or phrases that can stand alone: “The dog barked; it was loud.” Using a comma in this situation constitutes a grammatical error called a comma splice: “The dog barked, it was loud.”

Punctuation missteps can also alter meaning. In the sentence, “Please stop, David,” the comma before the name directs David to stop. “Please stop David,” on the other hand, would instruct an unknown person to stop David from performing a task.

Writers may confuse colons and semicolons. Colons indicate a pause before an emphasized idea, such as in the sentence,”She knew where to drive: Montana.” The colon places importance on the destination, Montana. Semicolons, on the other hand, may separate nested lists, as in the following sentence.

“The attendants choose between hiking, swimming, and basketball; running, yoga, and tennis; or weightlifting, bicycling, and baseball.”

Writers should become familiar with punctuation rules to craft accurate and clear sentences.


Grammar refers to language rules for phrasing and wording, including concepts such as verb tense and noun-pronoun agreement. Students may struggle with grammatical details, since the language includes irregularities that alter guidelines. For example, constructing past tense verbs often involves adding “d” or “ed.” However, irregular verbs use different formats; the past tense of “eat” is “ate,” and the past tense of “go” is “went.”

Writers may also struggle with homophones, which sound similar but have distinct meanings. Commonly confused homophones are “there,” “their,” and “they’re,” which indicates a place, shows possession, and is a contraction for “they are,” respectively. To avoid grammatical mistakes, learners should thoroughly study the language’s structure.

Writing Resources for Social Work Students

  • Paradigm Online Writing Assistant This website guides learners through various stages of the writing process, including topic selection, revisions, and idea organization. Additionally, students may find information on different types of writing, such as argumentative works and informal pieces.
  • Write Content Solutions This website provides tips on grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure and assists students with researching and citing sources. Students can improve their writing skills using practice worksheets available through the website.
  • Purdue Online Writing Lab The Purdue OWL offers information on the writing process and assists applicants to undergraduate and graduate programs. Students can explore MLA, APA, AP, and Chicago formats through the writing lab.
  • Writer’s Digest This website provides articles on creating pieces in specific genres, for individuals with particular levels of writing expertise. Topics include homophones and time management. The website also provides information about writing conferences and publications.
  • TutorMe This website assists students struggling with essay structure or citation format. Tutors may help learners polish their writing through grammar and punctuation checks and general proofreading.