Writer’s Toolkit #4

The writing exercise I described in the second and third writer’s toolkit entries were originally about getting ideas on paper for a storyline in a television drama. If we take a different direction with this exercise it can be a useful process to go through to clarify and focus your writing for, say, a research paper or report. Let’s try this and see how it works.

Step 1. In the next two minutes, off the top of your head, I want you to write a description of the research you’ve done (or are planning to do, if your writing a funding application or proposal).

Here’s what I wrote: I sat with a group of Māori health providers and asked them to talk about how they did what they did and what outcomes they hoped to achieve, and what outcomes they were achieving and how they knew they were achieving them. They talked about the links between their professional and personal lives. This was about their knowledge of tikanga and culture being intertwined with their professional skills in expertise. In other words they were both clinically and culturally competent. This made me think about the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act and how in the past there’d been a lot of discussions about how to meld these cultural and professional elements in the delivery of health care to Māori. When the health practitioners talked about what they did they talked about the importance of whanaungatanga and how whanaungatanga was often followed by another step of whanaungatanga. Is whanaungatanga then both a means and an end, although the overwhelming feedback was that it was the whole context in which these health professionals worked.

Step 2. Now, as in the drama writing exercise, highlight the key words and phrases in what you’ve just written. These will be the things that really stand out to you as capturing the essence of what you’ve done (or planning to do).

Here’s what I highlighted: I sat with a group of Māori health providers and asked them to talk about how they did what they did and what outcomes they hoped to achieve, and what outcomes they were achieving and how they knew they were achieving them. They talked about the links between their professional and personal lives. This was about their knowledge of tikanga and culture being intertwined with their professional skills in expertise. In other words they were both clinically and culturally competent. This made me think about the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act and how in the past there’d been a lot of discussions about how to meld these cultural and professional elements in the delivery of health care to Māori. When the health practitioners talked about what they did they talked about the importance of whanaungatanga and how whanaungatanga was often followed by another step of whanaungatanga. Is whanaungatanga then both a means and an end, although the overwhelming feedback was that it was the whole context in which these health professionals worked.

Step 3. Use the highlighted words and phrases, and other information, findings, and knowledge that these now spark, to write a brief (100-200 word) abstract about your research. At this stage you can refer to notes, the internet, and other resources to help you get your ideas together. As a guide, this abstract should contain an introductory statement that includes the aim of your research, some sentences about methods used and what you found and some take-home messages about what these findings mean.

Here’s my 220 word abstract: The Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003 requires health practitioners to be both clinically and culturally competent, although it does not provide a clear definition of cultural competence. A question therefore remains about what fully competent healthcare looks like. A three-hour hui (meeting) with 10 Māori health practitioners provided a forum for the discussion of the links between their clinical and cultural competencies in their delivery of health care to patients and whānau (family). Whakawhanaungatanga (the process of establishing relationships) was pivotal to their health care practice models. The practitioners used terms coined by Mason Durie to describe patients’ journeys as beginning with engagement or whakapiri, where practitioners being Māori was most important for patients. In the next part of patients’ journey, cultural and clinical skills meshed to facilitate patients’ coping and sense of control over their journey and their healing; that is, whakamana. In the long-term practitioners worked with patients to facilitate their mana motuhake; their independence and inter-dependence. At every part of patients’ journey the practitioners built their relationship with patients, and facilitated patients’ ability to build relationships with their own whānau. It was concluded that clinical and cultural competency were not two separate skills; rather they intertwined with practitioners delivering clinical care within their Māori worldview to patients and whānau who engaged with them as Māori, and as whānau.

You may think it’s a bit of a leap from a two minute free-writing exercise to a formal abstract, and you may be right. However the idea of this exercise is to focus your thinking and start you writing in a disciplined way that puts some boundaries around the field you’re exploring. You can then use this abstract to focus your longer writing about your research. It will help keep you on track so that your longer version is clear, focused, concise and (hopefully) vivid.

Don’t be fooled by the brevity of an abstract. It’s hard to write this type of summation as it requires you to have a very clear focus. Hopefully Steps 1 and 2 have helped you gain some of this clarity. I’ve sometimes spent whole afternoons with groups just to get a 200 words abstract written. The good news is that doing this is really worthwhile.

Contributed by Fiona Cram

Writer’s Toolkit #1    –    Writer’s Toolkit #2     –     Writer’s Toolkit #3
Writer’s Toolkit #5