The ‘practice’ of close reading and writing in social work education


  • Miriam Jaffe Rutgers University



Close Reading, Connective Thinking, Clinical Practice


While social work educators have explored strategies to improve literacy development among their students, many educators continue to strive for a better integration of effective reading and writing skills. This article presents the findings of a survey that used qualitative research methods to assess the outcomes of a doctorate in social work program that employed a specialist in composition. Doctorate in social work students reported on the skill of ‘close reading’ as it related to their own writing, practice, university teaching, and field supervision. Data analysis reveals that these students had not previously learned the close reading skills necessary for strong writing skills. This article extends support for a full integration of close reading as a way to improve writing, clinical mental health practice, and critical thinking skills.

Author Biography

Miriam Jaffe, Rutgers University

Miriam Jaffe, Assistant Teaching Professor, Rutgers University Writing Programme, Rutgers University, Highland Park, NJ, USA.


Adamek, M. E. (2015) Building scholarly writers: student perspectives on peer review in a doctoral writing seminar. Journal of Teaching in Social Work 35(1–2): 213–225.

Alter, C. and Adkins, C. (2001) Improving the writing skills of social work students. Social Work Education 37(3): 493–505.

Beach, R. and Friedrich, T. (2006) Response to writing. In C. A. MacArthur, S. Graham and J. Fitzgerald (eds) Handbook of Writing Research, 222–234.

Bell, L. and Nutt, L. (2002) Divided loyalties, divided expectations: Research ethics, professional and occupational responsibilities. In M. Mauthner, M. Birch, J. Jessop and T. Miller (eds) Ethics in Qualitative Research, 70–90.

Bomer, R. and Bomer, K. (2001) For a Better World: Reading and Writing for Social Action. New Hampshire: Heinemann.

Brown, M. (2014) The Concept of The Social in Uniting the Humanities and Social Sciences. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Brown, S. and Kappes, L. (2012) Implementing the Common Core State Standards: A Primer on. Aspen Institute.

Burack-Weiss, A., Lawrence, L. S. and Mijangos, L. B. (eds) (2017) Narrative in Social Work Practice: The Power and Possibility of Story. Columbia University Press.

Burke, B. (2017) A close look at close reading [website]. Retrieved from:

Charon, R. (2006) Narrative Medicine: Honoring the Stories of Illness. Oxford University Press.

Curzan, A. (2000) Says who? Teaching and questioning the rules of grammar. PMLA 124(3): 870–879.

Duschinsky, R., Lampitt, S. and Thompson, J. (2013) Fluency in social work essays: A semiotic approach. Social Work and Social Sciences Review 17(1): 49–63.

Fisher, D. and Frey, N. (2014) Close reading as an intervention for struggling middle school readers. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 57(5): 367–376.

Fitzgerald, J. and Shanahan, T. (2000) Reading and writing relations and their development. Educational Psychologist 35(1): 39–50.

Green, L. C. (2006) Pariah, profession, debased discipline? An analysis of social work’s low academic status and the possibilities for change. Social Work Education 25(3): 245–264.

Grise-Owens, E. and Crum, K. (2012) Teaching writing as a professional practice skill: a curricular case example. Social Work Education 48(3): 517–534.

Harste, J. (2013) Reading-writing connection. In C. Chapelle (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics (pp. 1–7). New Jersey: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Hernandez, V. R., Dole, R. and Chavkin, N. F. (2004) Writing apprehension among social workers: Addressing internal and structural barriers to writing about what we do. Professional Development 7(2): 52–60.

Hooper, R. and Butler, S. (2008) Student transfer of general education skills to a social work diversity course: Is it happening? Journal of the Idaho Academy of Science 44(2): 1–10.

Horton, E. G. and Diaz, N. (2011) Learning to write and writing to learn social work concepts: Application of writing across the curriculum strategies and techniques to a course for undergraduate social work students. Journal of Teaching in Social Work 31(1): 53–64.

Jani, J. and Mellinger, M. (2015) Beyond ‘writing to learn’: Factors influencing students’ writing outcomes. Social Work Education 51: 136–152.

Kokaliari, E., Brainerd, M. and Roy, A. (2012) A longitudinal study of assessing APA writing competence at a BSW program. Journal of Teaching in Social Work 32(5): 566–577.

Kramnick, J. (2017) The interdisciplinary fallacy. Representations 140(1): 67–83.

Lillis, T. and Rai, L. (2011) A case study of a research-based collaboration around writing in social work. Across the Disciplines 8(3).

Miller, R. and Jurecic, A. (2016) Habits of the Creative Mind. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s.

Moor, K., Jensen-Hart, S. and Hooper, R. (2012) Small change, big difference: Heightening BSW faculty awareness to elicit more effective student writing. Journal of Teaching in Social Work 32(1): 37–41.

Moore, W., Fawley-King, K., Stone, S. and Accomazzo, S. (2013) Teaching note – incorporating journal clubs into social work education: an exploratory model. Social Work Education 49: 353–360.

Parodi, G. (2007) Reading-writing connections: Discourse oriented research. Reading and Writing 20: 225–250.

Rai, L. (2004) Exploring literacy in social work education: A social practices approach to student writing. Social Work Education 23(2): 149–162.

Rai, L. and Lillis, T. (2013) ‘Getting it write’ in social work: Exploring the value of writing in academia to writing for professional practice. Teaching in Higher Education 18(4): 352–364.

Rai, L. (2014) Effective Writing for Social Work: Making a Difference. Bristol: Policy Press.

Reissman, C. and Quinney, L. (2005) Narrative in social work: A critical review. Qualitative Social Work 4: 391–412.

Richards, S., Ruch, G. and Trevithick, P. (2005) Communication skills training for practice: The ethical dilemma for social work education. Social Work Education 24(4): 409–422.

Romph, E. L. (1995) Student writing in social work: An aggravation or an opportunity for social work educators? Journal of Teaching in Social Work 12(1/2): 125–138.

Sage, M. and Sele, P. (2015) Reflective journaling as a flipped classroom technique to increase reading participation with social work students. Social Work Education 51(4): 668–681.

Taylor, C. (2008) Trafficking in facts: Writing practices in social work. Qualitative Social Work 7(1): 25–42.

Witkin, S. (2000) Writing social work. Social Work 45(5): 389–394.

Witkin, S. L. (2001) Reading social work. Social Work 46(1): 5–8.

Woody, J., Zeleny, M., D’Souza, H., Harder, J., Reiser, J. and Szto, P. (2013) Student progress in a social work writing course: Self-efficacy, course objectives, and skills. Social Work Education 50: 507–524.



How to Cite

Jaffe, M. (2021). The ‘practice’ of close reading and writing in social work education. Writing and Pedagogy, 12(1), 139–156.



Research Matters

Most read articles by the same author(s)