Writing your OET Letter Concisely & Clearly
No matter what your discipline is - medicine, nursing, veterinary sciences, dentistry or pharmacy, one of the key elements in the OET Writing Sub-Test is knowing what NOT to include in your letter.
There's no point in including information that is irrelevant to the reader or that the reader already knows. Why waste their time making them search for the facts?
But the question is, how can you know what to leave out? Watch our latest YouTube video for more help, or read more about it below if you prefer.
Conciseness & Clarity
Conciseness & Clarity go hand-in-hand with content and your job when writing the letter is to look though the case notes and pick out all the information that is useful to the reader and ignore anything that isn’t useful.
The way the OET assessors say they look at it is by seeing ‘Content” as the information you include, and “Conciseness & Clarity” as everything you exclude. Why are they looking to make sure you don’t include things? Well, it’s because if you include too much information that is not relevant to the reader, it actually becomes harder for the reader to do their job. They’ll have to search for the main ideas and the message you want to convey may even become lost among lots of irrelevant facts.
I’m sure, being a healthcare professional yourselves, you know that your time is precious. You just don’t have the luxury to read lots and lots of words which don’t actually get to the point. When you read a message, you want to know who it’s from, why the person is writing to you, and what they want you to do and why.
There are 2 things to keep in mind to help you do this, and we’ll look at each one in turn with some examples to help.
Make sure you don’t include anything irrelevant.
Make sure you have clearly summarised the information and communicated this clearly.
Let’s start with the first one and then we’ll look at the second.
Excluding irrelevant information
There are 2 common mistakes that students often make.
They include information that the reader already knows or is not relevant to the reader's role in caring for the patient.
They go into too much detail about the patient’s background or history that is not relevant to the current situation.
Let’s look at an example together.
Here is an extract from the case notes about Mrs J Barvadi who has recently had surgery for a broken wrist following a cycling accident. You’ve been asked to write a referral letter to the District Nurse who will be monitoring her recovery. What information would you include and what would you leave out?
The information in green is relevant and that in red not so relevant to the current situation. We don’t need to include her past medical history, for example, as it’s not relevant to her current situation or the care that is needed. It’s also not relevant that she will be using her private medical insurance to pay for pain relief, so we won’t include that in our letter.
Grouping ideas & Summarising
And don’t forget the second part of your job - to summarise clearly and communicate effectively. The way we can do this is by grouping similar information together. Have a look at the parts in blue - these are all aspects that we can group together and summarise.
We don't, for example, need to mention that Mrs Barvadi was admitted on 6th October and was discharged on 10th October. It would be a better summary to say she has been discharged after a four-day stay at hospital for wrist surgery.
An effective summary of her condition could therefore look something like this.
Mrs Barvadi has just been discharged from hospital following a four-day stay for wrist surgery. She was involved in a cycling accident which left her with severe bruising to her right shoulder and a distal radial fracture (R) which has now been set.
In terms of her care management plan you could say something like this:
She has been instructed to continue applying the antiseptic cream twice a day and to take painkillers if necessary twice-daily. An appointment for the removal of stitches has been made for 19th October 2020, but in the meantime, I would be grateful if you could monitor her dressings and wound. Being fit and determined, she says she does not need help with daily activities, but please remind her that she should refrain from any strenuous activities until fully recovered.
If you wanted to summarise her social background you could say something like…
Mrs Barvadi lives alone but has a strong support network in place.
And this would include the idea of her family living nearby and her neighbours offering to help.
By grouping your ideas together, it makes it quicker and easier for your reader to process your letter.
So remember, in order to do well in the Conciseness and Clarity criterion, you should:
Exclude anything irrelevant to the reader.
Don’t include anything not relevant to the scope of their care, or what they already know.
Don’t include past history if it has no relevancy to the current situation.
Group together similar ideas and summarise them effectively.
Don’t make your reader read three sentences when one will do. And
Don’t make your reader search for messages. Make sure everything connected is in the same place.
Remember, as a healthcare professional, your time is precious - so be kind to your colleagues and write with them in mind.
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