OET: Writing Guide
OET Test Preparation Specialists
The OET writing component is assessed across six criteria. These are: purpose, content, conciseness and clarity, genre and style, organisation and layout, and language.
Each component is assigned a score individually, and these scores are then combined to produce your overall score. Let’s look at each section in turn.
You must be able to identify the purpose of the document that you are writing, and then convey this purpose through your writing. OET suggests that you divide purpose into ‘immediately apparent’ and ‘sufficiently expanding.’ However, these terms are confusing. You’d be better off thinking that you need to start clearly and then provide detail. Begin by clearly outlining why you are writing, why the other party should read your request, and an overview of the situation. Then explain the details of the situation. For example, if you are writing a discharge letter for a patient to their GP, you might start by saying:
– Who you are
– Who the patient is
– Why the patient is being discharged and why the GP needs to be aware of their discharge
– Further detail about the patient’s admission and an explanation of their recent test results (found in the case notes)
– Detailed explanation of care needed moving forward
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You must clearly translate the content found in the case notes across to the letter that you are writing. You must keep the exact same meaning as in the notes, but avoid using shortened or abbreviated sentences. Bear in mind that your content should match what is needed by your target for the letter – i.e. a GP might need very different information to an OT.
Conciseness and Clarity
In order to succeed here, you must be able to discard information that is unnecessary for the patient’s ongoing care. Think about whether parts of the case notes are repeated, are unimportant or entirely irrelevant, or have become irrelevant due to changes of situation. You should be left with a clear summary of the notes that has no extraneous content, but provides all the important information needed to provide high quality care for the patient.
Genre and Style
Your writing should be formal. This means correctly addressing patients and other healthcare professionals (e.g. ‘Dr Jones, the patient’s dermatologist’ rather than ‘Rory, her dermatologist’), using full sentences made up of full words (e.g. ‘The patient’s antibiotics were switched to narrow-spectrum as they were clinically stable’ rather than, ‘patient’s abx switched to narrow-spectrum as clinically stable), avoiding making judgements or not relying only on facts (e.g. you should say ‘the patient’s BMI was 32’ rather than ‘I thought the patient was rather overweight’) and starting and ending your letter appropriately (e.g. ‘Thank you in advance for providing continued care for Mr Jones’ rather than ‘Cheers, please tell me if any problems.’)
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Organising your Letter
You must have a clear and logical structure to your letter. Try to practice writing as many different letters for different patients as possible, as you will need to be able to adapt to the demands of the case notes. In general, you should consider laying out your letter chronologically or thematically.
Laying out the letter chronologically might depend on the patient’s presentation. For example, a recent admission to A&E following an overdose would clearly be at the outset of a letter while the patient’s recent medical history of dermatitis would be of less immediate importance – whereas when writing about a routine series of investigations into psoriatic arthritis, we would keep a chronological order from their first presentation until now.
We might also choose to present information thematically. If the letter is regarding poor eyesight and the need for the patient to stop driving, then we would start with this. For example:
Paragraph 1: Poor eyesight & what this means for the patient’s driving license.
Paragraph 2: The history of their eye problem.
Paragraph 3: Relevant comorbidities.
Paragraph 4: Social History, patient’s concerns
You must have correct punctuation, spelling, grammar and vocabulary. Each of these should be studied and polished through your learning of the language, and should be of a professional standard no matter whether you are communicating about healthcare or an entirely different topic. Focusing on grammar whilst learning will help you understand the way in which English is used, and is therefore a very worthwhile activity. To improve general vocabulary, it’s worth reading broadsheet newspapers and English medical journals or more ‘high-brow’ magazines.