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There is a Word For It
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 11/16/2015

Reportwriting
The following is an installment in "The Bouchard 101", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.

Sometimes, a single word does not seem to fit. For example, I once used the word vex in place of harass in a charge of insolence. The word actually fit and was used properly. But it did not read well because it is not a common word. In fact, some colleagues checked up on me to see if I invented a word. They found it in the dictionary. But it was a matter of ridicule and eyebrow-raising. It simply did not fit.

What if convention was thrown to the four winds and we used less official language in our misconduct reports? The results would be hilarious on one hand and ineffective on the other. Potentially, all of these are legal documents. Misconduct writing is a serious matter.

What are some possible pitfalls? We could create misconduct reports that are too pompous, too archaic, too judgmental, or too far away from the facts. How do we reinforce good ticket writing skills?

You could start by considering a sentence from a generic misconduct report. Do not reveal the sentence yet. Ask the class for a verb. Have a recorder write the first ten verbs offered. You may jumpstart the shy group by reminding them that a verb is an action word. You can offer RUN as an example. From there, you might get a list such as EAT, POINT, LAUGH, etc.

Then you display a sentence from the misconduct on the board or on the computer screen. “At the above time and place, I directly observed…” The word to replace is “observed”. Plug each of the words into the blank spot left by the vacated “observed”.

“At the above time and place, I directly __________…”

The results can be strange or nonsensical. The point is to reinforce the idea that words should be useful and descriptive and accurate. In other words, they need to fit the tone of the misconduct.

From the same sentence, we could eliminate the adverb “directly” and replace it. Again, ask the class for an adverb, a word that describes how you do something. For example, I can run (verb). But how can I run (adverb)? I can run quickly, furiously, sloppily, etc. You may solicit answers such as LAZILY, HAPPILY, LOUDLY, POORLY, and so on.

Now plug the adverb into the sentence with the adverb “directly” omitted, “At the above time and place, I ________ observed…” Run through the adverbs offered by the class one by one by plugging them into the vacancy of “directly”.

In essence, this is like using the old road trip word game. Instead of filling in the blank on a script or short story, you use a generic misconduct reports as a framework. It teaches parts of the grammar, context, and verbal restraint. In short, it demonstrates how a misconduct report can be miswritten and how it ultimately should be written.

This can be done on a projected word document, on a PowerPoint slide or on a board or flip chart. The most practical and easiest way to do this is to reproduce a misconduct report, remove some words, and number the spots.

If the first word you removed was a noun, on a separate piece of paper it should say “1. provide a noun”.

If the second word you removed was an adjective (a word that describes a noun), then the next line should read “2. Provide an adjective).

If the third word you removed was a number, on a separate piece of paper it should say “3. provide a number”.

The instructor should search the internet or a bookstore for a short description of parts of language. This will help the instructor maintain authority and also settle any disputes over grammar.

It is clear that we all have to write within a certain style, vocabulary level, and tone. “There is a Word for it” shows us how bizarre a misconduct report can look and implores us not to follow those poor examples.

Joe Bouchard is a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections and a collaborator with The International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP). He is also the author of “IACTP’s Corrections Icebreakers: The Bouchard 101, 2014”. The installments in this series include his opinions. The agency for which he works is not in any way responsible for the content or accuracy of this material, and the views are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of the agency. While some material is influenced by other works, all of the icebreakers have been developed by Joe Bouchard.

Visit the Joe Bouchard page

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