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Writing About Mediation Matters – Your College Needs You

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Writing About Mediation Matters – Your College Needs You.

Originally published in COM Digest in 2017 and updated in NOV 2023.

This article raises questions as to why relatively few UK mediation practitioners are writing and publishing, explores what might either inhibit or motivate practitioners to write and Offers some ideas and tips for first-time and novice writers about how to set about it. “As if we don’t have enough to do anyway.”

Compared to some countries, mediator practitioner writers in the UK are relatively few and far between. Taking this first point regarding why so few practitioners are writing and publishing we need to acknowledge that, to this day, relatively few UK mediators earn a full-time living from dispute resolution practice. Many have to supplement their practice with a portfolio of other activities such as counselling, therapy, social care, legal practice etc. It seems likely that there is a correlation between this lack of full-time practice and limited motivation to write. By contrast, on a study visit to Australia some years ago I was struck by how many mediators were piloting new developmental projects and writing about their projects and reflective practice experience. It soon became clear that once providers, many of them in not-for-profit organisations, were granted a public funding franchise, their clients legal aid were fully funded by the government. Consequently, such provider services were able to employ full-time mediators. As with any such organisation, practitioners would not be spending every hour of every day mediating. As part of their service development activities, they would be involved in team meetings including ideas for new practice initiatives would be identified. Another consequence of this funding model and new initiatives culture also led to a greater inclination to research and write on practice issues.

OK but why would anyone choose to write anyway?

It is tempting to start by discussing the more altruistic and selfless ideals regarding the greater good for the development of the profession. However, it should also be acknowledged that it is, in reality, quite an ego trip, to see one’s name attached to a published work – it feels good. After all the effort, it brings a warm glow.

It also has to do with a sense that, through constant reflective practice, we may have discovered something that has significantly informed and further developed our knowledge and skills, and so may be of interest and learning for our peers.

Shon usefully refers to this concept of ‘reflective practice’ when he writes ‘We are in need of inquiry into the epistemology of practice. What is the kind of knowing in which competent practitioners engage? How is professional knowing like and unlike the kinds of knowledge presented in academic textbooks, scientific papers, and learned journals? In what sense, if any, is there intellectual rigor in professional practice? In my analysis, (a sample of vignettes of practice), I begin with the assumption that competent practitioners usually know more than they can say’ Shon, Donald (1983) How Professionals Think in Action’ Basic Books pviii.

If indeed many competent and experienced practitioners inhabit this state of ‘knowing more than they can say’, there is potential for sharing this ‘knowing-in-practice’ through writing. As such, we could have a significant ‘minimal encourager’ for UK mediator practitioners to start writing.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”. Ernest Hemingway.

With the establishment of the UK College of Family Mediators, now the College of Mediators, one of the standards for membership was the requirement for a minimum annual number of ‘continuing professional development’ activities, (CPD). On the recommendation of the Professional Standards Committee, (PSC), this annual hours requirement was subsequently increased, and divided into two categories of CPD, Category ‘A’ and ‘B’. (2017).

‘Continuing professional development Trained and Approved family members must have gained at least 10 continuing professional development (CPD) points in the year to application. At least five of these must be gained through attending training with an approved CPD provider 1 (category A) and the balance may be through PPC approved self-directed learning 2 (category B).  (College of Mediators Code of Practice, Appendix A, Supervision and Continuing Professional Development Requirements as at July 2014).

A substantial ‘driver’ behind this development was an attempt to encourage practitioners to write and publish. The following tip was subsequently circulated in the COM newsletter in May 2015 and, following many enquiries as to what constituted CPD, again in the members digest April 2017 – headed “Below are our top 10 ways to get your PDR.”

  1. Write and publish. Mediators are frequently presented with highly complex and demanding referrals. Think of one particular case that was your most demanding/challenging and/or rewarding – and what you learned from it/would do differently another time – and write it up for the COM newsletter or new journal. Ideally (but not essentially), with some brief theoretical references to the key issues. Be sure to change some of the details of the parties, e.g. their age/occupations/number of, or ages of, children etc. so as to disguise the case and ensure anonymity. Many mediator readers particularly value and relate well to case study style learning rather than pure theory. (10 ways to get your professional development requirement (2015).

If writers stopped writing about what happened to them, there would be a lot of empty pages. Elaine Liner (2006).

Sadly, all of the above creative option initiatives have thus far yielded little change. One explanation for this may be the relative ease with which practitioners can acquire category B points, for example, the valued growth and development of attendance regional workshops and self-study. Whilst such options are entirely laudable it is disappointing that the writing option has thus far yielded little movement. How can it be that someone can claim CPD points for reading a mediation book, without having to describe what they learned from it and how it might change their practice

Unprovided with original learning, uninformed in the habits of thinking, unskilled in the arts of composition, I resolved to write a book. Edward Gibbon (1737-1794).

Anecdotal evidence from conversations with peers, in addition to the ‘inhibitors’ referred to above, relates to individuals uncertainty about their capacity to write to a good enough standard. The following tips are offered in the hope that ambivalent practitioners might just be encouraged to ‘publish and be damned’. Each individual will develop their own writing style over time, so the following are simply those that I have discovered over the past 25 years, that work for me, and are not presented in any specific order of priority. For a more professional online article see also “How to write an article in six easy steps” Christina Katz (Accessed onlineSept 2011)

A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God. Sidney Sheldon.

  • Decide on the topic and your intended readership, which will in turn help you determine where you want to submit your article for publication.
  • In the manner of the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland, it may help to ‘Start at the end and carry on until you come to the beginning’. In other words, start with a rough draft of your potential conclusions and outcome learning objectives. Think about in what ways you hope that the reader will be different after reading it, i.e. in terms of what they will have learned and know more about than when they started reading. For some trime now I have taken this ‘back to front’ and also now never write the introduction paragraph until it is ready to publish. In particular, in the words of Edwin Schloosberg, “The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.”
  • Draft a breakdown of the key elements or parts you plan to cover. For example, between your introduction and conclusions what are the key parts of the article; how to set the scene; what if any theory you will plan to refer to; and which if any, casework examples to include that illustrate the content. Care will need to be taken here, to anonymise client details and also to precis the details in a way that highlights the key issues, not a verbatim account of everything that happened.
  • Scan websites for who else has published on your topic. I have yet to plan any article on any topic that someone has not already published something about. Don’t let that put you off, there are usually many differences between their practice and context and yours. You will put your own stamp on the article but you will almost certainly also discover other useful references to quote from.
  • Start on a rough draft but ‘hang loose’ and go easy on yourself. Despite the temptation to critically analyse and appraise every paragraph, chuck it all in, ‘top of the head’ and ‘kitchen sink’ stuff is fine. There will be plenty of time for editing when the first draft is on file. In the early days of writing, I inevitably wrote far too much and way above the word limits of most journals. It was as if I wanted to share all the ‘soup of ideas’ in my head, on everything remotely related to the topic. However, writing too much may be better than self-censoring at this stage and the ‘slash and burn’ time is best left until later. Having said that I have had experience of Journals accepting significantly higher words if the article clearly justifies that. Alternatively the editor may agree to publish in two parts across two journal editions. I also use a free software version of ‘Grammarly” which cleverly highlights typos and questionable grammar, leaving the writer to change the text to the suggestion or ‘bin it’ to leave it as it is. A paid version is available but I find the free one very adequate.
  • “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet Shakespeare Romeo & Juliet). Draft a catchy title that may act as a ‘hook’ that invites more reading, especially if it includes a touch of humour. If in doubt about a title, list several potential options. By way of example, note my use of the original wartime classic “Your country needs you” so, looking for some useful ‘finger pointing’ pics to reinforce that title though somewhat less formal’, and copied around a dozen from the vast collection available free online. Many tended towards the accusative/threatening/dominating and OK finally, could just not resist the one I have used – might any reader have chosen better?
  • As you work through the text, other ideas for content may pop into your head. Rather than break your train of thought or focus at that moment, just add an ‘aide memoir’ note in the text such as (include something on ……). Similarly try not to get hung up if any particular word feels as if it does not capture the meaning you hoped for – just leave it as-is and move on – plenty of time to revisit it later.
  • Once again, check online for famous quotes on the topic not necessarily from mediation – as I have been illustrating here – there are usually hundreds. I tend to swipe/copy them to a file to check later which I like best, which seem particularly apposite and where best to slot them in. Brainstorming titles and quotations are often a nice diversion if ideas are not flowing or it begins to feel all too much.
  • Don’t worry too much about a logical order of content – such issues can come later when looking at the whole package and a quick cut and paste can often improve the flow.
  • “Call a friend” – call-on help from friends and colleagues you know and trust to give you constructive feedback, and could hopefully be persuaded to critically appraise your work as you near completion. If still in doubt about your personal capacity to write, why not do a ‘two-hander’ and write one together with a colleague? That can be tricky and may take much longer, for example negotiating content and process. However, some colleagues may be very compatible, especially when writing case study-style articles with a co-worker. It helps to start with an agreement about who will do what for a draft e.g. one drafts the case detail the other the theory.
  • I am very good at not saving frequently or ‘backing up’. The painful experience of losing substantial amounts of content has taught me to back up and save constantly including to another safe place such as a memory stick.
  • Get an idea in the wee small insomniac hours, or when not at home – keep a pen and pad close at hand. Many of my best eureka ideas have come from dining alone in hotels on training trips and consequently such gems are often written on red wine-stained paper serviettes.
  • Feeling stuck and a bit disorientated? Run off a printed draft, perhaps double-spaced so as to make space for written alterations. The contrast between hard copy and screen reading may help to give a better perspective of the overall flow, particularly for those of us more used to pen-and-paper writing than the keyboard generation.
  • “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” Douglas Adams.
  • Many of us are adept at putting off until tomorrow that which could well be done today. Often ‘getting it finished’ is linked to the adrenalin rush that kicks in at the eleventh hour. Setting a deadline for yourself may help, but is still susceptible to slippage when other more appealing activities offer themselves up, especially if a temporary sense of ‘writer’s block’ has set in. Telling friends and/or potential journal editors your planned submission date can help, not least because they have an annoying habit of asking how it is going. It can be very reassuring how, when finally dragging oneself back to the desk, it does all start to flow again and the ego-boosting positive feedback loop tends to increase motivation.
  • “Parting is such sweet sorrow”. (Romeo and Juliet).Letting your grown up baby leave home can be tough, as is deciding that it may at last just be ‘good enough’. As with so many great artists may never be satisfied that the picture is finished, so too do writers speak of their creation never satisfying their own internal critic. It is very likely that every time you give it just one more read-through, you will want to change a few words and add or delete a sentence. Nevertheless once it passes the rest of being ‘good enough’ let it go. You can always edit up update it and/or publish it elsewhere as is wat I am doing here and now.
  • “Everyone has a book in us.” So, have you been hiding yours from the world? Asks Nicole Johnston. “Knowledge, expertise, experience or story is ready to be shared, but what is holding you back from writing your first non-fiction book?” Going from one article to the challenge of starting to write a book is a heck of a leap, and I was certainly not ready to take that leap. Finally though, In a ‘lightbulb’ moment it occurred to me that writing a series of articles could reach the point where they could all be edited into potential chapters, and it worked

Tony Whatling. Mediator, Trainer, Consultant, Author. (2017-Updated 2023)