Choosing the Correct Content for your OET Letter



Our latest free lesson is up on YouTube. This time, it's all about Content - the second of the 6 criteria used to assess your OET writing.


Watch it online on YouTube or keep reading!


Why is content an important part of the criteria? Well, if you don’t have the right content, it will be hard to convey your message and hard for the reader to understand what you’d like them to do.


You’ll be able to find all the content - the information you need to include in your letter in the case notes.


But it’s your job to do two things. First - you have to pick out the information that is important and ignore anything that’s not.


The way you’ll be able to do this is by understanding just who your reader is and picking out the information that they will need to continue caring for your patient.


The second part of your job is to transform the notes in the case history into full and sentences that are easy to read and accurate - both in terms of grammar and language (of course), but also in terms of keeping the meaning the same.


Let’s have a look at just how you do this in more detail. We’ll start with Selecting the right information and then go on to transforming the case notes.


  1. Selecting content


Let’s imagine that a teenage boy is going to be discharged from hospital following orthopaedic surgery for a fracture. This has caused loss of movement. You’ve been asked to write a referral letter to the paediatric physiotherapist to help with his rehabilitation.


In the case notes, there’ll be lots of information given to you, probably including a timeline of events, procedures undergone in hospital, medication, prognosis, family situation etc. It’s your job to pick out what’s relevant to the reader and ignore anything that’s irrelevant.


How can you do this?


Well, a great tip here is to think about whether the reader and the patient know each other - do they have an existing relationship? And also think about what particular aspect of the patient’s care is the reader going to be dealing with.


In this case:


Does the physiotherapist know the boy and the situation? No. What aspect of care is the reader going to be involved with? Designing and overseeing a rehabilitation programme. So what information will be important to him?


The accident that caused the injury? Yes - because the physio doesn’t know what caused it.

The surgery that took place? Yes

The medication that the patient is on. Only if it’s relevant and can affect this rehabilitation.

The patient’s family situation. Only if it’s relevant. Why would it matter to the physiotherapist, if, for example, he lives with his mother and father.

As you’re reading the case notes, think about what information is new and useful to the reader and include these things. In this case, it’s your job to present the patient to the reader and tell them everything they need to know in order to care for the patient.



Now, let’s think of another letter you may have to write. It’s about the same boy, but this time, it’s a discharge letter to his parents.


What information will they need to know?


The accident that caused the injury? No - they know this already!

The surgery that took place? Yes - a summary perhaps, but I’m sure they were there every day with him in hospital, so they won’t need to know everything.

The medication that the patient is on. Yes, definitely, the parents or carers are going to have to support the patient in taking any pain relief etc for as long as is necessary.

The patient’s family situation. No - why talk about the family when they are the family!


It will probably also be worth mentioning here that a referral to the physiotherapist has been made.


In this case, your letter is written to provide an update on the patient's situation. The procedures he’s undergone in hospital and any plans for his future care including medication and rehabilitation.


OK, we’ll have a look at transforming the case notes in just a minute, but before we do that, let’s summarise how you choose the information.


Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. If you were receiving the letter, what information would you want to know?


Think about the relationship between the reader and the patient. What will be new and useful to the reader?


And remember, by the end of the letter, the reader should feel that they have a clear understanding of the situation and they should know what they have to do next.



What about the second half of satisfying the criterion? Transforming the notes into full and accurate sentences.


Now, some of this will also encompass language - making sure your grammar and choice of words is correct and we will look at that in another video, but for now, let’s just concentrate on getting the meaning accurate when you paraphrase and summarise the case notes.


The things to think about here, are:

  1. making sure the words you write in your letter match the meaning of the case notes exactly.

  2. making sure you don’t change the time frame of events.


Here are some examples to help. Can you spot what’s wrong in each sentence?


Case notes: Under surgeon’s recommendation: Pt not to mobilise L arm until last wk when plaster removed.

Letter: As per the surgeon’s recommendation, the patient has started to use his arm again.


The sentence is grammatically correct, but the reader won’t know if the patient still has his cast on or not and there is no mention of time. These are two gaps which will affect the reader’s ability to care for the patient.


Case notes: pt to carry on with ROM exercises until appointment with physiotherapist

Letter: Your son should see the physiotherapist for help with range of movement exercises.


Again, the sentence is grammatically correct, but the meaning has changed. The hospital wants the patient to continue doing his exercise programmes until he sees the physiotherapist who may want to adjust his programme as necessary. The letter implies that he shouldn’t do any exercises until he has seen the physiotherapist, and again, this will impact the patient’s care and possibly improvement. So it’s important to make sure that what you write conveys the meaning given in the case notes exactly.


Right then, let’s summarise.


Don’t forget to always think about the reader - keep them in mind. What will they want and need to know to care for the patient? If you were receiving the letter, what would you want to know? Make sure you include all the important details so that the reader is clear on what they should do next and why.


Secondly, make sure what you’re saying is accurate and the meaning matches the information given to you in the case notes.


By doing both of these things, you’ll be well on your way to doing well with the criterion of content.


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Thanks very much and see you again next time.


Video Image Credits


Confused Lady: <a href='https://www.freepik.com/vectors/food'>Food vector created by freepik - www.freepik.com</a>

Health information: <a href='https://www.freepik.com/vectors/infographic'>Infographic vector created by pikisuperstar - www.freepik.com</a>

Boy in plaster cast: <a href="https://www.vecteezy.com/free-vector/broken-leg">Broken Leg Vectors by Vecteezy</a>

Family: <a href="https://www.vecteezy.com/free-vector/family">Family Vectors by Vecteezy</a>