Project Findings So Far – Linguistic Analysis

Our report to the HTA identified a number of inconsistencies in the care offered to women and their families following miscarriage. However, as well as analysing the hospital protocols and patient information leaflets for their content, we also conducted a preliminary linguistic analysis on the hospital patient information leaflets regarding pregnancy loss. Here again, there was some inconsistency, with some examples of careful, sensitive language use and others where we identified improvements that could be made. Some examples of good practice included:

  • Good management of expectations (e.g. ‘We cannot always provide a reason for the death…’)
  • Sensitive, empathic use of language which attempted to take into account the emotions the bereaved may be feeling (e.g. ‘This may seem daunting, but…’)
  • Clear explanation of the options on offer
  • Non-forceful suggestions of things the bereaved may wish to do to mark the loss.

However, there were also some areas where improvements could be made. These included:

  • Vague language, where it was not clear what particular options entailed (e.g. ‘Various forms of memorial are available…’)
  • Language that normalised a particular option, thus implicitly encouraging others to do the same (e.g. ‘Most women… choose to let the hospital deal with the disposal’)
  • Overly dramatic language (e.g. ‘Making funeral arrangements is a deeply upsetting and stressful event’)
  • Overly religious language, with a strong focus on Christianity
  • Language which backgrounded the partners and families of the patient (e.g. ‘Most women (and their partners)…’)

The loss of a pregnancy may be felt as a form of bereavement, one that usually involves complex emotions that are difficult to express. Because of this, the project includes a component of linguistic analysis, paying careful attention not just to what the bereaved and those who support them do, but how they express themselves. We are particularly interested in figurative language such as metaphor, as this is a commonly-used resource for expressing difficult, painful and complex concepts. The bulk of our linguistic analysis is still underway; we’re currently working on a close analysis of our interviews with women who have experienced pregnancy loss, and those who are there to support them.  However, we did undertake a small pilot study, the results of which we presented at a conference in Denmark in May. You can read about some of our findings here.


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