As part of the EPSCR CHI+MED project, I worked with NHS incident report data to gather insights on how individuals report error within a medical context. By understanding the situations and environments in which medical devices are used, we hope to develop ways to support doctors, nurses and patients to avoid and recover from errors.
In particular, we addressed how evaluative language and narrative point of view differed in reports of user error incidents compared to other types of incident. User error reporting (where a culpable agent is categorically implied) were more likely to be written using impersonal absent narration (e.g. it was observed that the pump was not working) that served to distance the person writing the report from the cite of error.
We also found that epistemic adverbials that express uncertainty (e.g. maybe, perhaps) were 1.5 times more likely to appear in the User Error incident report compared to other categories of error.
The research was published in the Journal of Pragmatics: