MedicalWriting and Speaking

How can nursing degree students develop academic writing skills?

To study for most degrees, you need to complete coursework, which certainly applies to nursing students, particularly those moving toward master’s qualifications. While registered nurses (RNs) likely have more than enough practical experience to warrant moving further up the career ladder, studying for further qualifications will require some specialized academic skills.

Academic writing, in particular, is a must when studying for an MSN or something similar. Academic writing shows that a student has not only shown a deep understanding of a subject matter, but also that they care deeply about research and reporting. However, academic writing can be somewhat daunting for nurses with little experience producing coursework and detailed articles! Thankfully, there’s lots of support available from course leaders who can help students get their ideas across in an academically acceptable way.

In this article, we’ll explore why academic writing is so important in nursing education and how student nurses can learn to develop these skills as they progress through their studies.

What is academic writing?

Academic writing shares knowledge, research, and ideas for an academic audience. That is, this style of writing isn’t conversational or written like the average blog post; instead, it is elaborate, research-focused, and highly logical in its sequencing and the way ideas are presented to readers.

Academic writing varies from degree to degree and across specialisms, too. Therefore, the type of writing a student nurse might undertake is likely to be very different from that of, say, an English student. Nursing is rooted, for the most part, in evidence-based practice. That means nurses will need to rely heavily on peer-reviewed and rigorously evaluated evidence to help deliver their arguments to their audience.

The audience here isn’t just course leaders who will be grading students’ understanding and how they put across their ideas. Many nursing students find they end up writing for journals and thus help pave the way for future students, meaning they effectively help keep the cycle of education running.

Why is it important for nurses to learn about academic writing?

Academic writing presents itself in a way that’s confident, critical, and led by curiosity. Writing academic papers requires authors to leave personal bias and opinions aside so they can present raw research and evidence.

To succeed at academic writing, many nurses will need to rethink how they present their ideas unbiasedly. It is not writing to win an argument; rather, it’s writing to inform, enlighten, and ensure there are future studies to broaden the topics written about in the years to come.

Many people find academic writing challenging, as they need to remain completely objective and adhere to strict formality. There’s also much rigor and meticulousness to academic writing. Writers need to weigh each sentence that goes on the page carefully. After all, academic writers want to make sure their readers clearly understand complex topics they might be completely unfamiliar with. This writing needs to be authoritative and useful from an academic perspective for future essays—and to inspire additional research in the years to come!

How can nurses develop academic writing skills?

Everyone will have different styles of writing and ways of approaching specific topics. Therefore, it’s safe to say nursing students might follow a completely different set of writing rules. However, a great place to start when developing academic writing skills as a nursing student is to reach out to course leaders and those with experience producing their own papers and research documents.

For example, a student starting an online associate degree in nursing might approach their tutors or course leaders for insight into what makes a particularly influential piece of academic writing work so well in practice. In fact, the online degree offered by Wilkes University will support registered nurses as they navigate the world of written academia for the first time, offering students a wealth of academic support.

Beyond this support and any help that mentors might be willing to provide, nurses have a wealth of strategies available at their disposal that can help them acclimatize to a comfortable yet persuasive writing style for academia.

Let’s look at some popular strategies that have typically worked well for nursing students over the decades.

Learning about academic writing standards

As we’ve explored, there are more than a few different traits to academic writing, and it’s important that nurses start to get to grips with this style once they start studying for an MSN or associated degree.

The recommended route in this scenario is to simply dive into research. By reading journal articles on areas of nursing and healthcare that students find interesting, they can start to adapt their own writing to match their standards.

Of course, getting further insight from tutors and asking for feedback is also worthwhile. Some tutors and course leaders might be happy to share their own experiences and mark mock papers to ensure students feel confident and that they’re on the right track.

As mentioned, some degree programs will also provide students with insight into how to write academically as part of the modules they enroll in. After all, these transferable skills will not only help them pass their courses but will also help them share ideas and research should they follow such a path in the future.

Managing time effectively

Academic writing isn’t simply putting words down on a page. It’s about meticulously ensuring that research comes across in a useful and insightful way. That means taking the time to produce academic articles efficiently, which doesn’t mean cramming the research and writing into a single afternoon!

What it does mean, however, is learning how to build a timetable for study and research. Student nurses will do well to set out a clear idea and begin reading and making notes several weeks before writing a paper. They should then take the time to draft and redraft their article(s), remove any fluffy sentences or conjectures, and ask others to help them review their work.

Academic writing at the MSN level demands more than a late-night cram session. These are no longer the days of last-minute homework, but with discipline and a clear timetable outline, there are no reasons why students cannot produce fantastic work.

Getting feedback from peers

Peer-reviewed articles are trusted by academics and researchers and approved by field experts. Therefore, there is no harm in nursing students seeking additional opinions on their work on the route toward submission.

Peer review might involve asking other students or mentors, at this stage, to look over their work and to offer constructive, objective advice. In the long run, articles and journal submissions will need to be reviewed and analyzed by educated people with plenty of writing credentials of their own. However, seeking feedback at this stage will help prepare students should they wish to continue producing research articles in the future. Many people will review a truly influential academic article—and, in some cases, authored in groups.

Writers need to accept feedback objectively, too. It is impossible to expect a perfect submission the first time around, and what’s more, the feedback they receive from peers shouldn’t be considered personal attacks.

Instead, student nurses should look over feedback and adapt it into their own writing style, perhaps by putting together their own resource book or document they can refer to for future exercises and submissions.

Learning the finer points of grammar

All academic writing should be grammatically correct; however, as mentioned, this isn’t the type of writing you’ll find on the average website; this is research writing that could shape the future of medical research and understanding.

Therefore, one of the formalities of academic writing is to be stringent with grammar—that means more than adhering to apostrophe placements and using the Oxford comma.

Students should take the time to look through grammar style guides to get to grips with various principles and standards. For example, they might need to learn how to use tense correctly, proper syntax in the context of academic writing, and when to use definite articles.

If all this sounds confusing, don’t worry! There’s an almost infinite number of grammar guides out there that specifically support academics, and, again, course leaders and tutors are always on hand to help students transition into fluid, grammatically correct writing standards.

Being concise and straightforward

It’s a misconception that writing must be complex when producing nursing journal content. Far from it—while graders will be meticulous when it comes to checking grammar and formatting, it’s more important that students can put across their ideas and concepts in ways that are clear for readers to understand.

That doesn’t mean dumbing down one’s content, either. Instead, it means ensuring sentences are concise, in the active voice, and don’t repeat the same ideas or language.

Writing actively and concisely gives off confidence and shows that the writer has clearly understood their own research and what they want to achieve.

It is doubly important for the reader, as they want to be able to take away ideas and concepts that they can draw upon for their own studies.

Being careful with vocabulary

Beyond grammar and style, vocabulary is extremely important from an academic writing perspective. To start, academic writers should always use vocabulary and terms they actually understand!

It is important because they could appear to lack confidence or, even worse, not appear to know what they’re discussing. Therefore, it’s a good idea for students to try writing about their chosen topic in their own style and as straightforwardly as possible, using vocabulary and terms they’re familiar with and confident with.

However, there will come a time when they need to start venturing into terms they might not understand right away. In that case, it’s a good idea to gradually read up on glossaries and to improve one’s internal word library.

Again, this could be something a student just getting into academic writing could timetable for and plan ahead with. They could try to learn a few different words each week and practice using them in a variety of contexts.

Once more, seeking out feedback and support from tutors and course leaders can be highly beneficial; they will be able to inform students whether or not they’re using words in the right contexts and make suggestions for future exercises and writing samples.

Practice makes perfect

The old cliche that practice makes perfect really does ring true when it comes to academic writing. While some nursing students might be naturally adept at putting their ideas and research across in a way that’s professional and eloquent, it can take longer for others to adapt to this admittedly rather formal style of discussion.

Therefore, it’s a good idea for students to simply practice wherever possible, alongside studying theory for their MSNs. Student nurses also need to remember that they’re not on their own. Not only do they have a cohort of fellow students to fall back on for peer guidance, but they can also reach out to tutors, for example, if they need online nursing assignment help or simply want to test a few techniques.

Academic writing can be technical, but once students find their respective grooves, this style of reporting can feel very natural. It’s never about making language complex but about ensuring you have the backing and the conviction to put across ideas that could change the course of future research.

Registered nurses heading into MSN degrees, therefore, could benefit from brushing up on academic writing skills before getting into the thick of study. Preparation is key, but they must always remember that learning how to write effective academic papers isn’t a sprint! It’s a marathon, and, by the end of their degree and heading to graduation, they’ll have found a writing rhythm that suits them.

Academic writing is a skill that will support many nurses heading into MSNs and studying beyond. Many go on to write influential articles and journal research of their own; it’s worth learning and practicing the basics!

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