Although there may be some differences in writing expectations between disciplines, all writers of papers about nursing are required to follow basic writing standards such as writing clear, concise, and grammatically correct sentences; using proper punctuation; demonstrating critical thought; and, in all Walden programs, using APA style. When writing in nursing, however, students must also be familiar with the goals of the discipline and discipline-specific writing expectations.
Nurses are primarily concerned about providing quality care to patients and their families, and this demands both technical knowledge and the appropriate expression of ideas (“Writing in nursing,” n.d). As a result, nursing students are expected to learn how to present information succinctly, and even though they may often use technical medical terminology (“Writing in nursing,” n.d.), their work should be accessible to anyone who may read it. Among many goals, writers within this discipline are required to:
- Document knowledge/research
- Demonstrate critical thinking
- Express creative ideas
- Explore nursing literature
- Demonstrate understanding of learning activities. (Wagner, 2001-2011, para. 2)
Given this broad set of objectives, nursing students would benefit from learning how to write diverse literature, including scholarly reports, reviews, articles, and so on. They should aim to write work that can be used in both the research and clinical aspects of the discipline. Walden instructors often ask nursing students to write position and reflective papers, critique articles, gather and analyze data, respond to case studies, and work collaboratively on a project. Although there may be differences between the writing expectations within the classroom and those in the workplace, the standards noted below, though more common in scholarly writing, require skills that are transferable to the work setting.
Because one cannot say everything there is to say about a particular subject, writers present their work from a particular perspective. For instance, one might choose to examine the shortage of nurses from a public policy perspective. One’s particular contribution, position, argument, or viewpoint is commonly referred to as the thesis and, according to Gerring et al. (2004), a good thesis is one that is “new, true, and significant” (p. 2). To strengthen a thesis, one might consider presenting an argument that goes against what is currently accepted within the field while carefully addressing counterarguments and adequately explaining why the issue under consideration matters (Gerring et al., 2004). The thesis is particularly important because readers want to know whether the writer has something new or worthwhile to say about the topic. Thus, as you review the literature, before writing, it is important to find gaps and creative linkages between viewpoints with the goal of contributing innovative ideas to an ongoing discussion. For a contribution to be worthwhile you must read the literature carefully and without bias; doing this will enable you to identify some of the subtle differences in the viewpoints presented by different authors and help you to better identify the gaps in the literature. Because the thesis is essentially the heart of your discussion, it is important that it is argued objectively and persuasively.
With the goal of providing high quality care, the healthcare industry places a premium on rigorous research as the foundation for evidence-based practices. Thus, students are expected to keep up with the most current research in their field and support the assertions they make in their work with evidence from the literature. Nursing students also must learn how to evaluate evidence in nursing literature and identify the studies that answer specific clinical questions (Oermann & Hays, 2011). Writers are also expected to critically analyze and evaluate studies and assess whether findings can be used in clinical practice (Beyea & Slattery, 2006). (Some useful and credible sources include journal articles, other peer-reviewed sources, and authoritative sources that might be found on the web. If you need help finding credible sources contact a librarian.)
Like other APA style papers, research papers in nursing should follow the following format: title, abstract, introduction, literature review, method, results, discussion, references, and appendices (see APA 7, Sections 2.16-2.25). Note that the presentation follows a certain logic: In the introduction one presents the issue under consideration; in the literature review, one presents what is already known about the topic (thus providing a context for the discussion), identifies gaps, and presents one’s approach; in the methods section, one would then identify the method used to gather data; and in the results and discussion sections, one then presents and explains the results in an objective manner, noting the limitations of the study (Dartmouth Writing Program, 2005). Note that not all papers need to be written in this manner; for guidance on the formatting of a basic course paper, see the appropriate template on our website.
In their research, nursing researchers use quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods. In quantitative studies, researchers rely primarily on quantifiable data; in qualitative studies, they use data from interviews or other types of narrative analyses; and in mixed methods studies, they use both qualitative and quantitative approaches. A researcher should be able to pose a researchable question and identify an appropriate research method. Whatever method the researcher chooses, the research must be carried out in an objective and scientific manner, free from bias. Keep in mind that your method will have an impact on the credibility of your work, so it is important that your methods are rigorous. Walden offers a series of research methods courses to help students become familiar with the various research methods.
Instructors expect students to master the content of the discipline and use discipline- appropriate language in their writing. In practice, nurses may be required to become familiar with standardized nursing language as it has been found to lead to the following:
- better communication among nurses and other health care providers,
- increased visibility of nursing interventions,
- improved patient care,
- enhanced data collection to evaluate nursing care outcomes,
- greater adherence to standards of care, and
- facilitated assessment of nursing competency. (Rutherford, 2008)
Like successful writers in other disciplines and in preparation for diverse roles within their fields, in their writing nursing students should demonstrate that they (a) have cultivated the thinking skills that are useful in their discipline, (b) are able to communicate professionally, and (c) can incorporate the language of the field in their work appropriately (Colorado State University, 2011).
If you have content-specific questions, be sure to ask your instructor. The Writing Center is available to help you present your ideas as effectively as possible.