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Writing for Nurses: Improve Your Skills from Classroom to Clinic

Writing is an important part of any nursing student’s education, and this guide will help you learn about how to be the best writer you can be so you get top grades and succeed in your future as a practicing nurse.

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WRITTEN BY: James Mielke
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REVIEWED BY: Edumed Editing Staff

Last Updated: 06/20/2023

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As a nursing student, honing your writing skills can inspire success both in the classroom and at the bedside — and in fact, can even save a life. As Purdue Global shares, “Good writing can help allow for better patient care and safety.” Effective written communication is essential for documenting treatment plans, sharing research findings, and conveying critical information to patients and colleagues on your team.

So how can you improve this essential skill? Throughout this guide, we’ll explore the different types of writing you’ll encounter as a nursing student, ranging from academic essays to reflective journals. We’ll spotlight some practical tips that can help you enhance your writing. In addition to highlighting what you should do when writing as a nurse or nursing student, we’ll also underscore some common mistakes you’ll want to avoid.

Nursing is a diverse field, and learning about the range of writing you’ll encounter as a student will empower you with both knowledge and skills. Keep reading to elevate your writing and see how the written word can enhance your nursing practice — from the classroom to the clinic and beyond.

The Importance of Writing Well as a Nurse

In the world of nursing, effective communication is the heartbeat of the profession. As a nurse or nursing student, the power of writing well is paramount. Effective, clear, and concise documentation and communication ensure accurate patient records, seamless care transitions, and effective collaboration within healthcare teams. Additionally, writing with empathy, inclusiveness, and precision can foster trust and understanding with both patients and their families, especially when navigating stressful healthcare situations. Continue reading as we highlight the goals of strong written communication in the nursing field.

Advocacy

When nurses write well, they can become fierce advocates for their patients. Effective documentation enables healthcare professionals to clearly convey patient needs, concerns, and preferences to an entire healthcare team. Well-written reports can highlight essential details, share critical information, and ensure that patients receive the best possible care. By embracing clear and compassionate writing, nurses can amplify patient stories while fostering a healthcare environment where every patient is heard and valued.

Clear Communication

Clear communication is vital to competent and compassionate nursing, and writing well is often a significant component. When nurses write concisely and with clarity, they ensure that important information is conveyed accurately and efficiently. Well-written documentation promotes seamless communication among healthcare professionals, reducing the risk of misunderstandings and enhancing patient safety. The nurse who practices clear communication can help inspire a positive healthcare experience while ensuring that the needs of patients are met with sensitivity and professionalism.

Precision

Writing precisely is a key skill that empowers nurses to deliver the highest quality of care. When writing with precision, nurses supply accurate details, specific instructions, and concise summaries. This precision allows communication with minimal room for misinterpretation or confusion, ensuring seamless healthcare coordination based on meticulous documentation of patient symptoms, responses to medication, patient progress and more — all while minimizing errors. By writing with precision, nurses can enhance patient outcomes, encourage efficient workflows, and foster a healthcare space where accuracy and excellence thrive.

Record Keeping

While record keeping can seem like a mere administrative box to tick, effective documentation plays a crucial role in the legal and safety aspects of the healthcare profession. Nurses who hone the craft of clear and comprehensive documentation create a thorough record of patient care. This allows for reliable tracking of medical histories, treatment plans, and outcomes. Well-written records also ensure continuity of care, facilitate collaboration among healthcare teams, and provide a reliable resource that professionals can rely on in the future. In short, nurses who maintain meticulous records contribute to informed, safe, and patient-centered healthcare experiences.

Reflective Practice

Writing well enhances a nurse’s ability to engage in reflective practices. By clearly articulating thoughts, experiences, and emotions in writing, nurses grow professionally through an understanding of their actions and decisions. Additionally, making a habit out of reflective practices can enable healthcare workers to critically evaluate their practice, pinpoint areas for improvement, and highlight successes. As mental health is also a priority for nurses, reflective writing practice can help healthcare professionals work through the stress and trauma that often accompanies the field.

Five Common Types of Writing in Nursing School

As a nursing student, you’ll likely encounter various writing assignments with topics that challenge your critical thinking skills. It’s important to keep in mind that learning effective writing techniques as a nursing student is more than just an academic requirement that translates to a credit; instead, the writing you’ll tackle as a nursing student has direct and practical ties to effective healthcare delivery. From case studies that test your problem-solving skills to reflective journals that encourage introspection, continue reading to see the types of writing you’ll encounter in nursing school.

Academic Essays

As a nursing student, you’ll be assigned academic essays that not only test your understanding of nursing theories and concepts, but also require you to integrate healthcare research and practical knowledge. Effective essays in nursing demand thorough research, critical analysis, and evidence-based writing. When honing essay-writing skills, you’ll adhere to academic writing guidelines and style guides, learning to structure essays methodically with clear introductions, body paragraphs, and conclusions.

Common essay topics for nursing students cover essential areas such as patient care, healthcare ethics, evidence-based practice, healthcare policies, community health, and nursing leadership. By mastering practical writing skills, you’ll develop the ability to communicate your ideas effectively both as a student and a practicing nurse.

Case Studies

While on your nursing school journey, case studies will offer another opportunity to practice effective research and writing. A case study is an in-depth analysis of a real or hypothetical patient, highlighting their medical history, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and outcomes. What sets nursing case studies apart from other disciplines is their focus on patient-centered care and the application of nursing interventions.

When approaching case studies, you collect comprehensive patient information, critically analyze data, and propose evidence-based solutions. Topics covered in nursing case studies include complex medical conditions, patient management in various healthcare settings, ethical dilemmas, cultural considerations, and collaboration with various healthcare professionals. Nursing case studies offer valuable opportunities to develop clinical reasoning, decision-making, and critical thinking skills.

Reflective Journals

Nursing is often a stressful and emotionally challenging profession. As a result, writing reflective journals offers a unique approach to introspection and professional growth. Reflective journals provide a safe space to express thoughts, emotions, and experiences encountered during clinical practice. Additionally, reflective journals encourage self-analysis, critical thinking, and the application of theory with practice.

To make the most out of reflective journal writing, nurses should engage in honest self-assessment, explore personal values, identify growth areas, and connect experiences to nursing theories and ethical considerations. Reflective journals also promote lifelong learning and enhance empathy while improving patient care. Typical topics covered in reflective journals often involve clinical encounters, communication challenges, cultural sensitivity, interdisciplinary teamwork, and personal reflections on professional development.

Research Papers

Research papers in nursing emphasize evidence-based practice and can contribute to the advancement of healthcare knowledge and philosophy. During the research process, you’ll often encounter literature reviews and data collection, analysis, and interpretation. When choosing research topics, it’s often essential to select current and relevant topics; popular research areas include healthcare disparities, patient outcomes, nursing interventions, healthcare technology, and healthcare policy.

To craft a solid research paper, you’ll likely include a clear research question, rigorous methodology, critical analysis of data, and careful citation of sources. Additionally, integrating clinical concerns and discussing the potential impact on patient care can enhance the strength of your research paper.

How to Avoid Common Writing Mistakes

Communication is one of the most powerful tools employed by nurses, so it stands to reason that misusing it by making common mistakes can undermine a message and even affect health outcomes. In nursing, clear and accurate communication is vital for providing safe and effective patient care. Simple mistakes involving anything from medication to a patient’s medical history can have severe consequences on your ability to deliver effective care while jeopardizing a patient’s well-being. By learning to identify and rectify common writing mistakes, you can enhance communication skills and ensure that messages are clear, concise, and error-free.

Grammar

Whether you’re a nursing student or a practicing nurse, grammar can play a crucial role in writing and communication. Grammar refers to the set of rules governing the structure and composition of language. Knowing how to use grammar properly is essential, because grammar mistakes can lead to misinterpretations or confusion. They can compromise patient safety, hinder effective teamwork, and potentially impact quality of care. As a result, mastering grammar helps ensure accurate, effective, and professional communication. Here are three common grammar considerations for nurses:

  • Homophones – Homophones are words that sound alike but have different meanings and spellings. Common mistakes include their/there/they’re, your/you’re, and to/too/two. In the medical field, “dysphasia” and “dysphagia” sound alike, but are entirely different impairments.
  • Singular vs. Plural – Something singular represents one thing, whereas a plural is more than one. Common mistakes include using “child” instead of “children” or using the verb “is” instead of “are.” Medical terms are often derived from Greek and Latin words, meaning they don’t always follow common rule of adding an “s” for pluralization. An example is “vertebra,” which is singular, vs. “vertebrae,” which is a plural noun.
  • Tense Usage – The tense of a verb tells you when something took place in time. Common mistakes include using past tense instead of the present tense in reporting patient symptoms or events. “The patient felt acute stomach pain” indicates a different timeframe than “The patient feels acute stomach pain.”

Punctuation

Punctuation is the use of symbols and marks in writing to clarify meaning and sentence structure. In nursing writing and communication, punctuation can play a significant role. Mistakes in punctuation, such as misplaced commas or lack of proper sentence endings, can lead to misinterpretations. While it can feel innocuous, something as simple as a misplaced comma can influence patient care. Accurate punctuation is another communication guardrail that can ensure clear documentation and precise instructions.

  • Over- and Underuse of Commas – In nursing communication, the over/underuse of commas refers to the excessive or insufficient use of comma placement. Common mistakes include unnecessary commas in patient records or missing commas when separating items in a list.
  • Misuse of Apostrophes – The misuse of apostrophes in writing refers to incorrect placement or omission of apostrophes. Common mistakes include using “it’s” instead of “its” or confusing “patients” with “patient’s” or “patients’.”

Research

Evidence-based research is a significant asset in the healthcare field, so it’s important to learn about common mistakes to avoid when undertaking this type of writing. Research errors can lead to ineffective treatment plans, inaccurate diagnoses and a host of other issues that affect patients and practitioners alike. Continue reading as we spotlight some of the common writing mistakes in healthcare research.

  • Citations – Citation mistakes in nursing research refer to errors in properly crediting and referencing sources. Standard mistakes include missing citations, incorrect formatting, or inadequate acknowledgment of borrowed ideas or data.
  • Credible Sources – Utilizing reliable and trustworthy references is vital to evidence-based practice. Common mistakes include using biased websites or outdated research studies as sources.
  • Fact vs. Opinion – Distinguishing fact from opinion in your writing is essential. Common mistakes in healthcare practice include presenting personal beliefs as facts or failing to differentiate subjective statements from evidence-based information.
  • Plagiarism – Plagiarism in nursing writing is the act of using someone else’s work or ideas without proper citation. Common mistakes include not citing sources or copying text without quotation marks.

Voice

Developing a professional voice in your writing often communicates credibility, competence, and expertise. Whether dealing with the tone or perspective of nursing writing, presenting information in a professional manner promotes effective messaging while promoting trust among both patients and colleagues. Below are a few voice considerations that can inspire confusion or miscommunication in professional healthcare writing.

  • Formal vs. Informal Tone – The tone of your writing can significantly impact how your prose is perceived. Common mistakes include using slang or colloquial expressions in professional documents or research papers.
  • Perspective – Perspective in healthcare writing refers to the viewpoint or position of information that’s being presented. Standard mistakes include biased reporting or not acknowledging different perspectives and viewpoints.

15 Writing Resources You Can Start Using Today

Now that you understand the impact of effective writing in the nursing field, it’s time to bookmark a few resources that will make you a better writer and researcher. We’ve compiled a list of 15 links that can enhance your research and writing as a nurse or nursing student. From academic writing guidelines to research paper assistance and writing tips, these resources will support your journey toward becoming an effective and confident writer in the nursing field.

  • AllNurses.com – This website allows you to ask questions of other nursing students or see a list of frequently asked student questions. Many topics are geared toward essays and academic writing.
  • American Nurses Association’s Principles of Nursing Documentation – The ANA is the largest professional organization for nurses in the United States, and this guide addresses the importance of clear, accurate, and accessible documentation in the field.
  • APA Style Blog – The American Psychological Association’s style guide is the standard most often used by nursing students for formatting academic papers, and this blog includes countless useful posts.
  • APA Style Central – This practical page offers a quick and user-friendly introduction to the APA’s citation methods. You’ll have access to tutorials, interactive lessons, and quizzes to help you master APA style.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention– If you’re conducting research in the healthcare field, the CDC offers up-to-date data on medical topics and an extensive “Publications by topic” subsection with further evidence-based resources.
  • EasyBib – EasyBib is a popular tool for students that offers everything you need to know when citing sources for research papers. Along with APA grammar guides, this site also hosts a user-friendly citation generator.
  • Grammarly – Grammarly utilizes AI technology to help you enhance your writing. From spelling and grammar to voice and tone, Grammarly is a quick, easy, and free way to edit your papers.
  • INANE Editor’s Handbook – The International Academy of Nursing Editors offers guidance for editorial practices for everything from nursing journals to web-based literature.
  • National Institute of Nursing Research – Run by the NIH, the National Institute of Nursing Research compiles research and publications focusing on advancements in nursing.
  • Plagiarism.org – This page offers exhaustive information about plagiarism, what it is, and how you can avoid it.
  • ProWriting Aid – Used by over 2 million people, this writing tool offers everything from tone suggestions to grammar assistance. Additionally, you can create custom style guides that mirror your academic or professional needs.
  • PubMed– This database offers an extensive catalog of journal articles covering medical and life sciences topics. PubMed is run by the National Institutes of Health.
  • Purdue Online Writing Lab – Purdue University’s online writing lab offers an APA formatting and style guide, basic rules, and an APA source citing engine.
  • YouTube: RegisteredNurseRN – This collection of videos covers valuable information for nursing students, including tips to enhance your writing as a nursing student. One such example: a tutorial about how to write a nursing care plan in nursing school.