RN Rachel Ramsey, Clinical Assistant Professor at IPFW, provides her writing insights for you.
“Do you have a particular way you research and write?” – Heather D.
I’ve learned different strategies during my time as a student and as a nurse educator. What I seem to do most often is start with a question or problem, then brainstorm in the form of a concept map. This strategy helps me see the directions my writing might “go” and helps me identify a focused topic. After I narrow down my topic I start looking for relevant, credible literature. Sometimes, the literature search aligns perfectly with my original idea, but more often it challenges what I know and steers me toward a different path! Finding and reviewing the literature is one of the most time consuming aspects of my writing. But I keep an annotated bibliography to stay organized and efficient.
I especially love to create outlines for my projects. After I find and review a sufficient amount of literature, I connect the findings to my own ideas and produce headings. I often spend time just brainstorming ideas that would fall under each heading. Then I plug in relevant sources. This process happens before I try to begin writing. This strategy helps me stay focused and make progress. I might work on just one section at a time so that if I have to leave the project for a while, I know where I left off and can get started again more easily.
One of the best things I do for my writing is designate time for it. I joined a writing circle recently. Every week I have a chunk of time set aside for “writing” (which involves all aspects of the writing process). Setting aside that time every week, and being in a space with others who are actively pursuing their own writing projects helps me stay motivated and on track to produce writing projects. My writing circle has been one of the BEST things I’ve done to achieve my writing goals.
Was learning how to write well important to your field?
As an undergraduate nursing student I seriously underestimated the amount of written communication I would do as a nurse, which caused me to devalue writing skills. After I began my career I noticed how much writing I actually did. From transcribing orders, to designing care plans, to documenting narrative notes, I employed many writing skills every shift. During my time in acute care, I had to learn to be a succinct, clear, and effective writer to ensure my patient’s records were not only accurate, but conveyed precisely the information my team would need to provide excellent care.
During my graduate studies, I realized how vital writing skills were to advancing my degree. I was writing a LOT. Not only that, I realized nurses were writing the literature I collected to complete my academic papers and assignments. In those experiences I truly recognized the importance of writing in my profession. It occurred to me that when I graduated, there would no longer be someone directing my learning; I’d have to be responsible for it myself! I would have to rely on my own information literacy skills and the publications of my nursing peers to keep me informed about my profession, new technologies, evidence-based practices, and advancements in healthcare. This phase in my nursing career is when I began to truly appreciate the importance of writing.
The lessons I’ve learned about writing have been essential to my work as an educator. I’ve learned to write for different audiences, different contexts, and different purposes. These skills help me to be more effective in teaching and scholarship.
Recently I talked with a friend about who was feeling “unchallenged” in her nursing role. She described the desire to “do more” and wondered if she’d have to make a job change, even though she enjoys her job and loves the hours. I asked her if she’d ever thought about presenting or publishing on a topic related to her current role as a nurse. She asked, “I can do that?” Of course! Nurses should share their knowledge with other professionals. We cannot underestimate the value of our potential contributions to the nursing knowledge base. And when we have the skills to put that knowledge into words we can disseminate knowledge that will impact the profession in positive ways. Information written for nurses, by nurses can challenge us to think in new ways, to consider new ways of doing, and recognize opportunities to improve processes within their own practice and organizations. Ultimately, this knowledge sharing leads to better outcomes for everyone in the health care field.
Any advice for students?
Use your resources! Learn how to do a “good” literature search. The more effective you are at searching for relevant, credible literature, the less time you’ll spend searching, and the better “evidence” you’ll find to support your ideas.
Choose topics in which you’re interested. Writing can be fun and motivating, especially when you’re writing about something that engages you.
Narrow your focus so you aren’t overwhelmed. Learn how to pare your topic down to a reasonable scope so your writing project is manageable. Keep in mind the purpose and timeline of your work.
Be flexible. Sometimes the existing information on your topic will challenge what you know. Don’t miss out on opportunities to expand your perspective. And even if the available literature aligns with your thinking, see what other ideas are “out there” about your topic. Sometimes the best way to make a persuasive argument is to include (and contest) the opposition’s ideas.
More and more we communicate through text, which is void of contextual cues, like body language and tone of voice. A poorly composed text or email could create tension (or worse) in a relationship. When composing written messages, be sure to consider with whom you’re communicating, how well they know you, and the purpose of your message.