Why Writing Works

Disciplinary Approaches to Composing Texts

Writing in Nursing

 by Dr. Nancyruth Leibold

Writing is a core element of nursing because it is a major form of communication. Writing in clinical records creates a record of the patient scenario.  It provides information for future health care workers to access in the provision of care. Published scholarly writing allows a medium of ideas, evidence, knowledge, and experiences to share with others in nursing (Holland & Watson, 2012). For example, a women’s health department in a hospital setting implements a practice program that advocates the use of complementary holistic approaches, such as essential oils and Reiki. The nurses in the unit develop formal procedures, policies, staff education programs, network with other health professionals and the community, and collect research evidence on the effectiveness of the holistic approaches. The results are that patients use less narcotics, report less pain, and report increased satisfaction with the health services they received. By sharing this project with others, it can serve as a solid starting point for other nurses wanting to start a similar project at their facility. By publishing an article about this project, the information is in circulation for others. This benefits the nurses, patients/families, and society as a whole to share knowledge and experiences.  

Types of writing in the field

Nurses do a variety of different types of writing. The types of writing a nurse commonly completes are dependent on the role of the nurse and setting of practice. For example, a nurse who works in the hospital will for the most part write in an electronic health record.  However, a nurse who works in clinical research will predominantly write research proposals, grants, institutional review board applications, and research reports. For this reason, nurses receive education about a wide variety of types of writing.

For nursing—the types of writing depend on the area the nurse is working. For example if the nurse is a clinical nurse in patient care, the dominant writing will be quite different from if the nurse is the Nurse Manager of a unit, or if the nurse is a Faculty Member. Since nurses have a lot of mobility in their careers—a nurse could very easily have all of these roles during their career. Therefore, literacy in all the types of writing is very helpful preparation! I have provided some labels but these are quite limited in their meaning and real life application. The following is a list of specific types of writings by nurses (labeled as most dominant, daily impact, and emerging as the field evolves):

  • Scholarly journal articles (theory articles, practice articles) Emerging as the Field Evolves 
  • Research manuscripts Emerging as the Field Evolves 
  • Editorials
  • Blogs Emerging as the Field Evolves 
  • Videos Emerging as the Field Evolves
  • Virtual Simulations  Emerging as the Field Evolves
  • Grants for Funding
  • Annual Reports Emerging as the Field Evolves
  • Quality Improvement Reports  Most Dominant
  • Patient Documentation (graphics, charts, tables, narrative notes) Most Dominant; Daily Impact
  • Websites Daily Impact
  • Instructions Daily Impact
  • Patient/family Education Materials Most Dominant; Daily Impact
  • White Papers Daily Impact
  • Political Letters to Legislators Emerging as the Field Evolves
  • Patient Care Plans Most Dominant; Daily Impact 
  • Infographics/Infograms Emerging as the Field Evolves
  • Electronic Posters Emerging as the Field Evolves
  • Posters Emerging as the Field Evolves
  • PowerPoint Presentations Emerging as the Field Evolves
  • Prezi Emerging as the Field Evolves
  • Glogsters Emerging as the Field Evolves
  • Resume/Curriculum Vitae 
  • Cover letters for resume/curriculum vitae
  • Abstracts Emerging as the Field Evolves
  • Social media (facebook, textblasts, TV monitors) Emerging as the Field Evolves
  • Smart Objectives

Writing in the classroom

Nurses work in numerous settings and roles during their career, so a baccalaureate education includes the types of writing that they may need in the workplace. During nursing school, students write to complete a number of assignments such as papers, journal writings, nursing care plans, letters to legislators, posters, and evidence-based projects. Beyond nursing school, writing is important in all settings of nursing. In clinical nursing, nurses document patient care in the health care record. Nurses also write reports and documents in committee work such as health care policies and procedures. Clinical nurses write book chapters, books, and journal articles for publication. Written communication is one way that information about the practice of nursing is disseminated with others. Nurses in management write reports, proposals, reference letters, human resource reports, and staff performance appraisals. Since nurses work in a variety of areas in society, it is important they develop various writing skills.

Advanced nursing roles required solid writing skills for success that are cultivated over time. Nurses who continue their education in graduate school will need a solid foundation in writing skills, as graduate nursing education is heavy in scholarly writing. Those who practice in nursing education will be required to acquire graduate degrees in nursing and lead others in scholarly writing. Learning how to write in the discipline of nursing involves lifelong learning. It takes time and commitment to develop effective writing skills. 

Tips for writing in the classroom

An introduction that introduces the topic and previews the main points of the writing is included in quality nursing writing. The introduction should capture the reader’s attention with an interesting aspect, such as a quote or statistic. A statistic is one technique that can signal the importance of the topic for the reader. At the end of the introductory paragraph, a thesis statement should be included. At the end of the paper, double-check the introduction with the paper to make sure the main points in the introduction match the main points in the paper. 

The last section in the writing should be a summary or conclusion. The writer should review the main points of the paper without presenting any new information. This is the last chance to make a lasting impact on the reader. After completing the conclusion, the writer should check that the main points of the paper are reviewed and whether the reader will be left with a strong impression of the key ideas or not.

Other aspects of writing in nursing include correct grammar, spelling, and organized paragraphs. The use of grammar and spelling checks can be a great check of writing. Word processors, such as the Word program have the ability to custom set the grammar checks at a higher level. There are videos at that demonstrate how to do this, so that learners can custom set their word processor. This is a helpful strategy, as the computer program will coach the writer for development related to writing. Nurses sometimes struggle with satisfactory paragraphs because clinical patient documentation does not use paragraph format.   Writers can use a recipe to help write paragraphs. In scholarly, academic nursing papers, a fully developed paragraph is a minimum of five sentences. The "PIE" method is one easy way to write developed paragraphs (Roger Williams University, 2016). "P" is for point, which means to start the paragraph by identifying the main point of the paragraph. In other words, it is important to write a topic sentence of the overall topic and point. "I" is for illustrate, meaning that one should illustrate the point with evidence, such as a research study description, or specific examples. Be sure to cite any sources using APA format. This part of the paragraph may be 3 or more sentences in length. Next is "E" which stands for explain. You should explain to the reader how the evidence or examples support the point of the paragraph. You should always end the paragraph with a summary sentence that points out the “so what” of the paragraph. By using correct grammar, spelling, and organized paragraphs, the nursing writer can communicate the essence in writing!

Writing Resources for Nursing Students

There are a great deal of very helpful resources for nursing students to use that can help learners develop their writing!  Some valuable sources are shared here:



Nursing: Disciplinary Perspective

Documentation in Nursing

Research in Nursing

Reading in Nursing