The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing

Original Article 

Personal Information Management for Nurses Returning to School

Katherine Bowman, PhD, RN

Abstract

Registered nurses with a diploma or an associate's degree are encouraged to return to school to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. Until they return to school, many RNs have little need to regularly write, store, and retrieve work-related papers, but they are expected to complete the majority of assignments using a computer when in the student role. Personal information management (PIM) is a system of organizing and managing electronic information that will reduce computer clutter, while enhancing time use, task management, and productivity. This article introduces three PIM strategies for managing school work. Nesting is the creation of a system of folders to form a hierarchy for storing and retrieving electronic documents. Each folder, subfolder, and document must be given a meaningful unique name. Numbering is used to create different versions of the same paper, while preserving the original document.

J Contin Educ Nurs. 2015;46(12):557–561.

Abstract

Registered nurses with a diploma or an associate's degree are encouraged to return to school to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. Until they return to school, many RNs have little need to regularly write, store, and retrieve work-related papers, but they are expected to complete the majority of assignments using a computer when in the student role. Personal information management (PIM) is a system of organizing and managing electronic information that will reduce computer clutter, while enhancing time use, task management, and productivity. This article introduces three PIM strategies for managing school work. Nesting is the creation of a system of folders to form a hierarchy for storing and retrieving electronic documents. Each folder, subfolder, and document must be given a meaningful unique name. Numbering is used to create different versions of the same paper, while preserving the original document.

J Contin Educ Nurs. 2015;46(12):557–561.

Registered nurses without a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree are encouraged to return to school to complete their education (American Association of Colleges of Nursing [AACN], 2012b, 2015a). The Institute of Medicine (2010) recommended that by 2020, the proportion of nurses with a BSN should be 80% and the number of nurses with a doctorate should double and that all nurses should pursue learning throughout their professional careers. Deans of nursing schools reported that more than 77.4% of employers strongly prefer that new hires have a BSN (AACN, 2012a). Such pressures are prompting many RNs to return to school (Benner, Sutphen, Leonard, & Day, 2010). Nursing school enrollment has steadily increased every year for the past 12 years (AACN, 2012c, 2015b). For example, enrollment in RN-to-BSN programs increased by 10.4% between 2013 and 2014 (AACN, 2015a).

Computers (i.e., laptops, tablets, and phablets) are common on every university campus (Hardof-Jaffe & Nachmias, 2011). Development of basic computer skills is encouraged in health care work settings (Smedley, 2005), but most RNs have little need to regularly write, store, and retrieve work-related papers. However, in the student role, RNs are expected to complete the majority of assignments using a computer (McDowell & Ma, 2007; Mizachi & Bates, 2013). Lack of knowledge about organizing the mass of newly generated electronic information may be challenging and stress producing for RNs returning to school (Barreau, Capra, Dumais, Jones, & Pérez-Quiñones, 2008; Hart, 2010; Kim, 2012; Mizrachi & Bates, 2013). Knowledge of information storage and retrieval can enhance time use, task management, and overall productivity of nurses returning to school (Hardof-Jaffe & Nachmias, 2011; Mizachi & Bates, 2013; Oh, 2012).

Personal information management (PIM) is a system of organizing and managing personal computerized information that may be used to store and retrieve school-related papers and other documents to complete personal, academic, or professional tasks and responsibilities (Jones, 2007; Jones & Teevan, 2007; Lush, 2014). The range of managed information may be narrow, such as class papers, or broad, such as presentations, pictures, notes, Internet search results, and any other type of information that may be digitally retained. The aim of PIM is to make available the right information, in the right form, of the right quality, in the right place, at the right time, and in the right completeness to meet individual information needs (Jones, 2007).

Information management has been characterized as a new literacy and as a new thinking tool required of all students (Hardof-Jaffe, Hershkovitz, Abu-Kishk, Bergman, & Nachmias, 2009; Hardof-Jeffe & Nachmias, 2011). Mizrachi and Bates (2013) found that undergraduate students began making information management decisions from the moment they encountered course work. Deadlines, space limitations, required effort, the need for reminders, personality, and cognitive learning style determined individual decisions regarding the management of academic information (Mizrachi & Bates, 2013). PIM enables RNs to store and retrieve school-related documents, such as papers created using Microsoft® Word and presentations created using PowerPoint®. The purpose of this article is to introduce three strategies for managing school work. A basic hierarchical structure of nesting, naming, and numbering will be described.

Nesting

Nesting is the placement of folders in folders. Subfolder is another term for nested folder. Nesting creates a hierarchical structure of related folders that may be sized by adding and deleting folders as necessary. A hierarchical structure has breadth and depth (Bergman, Gradovitch, BarIlan, & Beyth-Marom, 2013; Bergman, Whittaker, Sanderson, Nachmias, & Ramamoorthy, 2010). Breadth is the number of folders in a group of related folders (Bergman, 2013). Depth is the number of folders that must be opened to reach the target documents (Bergman, 2013). Folders may be as broad and as deep as necessary to meet personal information storage needs.

The Figure shows a PIM hierarchy that has a breadth of three folders, which are named “Classes,” “Grad Schools,” and “Jobs.” The nest of folders named Classes is the deepest folder in this hierarchy. It contains folders named “Ethics & Law,” “Role Transition,” and “Research.” The Role Transition and Research folders each contain two folders, which contain the desired documents. The Figure shows just one or two folders in the folder nests for each course, but each folder nest may contain as many folders and documents as necessary to meet the user's needs. The smallest folder in this PIM hierarchy is Grad Schools. When this folder is opened, the desired documents are immediately available. The Grad Schools folder may be expanded as information about universities is collected.

Illustration of the hierarchy of a personal information management system. Lec = lecture; DNP = Doctor of Nursing Practice; PhD = Doctor of Philosphy; Syst = systematic; Qual = qualitative; Critque = critique; Quan = quantitative.

Figure.

Illustration of the hierarchy of a personal information management system. Lec = lecture; DNP = Doctor of Nursing Practice; PhD = Doctor of Philosphy; Syst = systematic; Qual = qualitative; Critque = critique; Quan = quantitative.

Naming

Each folder, subfolder, and document must have a base name. A base name is a descriptive label consisting of words or phrases that define the stored information (Santaguida, 2010). Base names must be unique and meaningful (Santaguida, 2010). They must be readily recognizable and memorable to the user and thus may be subjective and follow personal reasoning patterns (Bergman, Beyth-Marom, & Nachmias, 2003; Bergman et al., 2013). Base names should rarely change. This consistency is critical for information retrievability and long-term use of stored documents (Santaguida, 2010).

Base names may begin with an uppercase or a lowercase letter of the Latin alphabet (Jones, 2007). Uppercase letters, hyphens, letter height, and underscores may be used in any combination and strategically placed to enhance readability. For instance, camelback names are composed of uppercase and lowercase letters that create a humpback or waveform silhouette, such as “SystematicReview” and “QuantitativeCritique.” Some word combinations may be most readable when hyphens or underscores are used to separate words. This may occur when one word ends with a tall letter and the next word begins with a tall letter. For example, “digital-books” or “Digital-Books” may be more readable than “digitalbooks.” Other characters, such as punctuations, accents, brackets, and slashes, are disallowed by some computer operating system for naming documents or folders (Santaguida, 2010). Spaces may be used but are discouraged because these may cause problems when using the search function or when linking with other documents.

Base names should be as short as possible because short names are easier to recognize and remember than long names. Abbreviations may be used to shorten base names. As shown in the Figure, “SystematicReview” may be shortened to “SystReview,” “QuantitativeCritique” may be shortened to “QuanCritique,” and “Lecture” may be shortened to “Lec.” Whether to use whole words or abbreviations as the base name is a user decision.

Numbering

A semantic suffix is an ending with meaning. It may be added to the base name to provide further information about the contents of a document (Jones, 2007; Karlson, Smith, & Lee, 2011). Semantic suffixes are typically used with documents but not with folders. Semantic suffixes are not to be confused with file extensions. Every document ends with a file extension such as .doc, .docx, .ppt, or .pptx. These indicate the software application used to create the document. Computers are programmed to add an extension to each file and folder name, but file extensions may be hidden.

Multiple revisions of a paper may be necessary for some classes. A semantic suffix may be used to create a new version of a paper but freeze and preserve the old version. The new version may be changed and further developed without information loss or duplication. Several versioning methods exist. The method selected is a user decision, but the method selected should be used consistently. For example, alphanumeric identifiers, such as letters, words, or numbers, may be placed at the end of the base name to indicate the version of the document (Karlson et al., 2011). Hyphens, underscores, or dots may be used for separation between the base name and the version identifier. One method of creating a new version is to place a dot and two digits (01 through 99) at the end of the base name. The highest suffix number is always the latest version. The Figure shows that the first version of a paper about nursing doctorates is named “DNPvsPhD.01,” and the latest version of that same paper is named “DNPvsPhD.03.” The base name is DNPvsPhD, and the suffix indicates that there are three versions of the paper. A zero must precede the number for the computer to sort each subsequent version in descending order on the computer screen.

Alternatively, the version of the paper may be indicated by placing an underscore then an upper case “V” (i.e., _V) or an underscore then lower case “v” (i.e., _v) followed by two digits (01 through 99) after the name (Jones, 2007; Santaguida, 2010). The underscore must precede the letter to facilitate on-screen sorting. For example, the first version of a document may be named “TermPaperGenetics_v01,” and subsequent versions of that same paper may be named “TermPaperGenetics_v02”and“TermPaperGenetics_v03.” The base name (TermPaperGenetics) indicates the use of the same paper, but the suffix (e.g., _v01, _v02, _v03) indicates each new version or revision.

Semantic suffixes may be placed at the end of the base name to indicate ownership or milestone achievement. For example, an individual's initials or name may indicate ownership, such as “contract_from_JT” or “project_cost_for_Tom” (Hicks, Dong, Palmer, & McAlpine, 2008). Semantic suffixes, such as final, draft, uploaded, and review, may be used as descriptors to indicate milestones. Examples of semantic suffixes are “TermPaperFinal” and “TermPaperUploaded” (Karlson et al., 2011).

Filing and Finding

Filing is the classification and placement of documents in folders (Jones, 2007). This activity prompts reflection on the characteristics of a document, the assigned name, and the semantic suffix that might otherwise go unnoticed. Filing encourages the review of a document from a new perspective and the consideration of similarities and differences between the current document and previously stored documents in the collection. Consideration of those factors during initial filing enhances finding the document (Jones, 2007).

Each document must be filed exclusively in one folder, but a folder may contain several related documents. This avoids ambiguity, duplication, and confusion about the filed documents (Jones, 2007). When a document cannot be categorized and filed with other similar documents, a new folder may be created to store it. As shown in the Figure, some documents may need to temporarily reside outside of a folder but inside a nest of related folders until similar documents are created.

It is important that the filing system makes sense and is useful; therefore, the system must be used as soon as possible to identify and correct design flaws. Users become more familiar with their organization system each time they use it (Bergman et al., 2013). After design flaws are corrected and the system appears logical and folder categories are mutually exclusive, the established rules must be followed to maintain a useful long-term working system.

Conclusion

Many approaches may be used to organize personal computerized information. Each approach has its own strengths and weaknesses; therefore, it is important to design a PIM system according to personal reasoning patterns. It is also important to become familiar with the new system, use it, revise it, and refine it to enhance its strengths and eliminate flaws. The use of a PIM system by nurses returning to school will improve productivity, learning, grades, and quality of the academic experience and help to bring nurses closer to achieving the goals set by the Institute of Medicine (2010).

References

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Key Points

Personal Information Management

Bowman, K. (2015). Personal Information Management for Nurses Returning to School. The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 46(12), 557–561.

  1. Registered nurses are encouraged to complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.

  2. Personal information management (PIM) can help nurses returning to school to organize, store, and retrieve electronic documents.

  3. The nesting, naming, and numbering of computerized information will improve productivity and reduce anxiety related to the degree-completion process.

  4. The newly created PIM system must be used as soon as possible to identify and correct design flaws.

Authors

Dr. Bowman is Assistant Teaching Professor, Sinclair School of Nursing, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri.

The author has disclosed no potential conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise.

Address correspondence to Katherine Bowman, PhD, RN, Assistant Teaching Professor, S324a Sinclair School of Nursing, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211; e-mail: bowmankg@missouri.edu.

Received: July 09, 2015
Accepted: September 01, 2015

 

10.3928/00220124-20151112-08

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