Many articles provide ideas, suggestions, and encouragement for nurses to share their ideas with the world. Journal editors frequently contribute extensive material to make the new writer aware of the common errors in writing, as well as the process for submission of manuscripts. In addition, workshops, books, and pamphlets provide stimulus and direction to the writer. Each of these methods is excellent in preparing the nurse to write a manuscript; however, despite this abundant information, graduate students at the authors' institution were not submitting manuscripts for publication. Consequently, two professors with publication experience developed a course to assist these graduate students in submitting manuscripts for publication in journals of nursing.
This article will describe a graduate nursing seminar developed to teach the process for submitting a manuscript and to provide graduate students with the opportunity to gain expertise in critiquing and evaluating manuscripts for publication in a nursing journal. The approach to writing used in this seminar differs from those presented in other articles, in that group techniques were used.
The course evolved with the objectives of gaining knowledge of the purpose, objectives, and style of various nursing journals; acquiring an understanding of the procedure for submission of manuscripts; acquiring knowledge of the process of review and critiquing in refereed and peer review journals; and participating in critiquing and evaluating manuscripts of peers. The final objective was to produce a final draft of a manuscript for publication to be sent to a professional nursing journal along with the cover letter to the editor. The professors provided a syllabus that contained a list of nursing journals; examples of reviewers' critique guides that were received from several journal editors; and examples of inquiry letters, cover letters, articles, and editorials about writing for publication. In addition, the professors provided several of their own articles for critiquing and evaluation. Students were expected to have the American Psychological Association's manual (APA), a dictionary, and a thesaurus. A compilation of guidelines for authors obtained from approximately 75 nursing journal editors was also provided to the students.
The course was offered in the summer session for five weeks, meeting twice a week for three hours. The professors were available for individual assistance and the professor to student ratio was 1:10. The first two courses included a guided tour of the library to gain information concerning procedures for obtaining references. However, by the third offering of the course it was determined that students had been exposed to previous tours of the library. Therefore, the students were asked to explore the library on their own and share what information could be gleaned from the library for a specific topic. This experience motivated the participants to retrace their paths, find more information, and share with the class sources that previously had not been used. Students spent one class discussing and describing various nursing journals that they read each month. This discussion provided an excellent opportunity to gain information concerning content in many different journals because most of the participants were involved in different specialities.
Definitions of referee, peer reviews and editorial and advisory panel review for the journals were described as well as multiple authorship and copyright procedures. Other concepts such as scholarly writing, plagiarism, and common grammatical errors were also reviewed. Writing for this course was in the third person and although some journals used a conversational style, the professors determined that it was easier to convert from third person writing than from conversational to a more scholarly style. A good vocabulary was expected, which meant using a variety of terms in a clear, succinct, and grammatically correct manner.
Final drafts were 12 to 14 pages in length, unless guidelines for specific journals indicated otherwise: the 12 to 14 pages were found to be average. Tb standardize the references, the latest edition of the APA manual was used for class participation. For the final paper, references were prepared and arranged according to the chosen journal's guidelines.
One of the discussion sessions included the role of the professional nurse. The students concurred with role expectations that "...theoretical knowledge, research findings, interventions for safe and effective nursing care, and vital professional issues must be disseminated to the nursing community" (Miller, 1988). This discussion stimulated the students to accept the responsibility to share communication with others. The requirement of a publishable, written manuscript became an exciting endeavor. Since most of the students had topics or ideas for manuscripts, the process for delineating and creating a focus for their ideas was discussed with all participants.
Students chose a topic and reviewed the literature to determine whether it was previously addressed as well as the prevalence of that topic in the literature. Following a critical review of journals, the students selected three journals for potential submission of their manuscripts. Writing the manuscript commenced the second week of the course. Some students modified papers written in other courses that had been previously described by their professors as "worthy of publication." Others chose to prepare their thesis research for publication. Research was written in a form that would accommodate replication. These individuals extrapolated the essential information from large documents to conform to the concise requirements of particular journals.
The major thrust for several classes involved writing a purpose for the manuscript. Preparation for this exercise included the students identifying the purpose statement of five published journal articles. Students became aware that the presentation and style of each journal varied. For example, research articles had the purpose of the study clearly delineated in the text; some journals described the purpose of the article under the title, on the content page, or as a catchy, personalized question to the reader.
Formulating the purpose statement proved to be tedious and at times more difficult than writing the manuscript. However, critiques by the entire group of each student's purpose statement were helpful for organizing the content of the manuscript in one or two statements. Many early drafts of purpose statements were too broad and encompassing and therefore peers gave varying interpretations as to the intent of the manuscript. If the writer's written purpose could not be explained by several critiquers without assistance from the writer, revision of the purpose statement was required. These purpose statements guided the logical sequencing of ideas. The writer was also expected to identify the audience or the readers of the manuscript and describe why a nurse would be interested in the content. This exercise of explaining why someone would be interested also brought humorous responses. However, the process resulted in clearer ideas of the presentation of the manuscript.
Approximately one hour of each class was used to provide feedback of written material concerning the entire class. Common errors included sentences starting with the word "this" without stating a réfèrent in the prior sentence. Also, long sentences that needed an explanation by the writer and short, choppy sentences that interrupted the now of ideas were commonly found in early drafts of manuscripts. Group discussion of these points illustrated that students were not unique in some of the ways in which they wrote or expressed ideas. The students thereby became more self-critical and accepting of suggestions. Class participation played a large role in this course.
At each class, students exchanged papers with each other for review in order to have many reviews of the manuscript. A copy of the work was also reviewed each week by the professors, who, in turn, provided feedback. An important element of the review process was that the student writer always had the final decision of whether suggestions made would be incorporated into the manuscript or ignored. At times, students would receive mixed messages or varying ideas from their peers. This problem of varying reviews and differences of opinion of peers usually evoked the dilemmas experienced by veteran writers.
By the third year that the course was offered, the professors were able to illustrate this variation in reviewers' critiques; former students in the course shared comments received from the peer review process. One example from a former student's manuscript submission revealed two reviewers' remarks with one stating the manuscript was well done and should be published with minor revisions, and the second giving many revisions necessary before publication would be considered. Editors have written that many potentially excellent manuscripts are lost to publication because the authors are not willing to revise as suggested. The professors envisioned that students, as a result of this course, would become more receptive to criticism and thus would revise or rewrite according to suggestions of a journal editor.
The use of query letters was discussed at the beginning of the seminar and again when manuscripts were in the final drafts because of the variation with journal requirements. Many journal editors do not suggest writing a query letter whereas others have topical outlines for the ensuing year and therefore invite queries. The professors emphasized to each student to carefully read the guidelines to authors from the journals. These guidelines give direction (ie, query letters, type of information used in journal, format, number of copies) and are exceedingly helpful in the submission process.
The process of accepting rejection letters or preparing for revision of the manuscript was discussed in detail. Students were encouraged to analyze each letter received from editors and proceed to the next step. For example, if a manuscript was rejected because the content was inappropriate for the journal or a similar manuscript had recently been accepted, the procedure would be entirely different than if the manuscript were rejected due to poor writing quality. A manuscript inappropriate for one journal may be readily accepted by another; however, poor writing would mean major rewriting.
The evaluation for the course was dependent upon participation in class as a critiquer, having written material for each class, and the final draft of the manuscript with a cover letter. Some students audited the course but the expectations were the same. The final drafts of manuscripts were edited and returned to the students so that they could submit the manuscript if they wished.
Of the 35 students completing the course during the first two years, 18 students sent manuscripts to nursing journals, 15 of these had manuscripts accepted for publication. Three of the fifteen students have had two manuscripts accepted since the completion of the course.
A course in writing for publication in every graduate program would create a plethora of innovative projects, replication studies, and reviews of literature for the nursing community. Group participation in the critiquing of manuscripts provides many reviewers and consequently thoughtprovoking responses for a more clearly written manuscript. The interaction also provides a support system for the writer and allows the student to realize that the manuscript was not only well-written but informative and interesting to others.
- Miller, B.K (1988X A model for professionalism in nursing, lbdayb OR Nurse, 10(9), 18-23.