Journal of Nursing Education

Educational Innovations 

The Evolution of a Writing Program

Bonnie J. White, MSN, RN, CNE; Karen S. Lamson, MLS

Abstract

Background:

Scholarly writing is required in nursing, and some students are unable to communicate effectively through writing. Faculty members may struggle with the grading of written assignments. A writing team, consisting of a nursing faculty member, the school of nursing library liaison, and members from academic support services, implemented strategies including workshops, handouts, and use of exemplars to improve student writing and to provide support to faculty. Few students sought help from the writing team.

Method:

An online writing center within the existing learning management system was developed to address nursing students' and faculty's scholarly writing needs. The writing center includes guides, tutorials, and exemplars.

Results:

Anecdotal evidence indicates the use of the writing center during afternoons and evenings and prior to due dates of written assignments.

Conclusion:

Online writing resources were used more frequently than face-to-face support. Further research is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. [J Nurs Educ. 2017;56(7):443–445.]

Abstract

Background:

Scholarly writing is required in nursing, and some students are unable to communicate effectively through writing. Faculty members may struggle with the grading of written assignments. A writing team, consisting of a nursing faculty member, the school of nursing library liaison, and members from academic support services, implemented strategies including workshops, handouts, and use of exemplars to improve student writing and to provide support to faculty. Few students sought help from the writing team.

Method:

An online writing center within the existing learning management system was developed to address nursing students' and faculty's scholarly writing needs. The writing center includes guides, tutorials, and exemplars.

Results:

Anecdotal evidence indicates the use of the writing center during afternoons and evenings and prior to due dates of written assignments.

Conclusion:

Online writing resources were used more frequently than face-to-face support. Further research is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. [J Nurs Educ. 2017;56(7):443–445.]

Scholarly writing is required in bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) programs, as well as master's of science in nursing (MSN) programs. The Essentials of Baccalaureate Education for Professional Nursing Practice (American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 2008) noted “professional nursing requires strong critical reasoning, clinical judgment, communication, and assessment skills” (p. 9). Therefore, effective written communication is an important outcome of BSN education. In addition, the development of scholarly writing skills in BSN education provides the needed foundation for successful scholarly writing at the MSN level. American Association of Colleges of Nursing's (2011) Essentials of Master's Education in Nursing indicated that the professional environment requires high-level communication skills, which includes scholarly writing.

Knowledge of the mechanics of writing, use of evidence, and formatting citations and references contribute to and are necessary for scholarly writing. A multidimensional writing program was developed to address scholarly writing issues among students and faculty. This program focused on both student and faculty needs by providing writing workshops, classroom instruction, handouts, and small group and individual mentoring to improve scholarly writing skills.

Literature Review

Prior literature has addressed many aspects of scholarly writing (Giddens & Lobo, 2008; Hunker, Gazza, & Shellenbarger, 2014; Latham & Ahern, 2013; Lloyd, 2007). Writing tools and frameworks have been created to help students and faculty address issues regarding reading comprehension, English aptitude, writing mechanics, and grading inconsistencies. The College Board©'s ACCUPLACER writing assessment tool (Latham & Ahern, 2013) was used to evaluate students' scholarly writing needs. Curriculum revision and partnering with a university-based writing center were strategies identified to address writing issues. Lloyd (2007) developed the PROCESS (Planning, Referencing, Organization, Composition, Engineering, Spelling, and Structure) framework to direct students in a comprehensive approach to scholarly writing. Mastery of these components is essential for successful scholarly writing. Hunker et al. (2014) focused on knowledge, skills, and attitudes representing Bloom's three domains of learning to help guide faculty to establish leaner outcomes and set reasonable expectations for students' writing across all levels of nursing education.

Individual faculty members may struggle with grading written assignments and achieving interrater reliability. Improving grading consistency has been the focus of several studies (Cyr, Smith, Broyles, & Holt, 2014; Millet, 2010; O'Flynn-Magee & Clauson, 2013). Tools and guidelines have been created to address writing inconsistencies. Millet (2010) used the Grade Lift metric to improve grading consistency across faculty members. Cyr et al. (2014) evaluated an existing rubric, created and piloted a new scoring rubric, and subsequently revised the new rubric to achieve consistency in scoring among trained medical faculty members. In addition, grading guidelines reflecting best practices have been created. A focus group identified educators' beliefs, values, and practices, which became the foundation for comprehensive grading guidelines (O'Flynn-Magee & Clauson, 2013). These guidelines included pregrading strategies, grading approaches, effective feedback, and grading across the nursing program.

Attitudes, perceptions, and challenges can also influence students' scholarly writing. Perceptions of the value of scholarly writing and writing apprehension may be barriers to successful writing outcomes (Johansen & Harding, 2013; Newton & Moore, 2010). Johansen and Harding (2013) identified academic and personal factors affecting the students' writing experience and found students' perceptions were formed due to limited exposure to academic writing, time constraints, and lack of understanding of the relevance of scholarly writing to nursing practice. Newton and Moore (2010) explored reading and English aptitude as they relate to discipline-specific writing and found that English aptitude was predictive of formal writing ability.

Writing Program

First Steps

Members of a scholarly writing team at one university in the northeastern United States implemented several of the strategies identified in the literature, and these strategies formed the foundation for a comprehensive scholarly writing program for the school of nursing. After reading student-written work for the first time, one new faculty member in the school of nursing noted that students generally had poor writing skills. Issues with writing mechanics, composition, using current evidence, and formatting of citations and references were observed across the curriculum. In addition, a lack of grading consistency among faculty may have been an indicator of their need for writing support. Initial steps to address students' and faculty's scholarly writing needs was the development of a writing team. This team consisted of a nursing faculty member, the school of nursing library liaison, and two members from academic support services.

Early interventions included a scholarly writing overview presented to all new BSN and MSN students at the beginning of the programs. A lecture introduced students to writing from evidence, use of American Psychological Association (APA) format, and the expectations and importance of writing that reflects professionalism. Students were asked to write a paragraph in response to a question to demonstrate their composition skills and ability to correctly reference a scholarly source. An assessment of the writing focused on sentence structure, use of punctuation, ability to address the topic, and use of APA format. Analysis of these writing samples by the nursing faculty member identified common deficits with grammar, spelling, sentence structure, and citation knowledge. The writing team used this assessment to create resources to address writing needs. Students who demonstrated poor writing skills were encouraged to use writing support services. Resources including writing workshops, one-to-one advising, and individualized professional tutoring were implemented. Unfortunately, all services were under used. At the time, the writing team did not inquire as to why these services were under used.

Writing Workshops

Weekly workshops for BSN students were held on alternating days to promote increased attendance, and all members of the writing team were present. Students were encouraged to join the workshop, but attendance was not mandatory. Team members provided a nonthreatening environment to build on students' existing skills. Writing concerns were addressed with individual students with the goal of enhancing their scholarly writing abilities. Discussions included using a rubric to organize thoughts and structure a paper. APA format was also reviewed and reinforced. The library liaison worked with students on evidence-based practice, including search strategies, database use, access to full-text articles, and completion of interlibrary loan requests. Members of academic support services also reviewed the use of APA format in addition to writing mechanics and composition. All workshops were held at a convenient location for the students.

Additional writing support was provided by the nursing faculty member and the library liaison to MSN students during their mandatory annual residency. All MSN students received the same lectures provided to BSN students. Most MSN students are online students, and the face-to-face students are only on campus 1 day per week; therefore, other resources were needed for mobile learning. These resources, both print and electronic, included information on scholarly writing, APA format, use of primary and secondary sources for evidence-based practice, exemplars, and templates to guide students in organizing their papers. Contact information to obtain additional writing support was also provided. Writing expectations for MSN students are more stringent than for BSN students; however, their writing abilities were not consistent with these higher expectations.

Nursing Faculty

Early in the process of addressing students' writing needs, it was apparent that faculty grading of student-written work was highly variable. Grading inconsistencies related to APA format, content, and writing mechanics were noted. Often, nursing faculty transition to academia from the clinical setting, and their experience with scholarly writing varies. This may contribute to grading inconsistencies which may lead to frustration for both students and faculty.

To help support faculty, members of the writing team participated in a staff meeting and discussed the interventions implemented for students. The same writing resources distributed to students were also provided to faculty to ensure consistency and continuity across the curriculum. One example is a scholarly writing checklist outlining requirements for each assignment (Table A; available in the online version of this article). Nursing faculty were also receptive to future support from the writing team.

Scholarly Writing Check List

Table A:

Scholarly Writing Check List

Feedback and Summary

Anecdotal evidence indicates that less than 10% of the students participated in voluntary workshops. BSN students provided positive feedback regarding the team's help with citations, formatting, and appropriate content. MSN students provided similar feedback during their mandatory residencies. Only a limited number of students initiated contact with the writing team. The writing team discussed observations and progress of the writing program. It was apparent from the first workshop that a voluntary drop-in format was not effective. Many of students attending the workshops were already strong writers. Often, it was observed that students did not recognize their own writing weaknesses and need for support. The writing team could not make attendance at writing workshops mandatory; therefore, it became clear that other approaches were necessary to reach all who required assistance with writing. An online school of nursing writing center, located within the existing learning management system (LMS), was developed to address student and faculty scholarly writing needs.

The School of Nursing Writing Center

The school of nursing writing center was developed by a newly formed writing team consisting of the same nursing faculty member and library liaison. Two new members from academic support services joined the writing team. Team members identified and created resources specific to their areas of expertise for the new online writing center. This center is accessible to all BSN and MSN students, all nursing faculty, and any interested staff who have access to the LMS.

Writing resources are organized under headings that include scholarly writing, mastering APA, the writing process, rules for writing, and searching for evidence. Guidelines, tutorials, templates, and interactive learning activities are a few of the available resources. Specific resources related to course assignments are also included in the writing center. Grading rubrics and exemplars for BSN and MSN writing assignments are provided along with any faculty specific instructions.

Opportunities for communication with members of the writing team are available during virtual office hours using a group communication tool associated with the LMS, as well as through e-mail. Writing center participants are provided descriptions of each team member's area of expertise, along with their contact information, which is located under the main headings of each content area. The writing team encourages all users to provide feedback related to current resources, along with identifying additional resources that would be useful. Statistics tracking capability is available within the LMS and will be used to evaluate frequency of student and faculty access after institutional review board approval has been obtained. Currently, anecdotal evidence indicates use of the writing center during afternoons and evenings and prior to due dates of written assignments.

Conclusion

Writing team members received suggestions for additional resources, which were subsequently implemented. Examples include links and documents for citing course specific resources, discussion board etiquette, exemplars, and copyright information. Other schools and departments within the university have expressed interest in adapting the writing center for their programs. Informal feedback indicates that the online writing resources are used more frequently, compared with face-to-face support. Next steps include research to evaluate usage and effectiveness of the writing center from multiple perspectives. Data that may prove useful include time of day and dates of access to the writing center, as well as most frequently accessed content areas. Analysis of data may provide the writing team with patterns of usage, which will help the team schedule interactive and collaborative sessions. Another area of research interest is determining whether use of the writing center results in improved scholarly writing and grading consistency. The school of nursing writing center will continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of students and faculty.

References

  • American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2008). The essentials of baccalaureate education for professional nursing practice. Washington, DC: Author.
  • American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2011). The essentials of master's education in nursing. Washington, DC: Author.
  • Cyr, P.R., Smith, K.A., Broyles, I.L. & Holt, C.T. (2014). Developing, evaluating and validating a scoring rubric for written case reports. International Journal of Medical Education, 5, 18–23. doi:10.5116/ijme.52c6.d7ef [CrossRef]
  • Giddens, J.F. & Lobo, M. (2008). Analyzing graduate student trends in written paper evaluation. Journal of Nursing Education, 47, 480–483. doi:10.3928/01484834-20081001-05 [CrossRef]
  • Hunker, D.F., Gazza, E.A. & Shellenbarger, T. (2014). Evidence-based knowledge, skills, and attitudes for scholarly writing development across all levels of nursing education. Journal of Professional Nursing, 30, 341–346. doi:10.1016/j.profnurs.2013.11.003 [CrossRef]
  • Johansen, E. & Harding, T. (2013). ‘So I forgot to use 1.5 line spacing! It doesn't make me a bad nurse!’: The attitudes to and experiences of a group of Norwegian postmaster's level nurses to academic writing. Nurse Education in Practice, 13, 366–370. doi:10.1016/j.nepr.2012.10.001 [CrossRef]
  • Latham, C.L. & Ahern, N. (2013). Professional writing in nursing education: Creating an academic-community writing center. Journal of Nursing Education, 52, 615–620. doi:10.3928/01484834-20131014-02 [CrossRef]
  • Lloyd, M. (2007). Developing academic writing skills: The PROCESS framework. Nursing Standard, 21, 50–56. doi:10.7748/ns.21.40.50.s55 [CrossRef]
  • Millet, I. (2010). Improving grading consistency through grade lift reporting. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 15, 1–8. Retrieved from http://www.pareonline.net/getvn.asp?v=15&n=4
  • Newton, S. & Moore, G. (2010). Nursing students' reading and English aptitudes and their relationships to discipline-specific formal writing ability: A descriptive correlational study. Nursing Education Research, 31, 221–225.
  • O'Flynn-Magee, K. & Clauson, M. (2013). Uncovering nurse educators' beliefs and values about grading academic papers: Guidelines for best practices. Journal of Nursing Education, 52, 492-492–499. doi:10.3928/01484834-20130819-01 [CrossRef]

Scholarly Writing Check List

Times New Roman, 12-point font, doubled spaced throughout, at least 1” margins top, bottom, left, and right of page, left margin justified, right margin NOT justified

Title page, p. 1

Running head (Running head: RUNNING HEAD); see Sample paper

Page number

Author

Institution

Running head beginning on p. 2 RUNNING HEAD; see sample paper

Abstract (if required) p. 2; see sample paper

Title p. 2 if no abstract, p. 3 with abstract; see sample paper

Paragraphs: Indent the first line of every paragraph using the tab key set at 5–7 spaces or ½”, p. 229

Every paper needs an introduction that includes the purpose of the paper and some background of the topic; a heading labeled as Introduction is not used with APA format

Headings (see APA manual pp. 62–63); see sample paper

Citations (see APA manual pp. 174–179); see sample paper

Paraphrased, synthesized author, date format (Recommended)

Direct quotations author, date, page or paragraph number (Limit or avoid)

Every paper needs a conclusion that relates back to the introduction

References (see APA manual pp. 180–215); see sample paper

Submitted to TurnItIn if required by course faculty

Authors

Ms. White is Associate Professor of Nursing, School of Nursing, and Ms. Lamson is Reference and Instruction Librarian and Assistant Professor, Division of Library and Learning Resources, MCPHS University, Worcester, Massachusetts.

The authors have disclosed no potential conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise.

The authors thank Cynthia Bushey and Dante Garland for their valuable contributions in the development of the Nursing Program Writing Center.

Address correspondence to Bonnie J. White, MSN, RN, CNE, Associate Professor of Nursing, School of Nursing, MCPHS University, 25 Foster Street, Worcester, MA 01608; e-mail: bonnie.white@mcphs.edu.

Received: December 15, 2016
Accepted: March 02, 2017

10.3928/01484834-20170619-11

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