A well-presented document, a clear and succinct email, a precise and persuasive report all go a long way to ensure nursing maintains professional standards. This makes sense, as good writing skills equal good communication – a prerequisite for effective nursing. A nurse writer is a naturally skilled communicator who advocates for their patients and can engage in long-term dialogue within the medical health field.
To advance as a nurse writer, communication skills must be coupled with years of experience, along with a degree of empathy and compassion.
Just as nursing requires dedication and practice, so too do effective writing techniques within the clinical setting.
Tips to Become a Great Nurse Writer
1. Identify your target audience.
To write effectively, you have to understand the needs of the people you are writing for. Think of the variety of audiences you have to communicate with as a practitioner – such as patients, other nursing professionals, physicians. An essential component of nurse writing is to write for the reader. It won’t be effective to write a piece about disease using jargon if the audience consists of novices or laypersons. Similarly, it is wasteful to elaborate on the meaning of fundamental language when the audience consists mostly of experts. A nurse writer discussing heart disease would write a different way if their audience consists of nursing students vs. writing for cardiac nurses. Fortunately for nurse writers, the publisher will make clear who will be reading it.
Then think about how you communicate differently with each other. If it’s a report for a healthcare organization, find out the ethos of that organization. If it’s for a nursing manager, do they need to be informed or persuaded – or both?
2. Overcome the fear of the blank page.
Breakthrough writer’s block by:
- Establishing the purpose of your writing and what you hope to achieve
- Using mind maps or spider-grams to get ideas flowing
- Creating a defined timeframe with deadlines and milestones
- Writing in incremental bursts if you’re faced with a lengthy document
- Focusing on your readers’ needs but (crucially) forgetting about their possible judgements of the work.
If you’re really stuck, set an alarm for five minutes hence, then tell yourself you only need to write until it goes off. After all, how bad can five minutes be? What you’ll probably find is that you speed up as the time starts to run out, giving you the energy to burst through the block. But if that doesn’t happen, stop at five minutes, give yourself a ten-minute break, then set the alarm for another five-minute session. Two or three short sessions like this are usually enough to cure the block.
These apply to most writing tasks, including proposals for improvement projects, reports, patient records, staff references, memos, and even emails.
3. Keep going until you have a complete working draft.
Forget about perfection – for now. Organize the relevant information on a separate piece of paper (such as with a mind map – see above), then write. Only when you’ve finished should you revise and edit. Even the greatest writers work from a rough, first draft. Make sure you plan first though, as a ‘stream of consciousness can be very difficult to disentangle once you’ve written it.
To help with the final edit, ask yourself if you’ve addressed all your pertinent issues, especially problems, actions, and results.
4. Don’t dress it up.
Florid language and great swathes of rhetoric won’t impress a busy board member, nursing manager, or worried patient who wants to read only the salient facts. Time is of the essence in a clinical workplace, so clear, direct communication is key. Present your message clearly from the start in a straightforward style that will keep your audience interested.
5. Don’t be lax in your report writing.
Computerized report templates may have made the task easier but they are no replacement for courtesy and good grammar. Never take shortcuts in punctuation and spelling, and make sure the facts are correct. Get someone else to look over the document if you’re unsure of its accuracy.
6. Be honest.
If you don’t understand the subject matter, the chances are those reading it won’t either. Don’t mask your lack of understanding with unnecessary jargon. If you’re working collaboratively – on a report or proposal, for example – ask for help.
7. Know the Content
It may not be wise to accept assignments that cover topics outside of one’s expertise. However, when covering a topic that they do not specialize in, a nurse writer can consult with experts, and if possible, develop the content in the format of an interview. For example, a labor and delivery nurse asked to write about heart disease should consult with outside sources. In some instances, it is best to turn down work when a nurse is not qualified to cover the subject and does not have adequate resources.
Furthermore, as every nurse is well-versed in applying evidence-based practice, nurse writers should be well aware of the quality of their sources. The type of citation will depend on the character of the content; but no matter the context, any technical information discussed or claims made should be supported by valid sources. Most nurses have access to academic databases, particularly if they work for teaching hospitals; therefore, they should favor this resource over basic web searches whenever possible.
8. Know Your Limitations
In order to be effective, nurse writers have to navigate deadlines, the politics of writing, internet trolls, and stringent fact-checking and sourcing. In addition to their own lives, which may include full-time work as a nurse and a family, the time needed to write must be available to meet deadlines and create articles worth publishing.
Nurse writing at its best is a joyful extension of the practice of nursing. For those nurses who are enthusiastic about their work and talented in writing, nurse writing can be a fulfilling channel of creativity and income that allows them to combine their talents. Nurse writing enables nurses to extend their knowledge and experience beyond patients to readers.
Being a Nurse Writer
Nurse writers must have several years of experience as registered nurses before they can provide guidance or personal knowledge in medical writing.
Becoming a nurse writer does not require specialized advanced courses or education beyond the degrees needed to become an RN. However, nurse writers should have exceptional grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Some knowledge of writing styles, such as AP Style, may be required depending on the type of employer or client. Nurse writers must also have a strong sense of who their audience is; for example, a nurse writer may use more technical terminology if the intended audience is fellow nurses, or explain things in layman’s terms if the piece is for a more general readership.
What Are the Roles and Duties of a Nurse Writer?
Clear and concise writing is an asset in any field, but nursing, in particular, relies on clear and specific language to allow for continuous patient care and safety. Nurses, throughout their careers, need to be detailed, specific, and accurate when communicating and conveying information. There is little room for appealing to emotions or establishing connections in this type of writing.
When writing for a variety of audiences, nurses have more freedom to communicate on a fundamental level. Nurse writers often rely on their own experiences or those of their colleagues to create informational and engaging content.
Nurse writers must be willing and able to follow instructions from their clients and employers regarding the tone, subject matter, and content of their written pieces. This may involve edits and revisions, interviewing subjects, and providing detailed sources for their work. Writing often involves tight deadlines and quick turnarounds, so nurse writers must be able to meet these demands.
Becoming a nurse writer does not require specialized advanced courses or education beyond the degrees needed to become a registered nurse. However, nurse writers should have exceptional grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Some knowledge of writing styles, such as AP Style, may be required depending on the type of employer or client. Nurse writers must also have a strong sense of who their audience is; for example, a nurse writer may use more technical terminology if the intended audience is fellow nurses, or explain things in layman’s terms if the piece is for a more general readership. With written communication now so much a part of clinical nursing, these tips, and a little practice should give you the confidence to handle any writing task. A little time spent perfecting the process now will leave you more time for other pressing responsibilities in the future.