Writing well is an essential skill for nurses at all levels, but far too many students graduate from nursing programs without developing writing competency. In many nursing programs, written assignments consist of progress notes about patients, care plans, concept maps, and various types of short papers. Too few assignments require preparing a variety of types of papers, writing drafts, receiving feedback on those drafts, and rewriting them. Too few graduates of nursing programs develop the ability to communicate clearly and effectively in writing.
As students progress through their nursing programs, they may not realize the importance of learning to write effectively and may never be placed in a situation to assess their own written communication skills. If courses assess student progress with only multiple-choice and short answer tests rather than essay items, and if assignments require minimal analysis and writing, how would students know that their ability to write effectively is critical to their success in the future? Effective leadership depends upon the ability to express one’s ideas in writing. To prepare coherent reports, convince others about a needed change in practice, communicate the results of evidence-based practice projects and quality improvement studies, and disseminate information to colleagues within and beyond one’s organization requires writing skill.
Extensive literature explores development of students’ critical thinking, analysis, and clinical judgment skills; their ability to work with others and on teams; and their technological skills. Far less emphasis has been placed on developing writing skills. Why is that? It has been our observation that students’ skills in logic, analysis, vocabulary, grammar, and punctuation have declined over the last few years, even as communication via social media has skyrocketed. But the need for these writing skills remains for nurses and leaders, and it is up to us as educators to do something about it. Although nursing faculty need not be writing instructors, they have a responsibility to include writing activities and assignments in every nursing course, to plan them across the curriculum, and to provide resources for students to recognize good writing. Only then will students have sustained writing experience and practice. Through papers with drafts and feedback, we can help students develop their writing ability and be better prepared for the writing they will do as professionals.