I often meet nurses who say they “wish” they could write, but know they “can’t.” I counter with “Yes, you can” because I know that as nurses, they have learned a multitude of skills during their career. Like those skills—such as starting an I.V., suctioning a patient, or analyzing an electrocardiogram strip—writing can be learned.
That doesn’t mean you can necessarily become the next Stephen King or J. K. Rowling or surpass your favorite nurse author with your expertise, but it does mean you can become confident enough in your writing to achieve a variety of goals, from publishing journal articles to contributing to your organization’s newsletter.
Of course, nurses have different levels of expertise for different skills. For example, we learn how to insert an I.V. in nursing school, and for many of us, this becomes a daily part of our routine. However, you likely know at least one nurse who is particularly adept at I.V. insertion. When you have a difficult “stick,” you can rely on his or her advanced expertise, right? Writing is the same way. Some might be much better at it than others, but every nurse can learn the basic skills.
The other advantage you have is your knowledge of anatomy and physiology. That’s because you can think of writing in terms of parts of the body: brain, heart, skeleton, intestines, and kidneys.
The brain is the idea for the article (or blog post, etc.). Ideas are all around you. Perhaps the most challenging part for you is to take a broad idea (say, reducing readmissions) and narrow it down (how to reduce readmissions in patients with heart failure).
The heart represents the flow of the article. An article has to be organized and progress logically, in the same way blood flows in a way that nourishes the body. You want to guide the reader through the information. You can pick from a variety of methods to do so. For example, if you’re discussing a disease, you would likely cover incidence, pathophysiology, assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and nursing care. If you’re describing a project, you might start with the reason for it and then walk the reader through the steps sequentially.
The skeleton is the basic structure of the article—beginning, middle, and end. Your beginning should draw the reader’s attention; for example, you might provide a startling fact. The end is the last time you’ll have the reader in your grasp, so you’ll want to reiterate your key points.
The intestines are the guts of the article. Here is where you deliver the information you want the reader to have.
The kidneys filter out waste; in the case of writing, you edit your work to eliminate wordiness. As you edit yourself, check to see if the writing is clear. You’ll also want to “show” not “tell.” Examples and visual elements such as figures and tables can help with this.
Skills, anatomy, and physiology…all are familiar to you, right? So you see, you really can write.
For more information about the anatomy analogy, see Anatomy of Writing for Publication for Nurses, 3rd ed.