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Writing Is Not Just for Other People!

Section Editor(s): McGrath, Jacqueline M. PhD, RN, FNAP, FAAN; Brandon, Debra PhD, RN, CCNS, FAAN

doi: 10.1097/ANC.0000000000000061
Letter From the Editors

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Choosing the title for this editorial was easy because in our varied roles we hear this comment all the time, “writing is just not for me! Other people do that; they think it's easy, but not me.” Students, staff nurses, and even advanced practice nurses often truly hate the idea of writing. For many of us, the idea of writing does not bring up positive thoughts.1 However, writing does not need to be a horrible process, and it is an important process for many reasons. Writing provides an opportunity to reflect about patients and events in your work environment or practice. Writing also provides a way to more deeply explore a particular topic or issue. For example, while working with an infant and a family and uncovering the pathophysiology that accompanies trisomy 21, writing about it can make all the pieces come together more clearly and provides an avenue for you to share your knowledge with others. The best way for novice writers to engage in the writing process is to find something he or she is passionate about. Finding your passion is important because the passion about a topic or an issue will help you stick with the writing process even when the going gets a little tough. Just remember to take one step at a time. You can make it happen; it is truly that easy!

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Let's begin by defining passion. Passion, according to the Oxford English Dictionary is “an intense desire or enthusiasm for something.”2 Passion often drives or motivates action. Let's imagine that you have decided it is time to try your hand at writing a manuscript for Advances in Neonatal Care; choosing the topic will be your first step. Was there recently a baby in your unit that had a syndrome that stumped everyone? Is there a pathophysiology issue or discharge problem that you want to learn more about because you seem to keep caring for these types of infants? Is there an area of neonatal nursing where you have become the expert in your unit and you have expertise to share with others? Is there a policy or procedure guideline in your unit that you believe is not evidence-based or needs updating? Is there a project or research you were involved with on your unit that had great results that you want to share with others? Identifying your passion will sustain you even if your enthusiasm is dampened by challenges along the way.

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Once you choose the general topic, begin by writing down everything you currently know about the topic or project. You can write your ideas in outline form or even just a list that you can arrange later in the process into an outline. You might also write down why this topic is important to you in 1-2 sentences or a list of ideas. Understanding why the topic is important to you will help you to convey that importance to the reader. When we are writing, we often keep a note pad nearby to add ideas to the topic list that come into our minds randomly over the course of the day. These ideas are often quite valuable to the writing process. Some writers use their phone to voice record their ideas and others add notes to their calendars (paper or electronic). Regardless of the method you use, maintaining your running list of ideas so you will have them later when you have the time to reflect and write will help you continue to formulate your thoughts around your topic. Finding a process of keeping your ideas organized or together is important for moving forward in the writing process. Writing is like most everything—when it becomes more of a habit it is easier to do.34 We would encourage you do consider reading the book by Silva4 How to Write a Lot. We like this text because it is a quick read, uses humor, and has thoughtful strategies that work to help you examine the writing process and make good decisions about how best to keep going in the process. Others use writing strategies from the book by Boice3 on professional writing or the book by Oerrmann and Hayes5 on writing in nursing. These are all excellent resources to use when you might be struggling with the writing process. However, we also want to emphasize that using these resources is not mandatory to support you in the writing process. You need to decide what will best help you stay motivated and develop habits that will keep you writing. The best strategy is to write something, anything every day. Silva3 suggests that you find a consistent time and place to write daily. Some of our colleagues write in the office, some only at home, and some in coffee shops; what you need to do is find a place that works for you.

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Now you are ready to take your list of ideas and thoughts about your topic and go to the current literature. Many nurses have access to a medical library to search for current medical and nursing literature through their institution; medical centers and universities will have purchased the licenses to get access to most journals. If not, PubMed is available free on the Internet; however, getting to the whole article can be a little more difficult without licensed access. Many schools of nursing will assist you with getting access to a university library as a thank you for precepting or being an adjunct faculty member. Many nurses do not realize they can ask for this privilege as part of providing those opportunities for student nurses. Beware if you choose to use the Internet to search about your topic. Always consider the source: Is it a reliable source (supported by an appropriate organization)? Do you know when it was last updated? We will talk more about searching in a later editorial, but there are several sources you can use to help you in this process, including a medical librarian.6 Having an understanding of the kind of evidence there is to support your topic is important to your next steps. We cannot emphasize enough how important reading the literature and using it to support your ideas is to the writing process.

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Once you have your topic and information from the literature (evidence), the next step will be deciding what kind of manuscript you will write. This decision may be related to the topic (clinical issue, disease process, or report of unit project). Choosing the style of the manuscript will provide you with a framework or structure for helping your topic to hang together cohesively. Later in this series, we will provide more detailed guidance about writing clinical manuscripts as opposed to research manuscripts, however, included in the reference list are 3 short articles that provide some direction for selection of manuscript style.7–9 The next decision you want to make is where you want to publish the manuscript. Selecting a journal is an important decision because the journal will provide additional guidance about manuscript structure. Every journal provides guidance about how to best structure manuscripts for publication in that journal. Following the directions is important to your success in the process.

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By the time you are selecting a journal, you will have retrieved and read the literature about your topic and the next step is to consider how you think your manuscript will add to the literature. Taking the ideas and thoughts you have already written and putting them into an outline form that follows the structure provided by the journal will help you see what aspects are already well refined and areas where more refinement in your ideas is needed. No one likes blank pages, so writing an outline will help you see the structure of what you need to follow to fill those pages. What will you provide the reader of your manuscript that others have not? How will you speak about your audience so your message will be heard? These are questions that should guide your work during this aspect of the writing process.

At this point in the discussion, we would like to speak to publishing in Advances in Neonatal Care (ANC). Advances in Neonatal Care is the journal of the National Association of Neonatal Nurses. We believe that it is the premier journal for guiding neonatal nursing practice; however, it cannot be that without the work of neonatal nurses. We believe that your work will truly impact neonatal nursing practice if published in our journal. We hope you agree and will choose ANC to share your expertise. Our vision is to see ANC referred to regularly by neonatal nurses for the evidence that guides their practice. Publishing in a nursing journal strengthens nursing knowledge and helps guide nursing practice. We truly want each of you to be successful in the writing process, so we are willing to mentor you in the writing process. Send us e-mails with your ideas; we will encourage your submissions. Another strategy is finding a mentor in your neonatal nursing community to help you strengthen your writing skills. Writing can be lonely and most writers do not write alone so finding someone to share the work with you could be a strategy that will keep you moving forward with the writing process.

Finally, we welcome your comments and hope you will communicate openly with us about what you see in these editorials and your expectations for the journal. Send us questions or tell us writing strategies that have worked for you; we will use these editorials to share your strategies with your neonatal nursing colleagues. We are looking forward to working with each of you. Please consider submitting your scholarly work to ANC; we are committed to supporting both new and seasoned authors. We know that if you keep going, very soon you will see your name in print in Advances in Neonatal Care!

Thank you for your support,

Jacqueline M. McGrath, PhD, RN, FNAP, FAAN

Coeditor; Advances in Neonatal Care

Debra Brandon, PhD, RN, CCNS, FAAN

Coeditor; Advances in Neonatal Care

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1. Dowling DA, Savrin C, Graham GC. Writing for publication: perspectives of graduate nursing students and doctorally prepared faculty. J Nurs Ed. 2013;52(7):371–375. ISSN: 0148-4834 PMID: 23721072
2. Passion. Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford, England: Oxford English University Press; 2014.
    3. Boice R. Professors as Writers: A Self-Help Guide to Productive Writing. Stillwater, OK: New Forums; 1990. ISBN 13: 978-0-913507-13-1
    4. Silva PJ. How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Writing. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2007. ISBN-13: 978-1-59147-743-3
    5. Oermann MH, Hayes J. Writing for Publication in Nursing. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Springer; 2011.
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    9. Berkey B, Moore S. Preparing research manuscripts for publication: a guide for authors. Oncol Nurs Forum. 2012;39(5):433–435.
    © 2014 by The National Association of Neonatal Nurses