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On Writing

Sabella, Donna, PhD, MEd, MSN, CRNP, PMHNP-BC

AJN The American Journal of Nursing: June 2014 - Volume 114 - Issue 6 - p 10
doi: 10.1097/01.NAJ.0000450409.41820.f2

Donna Sabella, PhD, MEd, MSN, CRNP, PMHNP-BC


It was with great interest and, unfortunately, agreement that I read Maureen Shawn Kennedy's “Getting Writing Right” (Editorial, March). I'm a nurse and a former high school English teacher and college composition and writing professor (and an AJN contributing editor). I've taught in a variety of academic disciplines, working with students and faculty from diverse backgrounds, and nurses are the worst writers I've encountered, even at the graduate and faculty levels.

While Kennedy writes of receiving an increasing number of unpublishable papers, the problem begins well before a manuscript reaches her desk. I cannot count the times I've received course papers that were almost unintelligible and in which the student couldn't construct a simple, declarative sentence. These papers often lack cohesiveness, organization, and adequate content. Historically they've been of such poor quality that now, when assigning a paper, I make it very clear what needs to be included and how I want it organized. At times, I feel like I'm practically writing the paper myself.

I'm reminded of one experience in which a student's papers were stellar but he couldn't construct a coherent response on the discussion board in our classroom. Something was wrong. Further examination revealed that his papers were stellar because they were plagiarized. I was disheartened to see that in prior courses, some of which involved writing, he had received As from other faculty.

Unfortunately, faculty members often need to improve their own writing skills. Several nurses I worked with wanted to publish together, but when they showed me samples of their writing, I turned down their offer. Their writing was an embarrassment, especially for those at the PhD level. And while I know e-mails represent informal communication among colleagues, recently I've been copied on e-mails that are completely incomprehensible—with no verbs, punctuation, or clarification about the topic of the e-mail.

While a poor writer can still be an excellent nurse, being able to write well is a sign of a good education. We already confront enough obstacles regarding our rightful place as competent clinicians, leaders, and professionals—we don't need to sabotage ourselves further by not writing well. I would love to see more attention paid to this important skill in all nursing programs, so we can share with each other the joy of a well-crafted sentence and well-written paper.

Donna Sabella, PhD, MEd, MSN, CRNP, PMHNP-BC


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