Academic work completed by students often results in publishable outcomes. Honors projects, master's theses, doctor of nursing practice (DNP) projects, and doctor of philosophy (PhD) dissertations are expected to produce scholarly results. Important reasons for publishing student scholarly work include, among others, disseminating cutting-edge clinical innovation and scientific findings while introducing students into a professional conversation with like-interested colleagues. Moving a student from a school paper to a publishable manuscript is an extra step requiring faculty guidance. Although problems with student manuscripts are not new, the increase in manuscripts resulting from student projects, especially DNP projects, is highlighting a need for increased faculty mentoring of student authors. Are faculty members prepared to be writing mentors? Here are a few things to consider.
Being a mentor to a student writing for publication implies that the faculty member has experience in writing, submitting, and successfully publishing manuscripts. Doctor of philosophy programs have a long tradition of faculty publication, and students in these programs are more likely to receive writing support. Doctor of nursing practice programs are available in many schools without PhD programs, schools where faculty members may have limited publication experience. It is difficult to mentor students in publishing when faculty members have limited or no experience.
While it is appropriate to expect students to prepare a manuscript for submission as a course requirement, it is not appropriate to expect students to submit a manuscript as a course requirement. What's the difference? Preparing a manuscript is a teaching strategy involving the student and faculty. Submitting a manuscript engages a journal staff, editors, and peer reviewers. Before submitting to a journal, student manuscripts must receive faculty review and approval. Engaging journals in reviewing poorly prepared student manuscripts is involving editors and reviewers, without consent, into becoming part of a school's course requirements.1 Faculty should clarify in writing the internal school procedure for moving a student's academic work from school paper to submitted manuscript.
What can go wrong? It's obvious to a journal when student authors are unaware of author guidelines. Students submit school papers as manuscripts in the school format, sometimes including the course number and name on the paper. Manuscripts exceed page limits, fail to comply with instructions for tables and figures, use the wrong referencing format, and include copyrighted material without proper permissions, to name a few common problems. Such manuscripts are rejected without review, creating a negative first experience for the student. Faculty and advisers may be listed as authors and, when asked to sign the copyright release, are quite surprised to find the paper was submitted, raising ethical concerns about authorship. Students should list their school affiliation on the manuscript, not their employer. Employers have their own procedures for reviewing and approving employee publications. School papers often require elements tied to course objectives that are out of place in a manuscript and should be deleted in the conversion from assignment to manuscript. Improper grammar, spelling errors, and referencing problems can easily be fixed with a mentor-reviewer. Moreover, students need mentoring to understand author guidelines, learn the norms of authorship, and reply to reject or revise responses from the journal editor. Faculty lacking the publication experience to mentor students only increases a student author's frustrations with the process.
Who should be an author for a student project turned manuscript? The student should be the first author. Faculty members guiding the academic work and providing the extra time and effort required to support student authors appropriately are listed as coauthors. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors recommends that authorship be based on 4 criteria. Each author must have (1) made substantial contributions to the work, (2) participated in the preparation of the manuscript and its intellectual content, (3) approved the final version of the manuscript, and (4) agreed to be accountable for all aspects of the work (http://www.icmje.org/recommendations/browse/roles-and-responsibilities/defining-the-role-of-authors-and-contributors.html). When faculty advisors meet all 4 conditions, they should be listed as coauthors. Those faculty members supporting the student but not at the level of authorship may be acknowledged in the paper for their more limited contributions.
One more consideration for faculty members related to student publication. How, and in what way, does the academic program emphasize writing? Writing is a skill; it develops with practice. The ability to analyze and synthesize is best developed through writing. In an era of drop-down menus and check boxes, most written health communication barely qualifies as writing. Problems with DNP student writing abilities have been reported despite students having excellent clinical credentials.2 Multiple strategies have been suggested to improve student writing such as writing assessments, workshops, and peer review, but it all comes down to practice, practice, practice. The capstone project should not be the first or only scholarly written requirement in a program. Too much emphasis has been placed on subject mastery measured by multiple-choice testing and academic achievement judged by PowerPoint presentations at the expense of diluting writing and the cognitive skills that writing develops. Evidence confirms that DNP students are struggling with writing, and editors of nursing journals are finding it appalling to receive increasingly abysmal manuscripts. This journal is no exception. Faculty members have a responsibility to mentor students in the preparation and submission of manuscripts reflecting scholarly work. Deans and directors should ensure that faculty have the publication experience to mentor students. However, a faculty's first responsibility in student publication is a curriculum that provides the cognitive abilities to analyze and synthesize and the writing skills to prepare a paper worthy of publication.
1. Kennedy MS, Barnsteiner J. A plea to faculty: rethink student writing projects. Am J Nurs
2. Dols JD, Hernández C, Miles H. The DNP project: quandaries for nursing scholars. Nurs Outlook