I'VE BEEN A NURSE for more than 20 years and have worked with some truly gifted professionals. I regularly see seasoned nurses use their clinical knowledge to save rapidly deteriorating patients, their communication skills to deescalate a volatile situation, and their compassion to help ease the agony of loss.
Though many nurses are comfortable with their clinical expertise, many find sharing this knowledge in professional circles overwhelming. However, sharing clinical knowledge is essential to advancing our profession and producing the best patient outcomes. So, whatever field you work in, keep an eye out for experienced nurses with strong writing skills, and encourage them to publish.
Most of the new nurse authors I work with begin the process with very little belief that they can produce an article at a level appropriate for publication, yet most of them go on to do just that. Sometimes it takes someone else believing in their capacity before they believe it themselves. That's why I find it particularly helpful to be able to show new authors work produced by their peers or myself.
I currently teach in an RN-to-BSN completion program. Many of my students are nurses with a tremendous amount of experience who've returned to school to further their education. When I show them an article written by someone completing the program—someone without a PhD—the idea of publishing becomes more real to them.
The other thing I highly recommend is finding a clinical journal that focuses on material that's helpful to a clinical nurse. Then, look at the journal's regular features. It's important to match your article's topic to a journal with an appropriate area of focus. Attempting to write full-length feature articles can be overwhelming to new authors, so I advise them to start with shorter articles of one page or less.
I share my own experience in graduate school with the nurses I work with. I was working on my PhD dissertation before anyone suggested I write for publication. When I successfully defended my dissertation, my committee chair advised me to submit the work for publication. I had no idea where to begin. I figured out the process slowly and painfully and eventually did publish the work, but having a mentor would have been extremely helpful. Finding an experienced mentor among professional peers, nurse leaders, nurse managers, or academic nurses is very helpful to new authors.
A good mentor/mentee relationship will alleviate stress and anxiety and make writing a formative and productive process.1 In addition, an experienced mentor can help new authors avoid the dangers of predatory publishers, and navigate appropriate venues for publication. Predatory publishers abuse the open-access publishing model for their own profit by using dubious methods to solicit manuscripts and then charging authors large fees for open-access publishing. This is considered an unethical practice in the publishing industry.2
New authors looking for a mentor should consider someone who's successfully published and with whom they already work well. Open communication is essential to the process, so sometimes working with a direct supervisor can be a challenging mentor/mentee relationship to maintain. When I mentor experienced RNs, I walk through the process with them, make suggestions along the way, and help them to complete the process. If I have someone who wants to tackle a larger article but needs additional support to do so, I encourage them to work with a second author and sometimes fill that role myself for their first time through. I talk to nurses interested in attending graduate school, and I stress that strengthening their writing skills and understanding how to get published will help them achieve their educational and professional goals.
Tips for success
One of the areas I find most new writers need assistance with occurs right in the beginning. New authors often have excellent ideas that are simply too big to fit into one journal article. Helping them identify an important clinical topic and then narrow the focus to one they can successfully cover within the word count allotted is usually where we start. Next, we send the query letter to make sure the topic is something the journal would be interested in reviewing for possible publication. Upon a positive response, the new authors begin writing.
I encourage the use of headings and outlines to help new authors stay organized and focused within the article constraints. I also tell all the new authors to anticipate writing several drafts and soliciting at least one additional peer review before they submit their article. This ensures the content is as clear as possible and improves the chance that the article will be accepted for publication.
Another experience I share with nurses occurred when my dissertation committee met to review my work, which involved research with pregnant adolescents. The statistician clearly had some misgivings about my work, which is never a good sign. But then he asked, “Are all of these adolescents women?” I realized that, working in women's health, and assuming all my subjects were female, I had failed to state that the subjects for inclusion in the study had to be female. It took someone from a completely different background reading the study proposal to note something important was missing. It's an easy mistake for each of us to make, which is why having multiple people review your work is one way to help you produce your best effort.
Many new authors need some assistance identifying the “voice” they'll use when writing. Reviewing the author guidelines for the journal you will eventually submit to is important for identifying the target audience. When writing for Nursing2017, I tell new authors to write the way they'd speak to an experienced nurse from another area of specialization. For example, give the background and explanations you'd offer while orienting an experienced nurse who's new to your department. Not all journals are the same, so showing new authors how to find the journal-specific author guidelines is helpful.
Another journal-specific piece of information that's helpful for authors is an anticipated schedule. Use the journal's website to determine the expected time an article is likely to be in review. Some published articles provide submission, acceptance, and publication dates that can provide the best estimate for time from submission to publication.
I provide new authors with feedback on their drafts. I always advise them to include current practice guidelines from their professional organizations and appropriate and up-to-date references. When an article is ready for submission, I also meet with new authors and help them walk through the submission process and tell them I'm happy to assist if they receive reviewer feedback and want to work through it together.
When I first submitted an article for publication, I had no idea what reviewer feedback looked like. When I read mine, I was extremely discouraged and would have probably put the article in a drawer forever if my committee chair hadn't encouraged me. After reviewing the feedback I'd received, she said, “This is great. You have a conditional acceptance on your very first try.” I had no idea that what I was reading was a good review. She proceeded to show me some of the reviewer feedback she'd received as a world-renowned researcher with millions of dollars in grant funding. I realized then that criticisms are intended to be constructive. I always touch base with my new authors after they get their reviews and encourage those who've been asked to revise do so without taking the feedback personally, but instead to view it as an opportunity to make their article stronger.
Recognition is key
It's also important to recognize the effort and work that new authors have gone through once an article is published. Our department has created an award that's announced at graduation for any nurses who have articles accepted for publication before graduation. Once the article is published, we notify the nurse managers and the CNOs at the institutions where the author works as well as include it in our alumni newsletter. The employers frequently post the article on the unit and announce the publication to the nursing staff. This practice promotes development of a culture of inquiry at the facility and encourages other new nurse authors to begin to think they might also be able to write an article sharing their expertise.1 In addition, many of our new nurse authors do choose to go on to graduate school or move into new nursing leadership positions. Doing so frequently requires letters of recommendation. We keep copies of the publications in each of the nurses' files and make sure to note them on any letters of recommendations that we write for the new authors.
Many of the new nurse authors are amazed and excited by their success with publication. One of them said, “I would have laughed at anyone who told me I might contribute to the knowledge base of such an important topic. This experience has brought out the best in each of us and positioned us to accomplish great things we never would have believed possible of ourselves.”
Once new nurse authors have the experience and confidence that comes with seeing their work published, it's not surprising to hear them say “I'm already thinking of what I can do next.” That's exactly what we want for our patients and our profession.
Head to www.nursing2017.com for more new author resources.
Responding to reviewers