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  1. Don’t worry, it's a new skill

    Academic reading and writing are skills, and, as with any skill, you can learn them. No one is born knowing how to do any kind of writing. You learn through reading, repetition and practice. You’ve done this before – you learnt styles of writing for sending a text message or an email; you can learn how to write in an academic style too.  
  2. Start reading

    Look at something in the new style for you. Have a look at Nursing Standard, for example. It’s a good, accessible starting point rather than diving straight into The Journal of Advanced Nursing. This will help you get a feel for how people write for academic purposes.  
  3. Take your time

    Don’t be put off by an extensive reading list. Pick carefully and remember you don’t have to understand everything immediately. Start with an introduction or a chapter that interests you, or something your tutor has recommended.  
  4. Consider tone

    Different communities have different styles of communication. The academic community generally favours a more formal tone. Nursing is an evidence-based discipline. Reflect this in your writing by avoiding opinion and using the third person. This creates a tone of objectivity and provides evidence. For example, instead of saying: “I think that…”, you might use: “research has found that…” or “studies show that…”.

    Nursing is an evidence-based discipline

    Similarly, instead of writing: “This approach didn’t seem like a good idea…”, you might write: “The study design was flawed as it did not include enough participants from older age groups”.  
  5. Think about specialised language

    This is part of your toolkit as a nursing student and demonstrates your understanding of the profession. For example, you might say “myocardial infarction” rather than “heart attack” or distinguish between the different types of diabetes instead of just using a general term. This isn’t how you would speak to your friends or service users but reflects the more formal tone used in the scholarly nursing community and demonstrates your knowledge of the subject matter.  
  6. Ask a librarian for help

    They could be at the RCN, your university or your workplace. They’re the experts on finding accurate information and for signposting you to useful resources. Remember that trying to find books or articles on a topic is part of your studies. If you’ve spent three hours doing that, it’s not wasted time. Online tools can be helpful too (see below).   
  7. Critical thinking isn’t about criticising

    It’s about asking, does this paper make sense? Did they have the right approach? Are the sources trustworthy? Were there enough patients or participants in a study? Use the skills you’ve already developed in other areas. For example, if you were buying a new phone you wouldn’t accept all the adverts at face value, but instead do some background research and read reviews. 

    Use the skills you’ve already developed in other areas

    You can explain why you came to your conclusions after you’ve asked the relevant questions.  
  8. Learn from feedback

    Reading feedback on your work can be uncomfortable but take time to reflect on it and incorporate comments in your next assignments. Also, make sure you get someone else to proof-read your work. Get together with your peers and workshop each other’s writing. Or ask a friend who understands the topic to read your work.  
  9. Ditch the imposter syndrome

    You’re good enough to be there. Nothing is ever going to be perfect. In an ideal world you’d be able to focus solely on your course, but many students are fitting in studies around their busy lives and part-time work.  Celebrate your successes and, if you need to, remind yourself that you passed despite everything else that was going on.  
  10. Remember your end goal

    You want to pass your course and get on with the job you’re studying for so don’t get too hung up on marks. Individual papers are a snapshot in time. They don’t define who you are as a person or a student. Remember, when you qualify the people you’re treating will be focused on the care you give them. They won’t be worried about the mark you got in an assignment.  

Useful information 

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