For nurses returning to school to complete an RN to BSN online, the prospect of writing research papers, essays and long-answer exams may seem daunting. Writing as a student or as a practicing nursing requires adherence to different formats, depending on the purpose and the setting.

How to Write Professionally as a Nurse

The following guidelines will help you identify some important considerations, whether you are returning to school and will be writing nursing papers or are just finishing school and beginning an exciting position that requires you to write as a nursing professional.

  1. Identify the Type and Purpose of the Writing

Getting clear on the type and purpose of the piece you will be writing is an important first step that will help you determine expectations for the finished document. For example, patient documentation in a medical record follows a very specific format and must contain only objective data and not a nurse’s subjective opinion of patient data. Conversely, a document lobbying for safer school ground equipment may include both objective and subjective data in an attempt to convince authorities to make changes. Research papers are also different and require a very specific style of writing and method of citing sources.

  1. Make an Outline

Attempting to write anything without an outline is like trying to drive somewhere without knowing where you are going. An outline is like a map. It helps you organize your thoughts and the ideas you want to discuss. Creating an outline will lead you to your final destination, which is your purpose behind the document you are going to write.

  1. Ensure Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation Are Correct

Spelling, grammar and punctuation are important in your written work as a nursing student and as a professional nurse. These aspects of your writing reflect your level of detail and authority. Your readers will make judgments about your competence, professionalism and intelligence based on how well you communicate in writing. When used correctly, these three language conventions build trust with your readers. For these reasons, you will likely lose marks in your written school work as a nursing student if these aspects of your writing fall short.

  1. Use Active Voice

All writing falls into one of two grammatical voices: active voice or passive voice. When you write in active voice, a subject acts on a verb. For example “The student wrote a paper.” In this example, the student is the subject who performed the action — wrote a paper. This form of voice is clear and direct.

Passive voice, on the other hand, involves a subject that receives the action of the verb — for example, “The paper was written by the student.” Passive voice is more subtle and less direct than active voice. As a general rule, use active voice unless a writing style or format requires the passive voice.

  1. Know the Writing Guide and Style

Nursing students will use different writing guides and styles depending on which academic institution and college they attend. Writing guides supply a standardized format for communicating information clearly and predictably in academic writing. These guides also acknowledge others’ ideas and research, thereby avoiding plagiarism. Finally, they detail a format for citing sources, so readers may find the original publication and read more.

The following are some common writing guides and styles used in nursing:

  • American Psychological Association (APA) Style
  • Chicago Manual of Style (CMS)
  • Associated Press (AP) Style
  • Modern Language Association (MLA) Format
  1. Proofread and Edit Your Final Draft

Proofreading your final draft is essential for catching spelling and grammatical errors — and important information that may be missing. Proofreading also helps you determine if what you have written is clear, concise and logical. It may be helpful to get someone else to proofread for you and provide you with feedback.

Writing Resources for Nursing Students and Nurses

The following resources are useful for nurses returning to school, as well as those writing research papers and grant proposals. These online tools can help you check the grammar, spelling and punctuation of your written work, explain the different parts of a research paper or essay, and assist you with formatting and citing your sources.

Learning to write well as a nursing student is important, and the skill will follow you through your professional career. By writing clearly and concisely and using correct grammar, spelling and punctuation, you can reveal a level of professionalism through your written work that others will respect.

Learn more about Eastern Michigan University’s online RN to BSN program.


NurseJournal: Writing Guide for Nurses

Grammarly Blog: How to Write an Outline: 4 Ways to Organize Your Thoughts

ClearVoice: Yes, Good Grammar Is (Still) Important, and Here’s Why

SAGE Journals: Predictors of Writing Success: How Important Are Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation?

Grammarly: Active vs. Passive Voice