Friday, March 18, 2011

5 Tips for Effective Writing That Any Nurse Can Learn

A guest post from Katheryn Rivas

Learning to write well is not impossible for nurses. In fact, nurses already possess a fundamental writing skill just from successfully completing their medical training: writing concisely. Nurses regularly synthesize information, such as patient symptoms and treatment effects, and condense all of this data down into short and to-the-point sentences and descriptions on patient charts. This ability is valuable in effective writing, and is a great foundation to have on which to build up more writing skills. This means that most nurses only need to learn a few more tips and skills in order to utilize their existing knowledge so that they may write effectively outside of the hospital.

Use active voice whenever possible. The active voice is a sentence structure where the subject of the sentence is doing something, whereas the passive voice is a sentence structure where the subject does nothing while something is happening to it. For example, this sentence would be active: The dog barked at the cat. This sentence, however, would be passive: The cat was being barked at by the dog. Passive sentences typically sound clunky and wordy in comparison to active sentences, so try to always structure your sentences in the active voice when writing. This will make it sound more lively and clear.

Use more powerful descriptive words. Certain words pack a lot more meaning and imagery than others. For example, simply saying that someone "ran" is much less evocative than saying that someone "sprinted." This is because the word "ran" is bland and generic, whereas the word "sprinted" indicates not only that the subject was running, but also the manner in which he ran. You can make your writing more intriguing by selecting words that are inherently descriptive. Doing this will eliminate the need to add multiple adjectives to a sentence, which can weigh a sentence down. Instead, using only strong, vivid words will make your writing descriptive without being overly wordy.

Eliminate unnecessary words. Some words simply do not add anything of value to your writing. Every time you find yourself writing down the word "very" or "really," delete it. Chances are you will find that your sentence will not suffer from the omission. While you may use it in everyday conversation to emphasize a point, in writing, these words are empty and only serve to get in the way of your point.

Show, not tell, what you are trying to say. It is one thing to simply state that it is raining outside, and another to show that it is raining outside. For example, this sentence would be stating that it is raining: It is raining outside. On the other hand, this sentence would be showing that it is raining: The streets are slick with rain, and businessmen parade down the street with their umbrellas deployed. The idea behind "showing and not telling" is that writers should strive to describe an event so that the reader will come to a conclusion on his own. This is preferable to having the writer blatantly tell the reader what to imagine or think all the time. Allowing the reader to see or understand something on his own is much more powerful, and more likely to help emphasize a point or argument.

Read more. This writing tip does not involve writing at all, but it will likely aid many nurses into better understanding the mechanics of effective writing. Whenever you have free time which is admittedly rare for busy nurses! consider picking up a book that you enjoy and reading through it. Explore more books in the genre you like or from a favorite author. The more reading you do, the better writer you will become because you will grow accustomed to knowing how complex and simple sentences should sound.

This guest contribution was submitted by Katheryn Rivas, who regularly writes for online universities. She especially loves hearing back from her readers. Questions or comments can be sent to: