From staff nurse to nurse consultant: Academic essays part 7: demonstrating depth of writing

28 January 2021
Volume 30 · Issue 2


John Fowler, Educational Consultant, explores academic writing

One of the marks of a professional and qualified nurse is that their practice is evidence based. There are many armchair and social media health commentators who peddle their opinions as though they were proven facts, propagating misinformation and, at times, harmful practices. Nurse education, at pre-registration level, helps students develop an understanding of how to assess the evidence on which practice is developed, and at postregistration level, education helps advanced practice nurses develop and build practice based on the best evidence available. When undertaking pre-registration degrees and postregistration Masters and PhDs, nurses need to demonstrate this evaluative ability by the depth of writing in their various assignments; one of the ways this is achieved is by the evaluation of evidence and comparative analysis of the published literature.

Evaluation of the evidence: Over the years I have marked many thousands of essays at all levels of pre- and postregistration study and the following sentence typifies a way in which many students present information from the literature: ‘Smith (2015) identifies preoperative information as an important factor in reducing pain’. They seem to think that simply quoting an author gives authority to the point they are making. Sadly, that sort of sentence has little more authority that someone on social media saying ‘Jo Brown says that pink crystals cure cancer’. The reason that both of those sentences cannot be ‘trusted’ to form the basis of any clinical practice, is that they simply repeat a statement; neither has evaluated the evidence on which the statement is based. Consider a sentence that begins to demonstrate an evaluation of the evidence: ‘Smith (2015) in a controlled study of 2000 patients found that those patients who were given written information about the type of discomfort and pain they might experience after planned abdominal surgery required less postoperative analgesia, than those patients not receiving that information’. This type of writing begins to demonstrate that the student is evaluating what they are reading; they are highlighting the type of research study, its size and its specific population and specific findings. The writer is not suggesting that ‘information’ is some sort of panacea for the reduction of all pain, as could be inferred from reading the first sentence. Evaluation of individual pieces of literature can be developed further by the student commenting on the reliability of the research method used, the sampling method and size and transferability of any results to other types of populations, eg gender, age, culture, illness or different healthcare settings.

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