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Note-taking by nursing students: the case for implementing writing strategies to encourage best practice

11 February 2021
Volume 30 · Issue 3



Note-taking is an integral component of professional nursing practice. If students are to complete this effectively, a range of teaching, learning and assessment strategies are required to support their development of this skill.


This study aimed to identify lecturers' perspectives of students' note-taking on placement to identify factors that limit the development of this skill; these perspectives could be used to explore strategies to support students to develop this skill while at university.


A qualitative study taking a phenomenological approach was carried out.


Three senior nursing practice visitors agreed to be interviewed.


Semistructured interviews were carried out and thematic analysis carried out to explore lecturers' perspectives of students' experiences of note-taking while on placement. These interviews were intended to obtain detailed accounts of note-taking and allow challenges to be explored.


Each participant observed and supported students' note-taking within practice placement settings. Three main themes emerged from the data: limitations to students' vocabulary and literacy; inconsistency between trusts resulting in an inability to articulate experience; and note-taking clarity and accuracy.


Note-taking is central to nurses' education and professional documentation to support best practice and high-quality patient care. Variations in processes between trusts, stringency of standards required by the trusts where students attend placements, and students' writing abilities differ widely, which directly affect the consistency and accuracy of written notes.

Mike Baynham's (2002: 188) observation on the writing process demanded of nursing students rings true in contemporary practice: ‘Pity the poor nursing student, who is required to write at times like a sociologist, at others like a philosopher, yet again like a scientist and finally as a reflective practitioner!’

This realisation provides an appropriate starting point for discussion when considering the role of literacy alongside the practice of note-taking for nursing students on placement. The variety of writing techniques required by universities of their preregistration nursing students presents challenges for supervising nurses, nursing students and nursing lecturers alike regarding how best the development of these skills can be supported.

This study aimed to identify the importance of note-taking for health professionals at work while identifying the factors that make it problematic for nursing students in practice. It also explored some of the considerations that practice visitors (formerly known as link lecturers) (Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), 2018a) need to consider when teaching this particular skill.

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