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Writing Academically in an Online MSN Program

The information that follows is based on years of teaching at the graduate nursing program level and repeated corrections noted on papers submitted by new graduate nursing students. Writing academically is almost the opposite of nursing documentation of patient care. We as nurses are used to providing the facts, nothing more, and nothing less. In scholarly or academic writing, the repetition or redundancy is desired (it may be because of the volumes of reading a professor does, the repetition ensures that the professor does not miss any important points.

So if you feel you are being repetitive, you are writing in a scholarly manner. Keep the nouns related to your main topic the same and switch up the verbs, and adjectives when writing. Make sure each paragraph has a minimum of four sentences (use the MEAL method) where: M= Main Point; E= Evidence (citation) and/or example; A= your analysis of why this is important or the advantages/disadvantages, compare and contrast or implications of your E-sentence; L= Link or transition sentence to the next paragraph.

If you get stuck writing one of the four sentences, just type in blue font "NEED A " for need an analysis sentence and then go back later and fill in that aspect in your paper. Most nurses find the "A" and the "L" the most difficult for the reasons I stated earlier. The best way to practice is by using the MEAL method of writing your discussion responses in the online classroom.

Keep the thesaurus function open in MS word (found under “Tools>Language”) to help use a variety of verbs. Remember to keep the nouns related to your main topic the same throughout the paper, using various verbs and adjectives in the writing. By keeping the nouns related to the paper’s topic the same throughout, the reader will avoid any potential confusion. APA formatting is another important element of writing to master.

The video below tells how to set MS Word (2010) to default APA formatting for a paper. On the right side of the screen you will also find numerous videos explaining many other aspects of using MS Word to create APA formatted papers such as a title page and abstract. You tube is an excellent source of help for APA and MS Word.

APA formatting is the standard for written communication in the profession of nursing. By using the standard of APA in your writing, the information will be perceived as professional. Proposals submitted which conform to APA formatting and style, are likely to be taken more seriously. Another aspect of academic writing that nurses typically need help with is the use of transitions.

Transitions are used to smooth the flow of writing and to guide a reader through the content of a paper. Three types of transitions are used depending on the circumstance in which you need to use them. A transition can be a single word, a phrase, or more likely a sentence. Transitions can also be an entire paragraph. In each case, the transition functions the same way: it helps the reader anticipate or hint at the new information that is to come next. The three types of transitions are listed below.

  1. Transitions between sections—In longer documents, include transitional paragraphs that summarize for the reader the information just covered and specify the relevance of this information to the discussion in the following section.
  2. Transitions between paragraphs—The transition will highlight a relationship that already exists by summarizing the previous paragraph and suggesting something of the content of the paragraph that follows. Transitions work best at the end of the first paragraph.
  3. Transitions within paragraphs—As with transitions between sections and paragraphs, transitions within paragraphs act as cues by helping readers to anticipate what is coming before they read it. Within paragraphs, transitions tend to be single words or short phrases (e.g. however, for example, similarly).

Writing transitions requires you to identify words or phrases that will indicate for the reader the kind of relationships you want to convey between paragraphs or ideas. The use of transitions dramatically improves the flow of academic writing. A good principle of writing to remember is “write for your reader.”

Headings in a paper are a way of providing a road map for the reader. The best way to develop headings is to use the grading rubric provided with an assignment. Headings facilitate grading by communicating to the faculty that you have addressed all of the assignment elements. Just remember that headings are not substitutes for transitions. Academic writing is a skill that one works on to develop. MSN students are not necessarily “born academic writers” so do not despair, just keep practicing. All of this will soon become second nature with all of that practice.

Dr. Maggie

Dr. Maggie is Margaret Reneau, PhD, RN and Online Graduate Nursing Program Director for Saint Xavier University, School of Nursing, Chicago, IL.