We all write: journals, diaries, poems, blogs, postcards, Facebook posts, and I’m sure many more. Many of us also write as part of our professional duty, which may require us to explain complex topics with organization and creativity. There are many ways for college students or working professionals to develop a foundation of writing skills and learn how to use structure and direction to convey a point or hypothesize an idea. As an example, let me tell you how I’ve been taught and trained to think, and subsequently, write.
As a nurse, one of the communication methods we use is an SBAR assessment, which helps provide an individual or team with the Situation, Background, Assessment, and Recommendations for a patient, based on an observation. Let me explain how this structure correlates to producing an effective piece of writing. Situation is the introduction of your topic to the audience, conveying why they should care about what you’re discussing. Background is the history and information supporting why your topic is important, adding weight to your introduction and why it’s potentially impactful. Assessment is what you’ve learned and come to realize through your observations and research and are wanting to convey to others. Conclusion is the culmination of your theory while addressing the situation and significance of your results and why others should care. While this approach helps clinicians and other care providers communicate more proficiently, I’ve found myself applying these same principles to my writing. This framework lends itself particularly well to writing evidenced-based research articles or topics that are project-specific and disseminate lessons learned from an industry experts’ point of view. Using the same structure as a base, I would add more specific sub-topics such as methods, a theoretical framework, gaps and limitations, future directions, or a research
meta-analysis, for example.
Where different products of my writing differ is in the “style” or overall “feel”, which would depend on the audience I’m trying to reach. The target audience would also affect the details and length of the writing. A blog like this may allow more leeway for my personal opinions, which are expressed less formally, while a “tip of the month” article on a particular task concerning a clinical terminology or standards would be succinct and presented as work instructions or steps. These types of writing have the unspoken assumption that I wouldn’t be talking about a topic if I haven’t already had the experience. A white paper, giving an in-depth report about an issue, would be more formal and certainly much more detailed, but would still fall within the same “type”. Moving towards the other end of the spectrum, submissions to academic journals or scientific conferences have more rigid requirements in terms of the topics of interest to them, format, font and other such layout requirements, even the number of pages. The editors and reviewers also expect a rigorous examination of related research resulting in a theoretical review of prior work performed within the field of study. This would be presented in the introduction and background sections (which would be analogous to the “situation” and “background” mentioned above) and culminated with extensive citing of references. When all is said and done, if my submission is judged to be insufficiently interesting to the journals’ readers or the potential conference attendees, it will not be accepted. Thus, the first question one is often asked when proposing a paper is: “which journal/conference is this for?” It is a competition in which success is by no means assured, nor the guarantee that constructive feedback will be provided, simply an expression of regret that there isn’t room for your excellent effort.
While writing can be a frustrating process, especially if one’s hard work is rejected, there is great joy in sharing experiences and lessons learned, and in knowing that you are offering knowledge that may be of help to others in their work and life. At the end of the day, writing has helped me to become a subject matter expert in my field, in refining my knowledge and understanding of the topics I would like to present. For me, writing is a reminder that learning is a continual process that we all must embrace.