For Nursing Faculty: Generating Material for Community Health 4970 Research Paper

Dr. Bonita R. Selting

Coordinator, Campus Writing Program

Helping Professional Nursing Students Engage In Writing

Often, professional nursing students do not see the value of being able to write skillfully in their careers. The idea of writing a research paper seems tedious and as if they are “jumping through hoops” for an grade. Writing this paper can, however, be interesting and productive both for learning content and for improving writing skills, if students are engaged in what they are doing and able to see some purpose to the assignment.

Purposes Behind Exercises

The following exercises are to help professional nursing students get engaged in writing this research papers for Community Health 4970.  The same exercises are, however, effective for any writing project. The objective of these activities is to impress upon professional nursing students the fact that strategies exist for writing good papers and that many of these strategies involve the INITIAL phase of any writing project: generating material

Remember: to learn how to write as skillfully as possible, students must be engaged in the material, which means they must become able to,

  • see some purpose in writing and researching topics (along with their academic responsibility),
  • engage with an audience (other than an instructor, for a grade),
  • relate the writing project to their future careers as much as possible,
  • relate the writing project to topics in which they are genuinely interested,
  • see the importance of skillful writing in their careers,
  • see and understand the importance of responsible research,
  • realize the importance of insightful thinking,
  • realize the importance of reflecting on their research findings. 

An effective method for helping students become engaged in writing project and thus, to write better, is to bring them into the process itself, individually and collaboratively. The following activity usually generates student interest by actually having them brainstorm in short, non-graded writing. They can either share what they come up with or keep it to themselves (most are glad to share and get some feedback from the group), but importantly, they have begun the process of formulating ideas for a paper

Important Note: By design and necessity, this brainstorming is a messy process. Thoughts in our heads do not come out on paper in a clean, coherent manner. 

The following class exercise is best done after students and instructor have discussed the assignment and students have had time to think about possible topics.  Allow approximately 15 minutes for the following class exercise. 

  1. Have students get in groups of three or four (no larger)
  2. Ask them to come up with four (4) answers to the following question and have one group member write the answers: What is your understanding of the purpose of this paper ie., what do you think you’re going to be “getting” out of doing the research and writing it up in argument form?
  3. Go over their answers Group by Group with entire class participating. 
  4. After class discussion on why they are being assigned these research and writing tasks, ask students to take out pen and paper or open a word doc on laptop and give them the following instructions:

    Instructions For Free Writing

    Students Must Follow These Rules!

    • No going back to change, fix, or rethink anything
    • No worrying over grammar
    • Keep going forward the whole ten minutes!
    • Do not think too hard. Let the writing do the thinking. It works!
    • If the writing pops a new thought write, no worrying about sticking to one topic or paragraphing or any other writing issue.
    • If you get really stuck, write “I can’t think of anything to write BECAUSE, and answer your own because.
  5. Dictate to them the following words as they write them out.
    • When I think about (here they write the topic or area they are considering for their research) I feel __________________________________
  6. When everyone has that sentence written down, say “Begin writing.”
  7. Time them for 10 minutes and quietly urge-on anyone you see stopping to “think.” PREPARE STUDENTS for this exercise with the following information.

Free writing this way has been shown to bring out thoughts and ideas that too often get stuck in the unconscious. No one knows exactly why this technique works, but there is solid evidence that it does, sometimes miraculously! Not all students will appreciate or get valuable material from it, but it is never a waste of time because even if “nothing new” came up, material has been generated and writing as begun.