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'It was so long since I'd written an academic essay'


Being a ‘life experienced’ (any attempt to avoid the word mature) student my biggest fear of starting university was writing an assignment.

  It had been so long since I had wrote an academic essay I thought I’d be at a real disadvantage, especially compared to those students just coming out of college. 

In actual fact it doesn’t matter how old you are, when or how you wrote your last assignment, starting university means it’s time to wipe the slate clean!  Each university will have its own preference to style, structure and referencing.  So, before you start writing anything, familiarise yourself with your universities module and study guides and don’t forget, a wealth of online resources can be found just by logging onto your student intranet.

We all know that nursing students are exceptional;  we are often left juggling lectures, placements, part time work, family and personal commitments (and partying for some!) how we have time for anything at all is a wonder!  Time management is therefore crucial otherwise you’ll find yourself under immense pressure, burning yourself out and working right up to deadline dates. Being able to prioritise your work, make appropriate notes and plan ahead are not only key to successful essay writing, but they are also transferable skills that will help you become a successful staff nurse.  Don’t panic, nobody is expecting you to have these skills right from day one; you’ve got three years to perfect them. Take me for example, in my first year I left everything to the last minute, in my second year I completed everything with a month to go and now here I am in my third year completing an essay due in 6 months time! Three cheers for Claire!  My biggest lesson has been self discipline, although I must admit I do like a bit of pressure!

Over the past three years the area of improvement our lecturers encourage us most with are the wealth, credibility and validity of the references that are being used in our assignments.  When it comes to finding references I don’t think you can go too far wrong if you stick to the following:

  1. References from books/eBooks are within the last 10 years
  2. Always make the most of online journals: your university will give you access to a wealth of health/nursing journals free of charge
  3. Never use Google/Wikipedia
  4. If using online websites always think about its validity, who wrote it, who is it aimed at? I always try to stick to NICE, DOH, NMC, WHO to name but a few.
  5. Always refer back to your module guide where you will find a recommended reading list – they recommend them for a reason!

So now you are super efficient, a whizz at finding credible references and you’ve made a realistic plan it’s time to get writing, but find what works for you.  We all work differently and what works for me may not work for you.  I always find a several thousand word essay intimidating, so I like to plan what I am going to write by breaking the essay down into small sections.  I then find all the references I need for each section before starting to write.  If I could offer you once piece of advice it would be to always ask for help.  Asking for help and being aware of your own limitations is another key skill in nursing.  Whether you are a first year or a third year student utilise anybody you can: personal tutors, librarians, study skill advisors, workshops etc they are there to help, support and educate you in getting the best from yourself. Good luck!

Claire Flatt is a third year student nurse studying at Wolverhampton University.


Readers' comments (4)

  • What ever happened to Sister Plume?
    Her amazing book Notes on Nursing should be required reading for university students these days!

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  • Actually use Google...only be sure to use Google scholar, there are soo many relevant, research articles on scholar, almost replaces Nora!

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  • Thanks CLaire.

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  • I find wikipedia to be a wealth of valid references. At the bottom of the page is a list of used references, skim the article for data you need, click the [1] [2]'s etc and presto, a reference, go and find this book or click through to the article and read that. Chances are it's going to be a very real and very valid reference.

    They say don't use wikipedia as it is so easy. It used to be 10 years ago that yes, there were articles on topics that were wrong, misleading or just simply lies. But now there are thousands of people who will read through articles, do research and look at the references. Go and change a 'The' to 'And' on any page and within a couple of minutes someone will have changed it back.

    However. Never ever ever copy and paste from wikipedia. Chances are your university has plagiarism software and your essay will light up like November the 5th. My last essay scored 3% on the software without me using wikipedia due to the fact I'd spent several days in the library doing research, plugged in the references to my essay and the majority of my references were references that were also used by the topics on wikipdeia due to them being the best including articles from WHO, Mayoclinic and others.

    At the end of the day it does require you to do a bit of leg work. But the days of wikipedia being evil due to it being wrong are over (Mostly) I know students who'll use an encyclopedia in the library as a first port of call when writing an essay to get initial references... wikipedia is the same.

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