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Writing the perfect essay

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Nursing may be a practical profession but you’ll have to write essays to show you know your stuff. Use Tim Miller’s tips to do a good job

Essay writing can sometimes seem a world away from the practical side of your training, but it’s essential that you are able to show an academic understanding of nursing practice.

Writing may only take up 20% of the time you spend doing an essay because, before you can start that, you have to do thorough groundwork, starting with research.

Carrying out a literature search doesn’t mean reading every book you can lay your hands on from cover to cover, but the more reading you do, the more you’ll understand your subject. Make notes as you go, and write your thoughts and observations on sticky notes that you can keep on the relevant page. Highlight information on photocopies and printouts.

Things to remember

  • Don’t plagiarise. Your lecturers know far more than you can ever imagine.
  • Read widely. The more you understand the subject, the easier it will be to write the essay.
  • Take care with grammar and punctuation. There’s no excuse for slackness in either area. If you genuinely are not certain, find out before handing in your work.
  • Don’t miss the deadline. If you don’t get an essay in on time, there are no second chances.

When you are writing, have as much source material to hand as possible - if you write down some information but cannot remember its context because you don’t have the discussion leading up to it, it may be useless.

Planning an essay is different for everyone. Some people will plan the entire thing almost paragraph by paragraph, while others will set out the bare bones and start writing. There is no right way to do it but, before you begin, you should at least have an idea of an introduction, argument and conclusion.

An introduction should summarise the essay question, explain how the piece will examine the subject and say what the conclusion is likely to be.

The main body is where marks are won. You must argue your point, show awareness of the whole subject and show a logical progression.

The conclusion should sum up what has been considered, highlight the points made and show how you’ve reached your conclusion. It should pull everything together in a concise and neat resolution.

Finally, there’s no such thing as a model essay - only good practice.

However much advice you heed, the end result is your own piece of work. You are championing your own ability - make sure it shines through.

Setting out references

The Harvard style is often used.

In the text, place the author’s surname and the year of publication in parentheses after the statement being referenced - for example (Jones, 1999). At the end of the piece, all references should be listed in alphabetical order. Different sources will take different formats, as follows:

ARTICLES: Small, G. (1998) A study of osteoporosis. Nursing Times; 13: 1, 79-84.

BOOKS: Jackson, C. (2006) Shut up and Listen: A Brief Guide to Clinical Communication Skills. Dundee: Dundee University Press.

BOOK CHAPTERS: Clarke, M. (2005) The autonomic nervous system. In: Hinchliff, S. et al (eds) Physiology for Nursing Practice. London: Baillière Tindall.

WEBSITES: Department of Health (2007) National Service Framework for Renal Services.

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