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Nurses: Don’t Fear Writing When Going Back to School

Writing can be daunting for anyone. We all have some level of writing anxiety that can keep us from writing that next paper for class, email to the boss or best-selling novel. While many of us experience some form of writing anxiety, it may be especially intimidating for those who have been out of school for a while and are considering going back. Not to worry! With these pointers and the writing assistance options at UNC Wilmington, you’ll finish your writing assignments with ease.

Composition Courses

A bachelor’s degree in nursing requires two classes in composition. These courses will prepare you to write in a variety of styles for a variety of purposes. If you have already fulfilled your composition requirements through your associate degree program, but if you’re apprehensive about writing and it’s been a while since you were in school, you might want to consider taking a composition class as a refresher.

Online Writing & Learning (OWL) at UNCW

The UNCW University Learning Center offers writing services for all students. Online students can access tutors through the OWL system. There you can find a wealth of writing resources, including writing guides, instructions for writing in particular disciplines and helpful writing websites.

Writing Resources on the Web

With a quick search, you can find more writing resources than you’ll ever need. From grammar tips to style guides, there is a website for everything. Here are a few of the most popular:

If you don’t find what you’re looking for on these sites, just type your question into Google.

Find a Study Partner

If you are an experienced nurse, you have a lot to offer your classmates. Some of them won’t have as much time on the job as you have, and they’ll be looking for help. Those students may have been in school more recently than you have and may be more comfortable with writing college papers. Such relationships are mutually beneficial and can lead to new friends or career connections.

Just Do It!

Sometimes the most difficult part of writing anything is the first sentence — maybe even the first word. The simplest advice is to just start writing. Remember that no one will ever read your first draft if you don’t want them to. Perhaps you have great ideas, but you’re worried they won’t come out right. Don’t worry. Get those great ideas on paper and worry about the details later. You’ll find that once you start, it’s easy to continue. If you’re really stuck, just write the first thing that comes to mind, even if it has nothing to do with your assignment. You can take it out later. This is just to get the ball rolling.

David Foster Wallace wrote, “The perfectionism is very dangerous. Because of course if your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything.”

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

If you find yourself struggling through writing assignments, anxiously avoiding the paper, and finally finishing with something that you’re less than proud of, it’s time to ask for help. Talk to your professors. They can help you organize your ideas and come up with a cohesive argument that is all your own. The finished product is likely be better written and the process less stressful. Don’t make writing a paper harder than it has to be — ask for help when you need it.

Make an Outline

After you have brainstormed your ideas, create an outline for your paper. This outline can be as simple as words or phrases in an ordered list or as detailed as topic sentences and quotes from source material, outlining each paragraph. As you look over your outline, you might notice some ideas that don’t quite fit your paper. Don’t be afraid to leave them out. Stephen King, paraphrasing William Faulkner, wrote “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” Although your ideas may be good, they may not be right for that particular piece. Maybe you can keep them for your next paper though, so keep track of them in a separate file reserved for ideas.

Having made an outline, you might also notice that the order of things isn’t quite right. Maybe one idea or point will lead better into another, so move them around. This is much easier at the outline stage of the writing process.

Avoid Distractions

One of the hardest parts of writing is finding a space and time without distractions. The latest updates on Facebook or news on Twitter can distract you, or perhaps there’s a new episode of your favorite show available. Here are a few tips for avoiding those distractions.

  • Tell your friends and family about your writing time, and let them know that you are not to be interrupted.
  • Disconnect from all social media. If this means putting your phone in the other room, do it.
  • Don’t check your email. Close your web browser for everything but research.
  • Take care of necessities first. Eat, shower, make sure you have the writing supplies you need, etc.
  • Find a writing space that works for you. Some people like a quiet room while others enjoy a crowded coffee shop.
  • Turn off the TV.
  • If you need short breaks throughout your allotted study time, do not go online. Take a short walk or play with pets — get your blood flowing.

Pay attention to what distracts you and make changes as necessary.

Find Examples of Good Writing

No matter what the assignment, a good way to determine how to approach it is to find an example of what someone has done before. For nursing students, this may mean sifting through some articles online for topics that resemble your assignment. Ask your professor for some examples of great papers from the past. However, be careful not to plagiarize. Tell your instructor about your intentions when you ask for examples. You’re looking for tips on organization, style and format — not a free paper about evidence-based practice.

Though you may be nervous about writing papers after being out of school for a while, there is no reason to let your concerns get out of control. There is no shortage on advice or resources to help you write your way to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Learn more about the UNCW online RN to BSN program.


King, S. (2000). On writing: a memoir of the craft. New York: Scribner.

Wallace, D. F. (1996, March 4). [Interview by L. Lopate, Transcript]. In Leonard Lopate Show. New York, New York: WNYC.

The Writing Center at UNC-Chapel Hill: Writing Anxiety

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