Writing Guide for Nurses

All college degrees, including those at nursing schools, require students to develop professional writing skills and complete relevant writing assignments. This guide provides nursing school essay writing tips for students through a comprehensive look at different types of college writing requirements, various methods to cite sources, and common writing mistakes. Beyond completing assignments and exams, writing skills allow you to take more accurate and useful notes, better interpret textbook content and study material, and make you a better communicator. While some content of your college courses may lose its relevance over time, enhanced writing skills can benefit you for the rest of your life, both in personal and professional contexts.

Long after college graduation, licensed nurses must remain competent in the written word to complete daily reports, patient care plans, narratives, and charts. While these forms of workplace writing prove less intense than typical college research papers or final exam essays, clearly articulating your words may mean the difference between causing confusion and a patient receiving needed care quickly and efficiently.

Types of Writing Nurses Will Do in School

Personal Statements for Nursing School

In a personal statement essay, an applicant shares details about their personal life, highlights their accomplishments, and displays why they deserve admission to the nursing program. Whether listed as optional or required, take the time to compose your personal statement carefully, as admission departments seek well-written pieces with a good grasp of grammar, punctuation, and word choice. In a personal statement, offer relevant background information, such as what motivates you to pursue a nursing career. Include both your future goals and aspirations in this section. Explain how enrollment in the school’s program will help you achieve these goals and how your enrollment will benefit the program.

Instead of a personal statement, some college admissions departments ask for an essay based on a pre-selected prompt. For nursing students, this may involve answering the question of how you see yourself contributing to the nursing profession. Your admissions essay gives you an opportunity to stand out among the sea of other applicants and add a personal touch to your admissions information.


Higher education exams come in many different forms, often depending on the personal preference of your professors. In addition to familiar formats like multiple choice and short-answer questions, college students commonly encounter the long-form essay exam. Long-form essays delve into a student’s deeper understanding of contextual course material beyond the memorization of facts or figures. Students typically do not receive the essay prompt before entering the classroom on the day of the exam, but you can prepare by considering potential prompt subjects. Examine your course syllabus for recurring keywords or themes, and look into your lecture notes for previous classroom discussions. Formulate your own prompts and consider how you would answer them in an exam setting.

During the exam, take the time to outline your points before writing, and proofread when finished. These steps can contribute more to your success than anything else before handing in your finished paper. When considering your prompt, outline three main points to support your thesis, ensuring each one specifically responds to the topic. With your outline complete, build upon each point until the essay takes shape.

Research Papers

The planning and composition of research papers makes up a hallmark of college life. Common in both general education courses and courses directly related to your major, research papers differ from essays in several important ways. Larger in scope than essays, research papers require an accumulation of reliable source material and often multiple related topics in a single thesis statement. Research papers generally do not include specific prompts to answer. Instead, you may receive a broad area of guidance from which to select a topic of your own. A general prompt requiring you to write about patient care may include a variety of topics, such as a survey of the best patient care techniques, the history and development of modern patient care, or how the current nursing shortage in the U.S. affects healthcare. The key to an excellent research paper comes with a solid thesis statement and properly researched supporting evidence. With your thesis and main points outlined, find reliable sources and research to quote. Try to have all the vital pieces in place before you sit down to write your paper.

How Do You Write a Nursing Essay?

Academic papers can utilize different structures in the discussion and support of a thesis statement, including narrative, expository, persuasive, comparative, or cause and effect. You can expect to encounter each of the following formats at least once over the course of your nursing school writing assignments.

  • Narrative: As the name suggests, narrative essays tell a story. These non-fiction stories take on a precise point of view, often personal, and handle informative material less directly than the other essay methods in this list. The narrative essay does support a thesis statement, but delivers this support through creative writing rather than a discussion of hard facts and figures, such as a story about a significant event the writer experienced with a patient.
  • Expository: The expository essay seeks to explain and inform readers about a specific topic or idea. The main body paragraphs may feature a survey of factual information, an investigation, and a discussion of various viewpoints and opinions. Following this format, an expository essay on nurse burnout, for example, would include facts about its prevalence in healthcare, an investigation into its causes, and a discussion on the efficacy of various treatment methods.
  • Persuasive: Of all the essay types, persuasive pieces feature the largest amount of personal opinion. Although the thesis still requires reliable facts and figures for support, the persuasive essay intends to convince the reader of the validity of the writer’s own personal argument. Persuasive essays often discuss controversial topics or address ethical debates, such as arguments for or against an individual’s right to choose medical euthanasia.
  • Comparative: A comparative essay takes two subjects (ideas, things, events, etc.) and critically analyzes each one in order to present the reader with an examination of the similarities or differences. In support of the thesis statement, body paragraphs of a comparative essay take shape in different ways: point by point, which alternates back and forth between the subjects to create clear juxtaposition; or block by block, where the first subject is discussed in full, followed by the second.
  • Cause and Effect: Using elements found in persuasive papers and comparative papers, cause and effect essays try to convince the reader of a position wherein one subject is the direct or indirect cause of a second subject (e.g.: “Marketing fast food to children increases their obesity risk”). Limit your main points to the three strongest common patterns that display cause and effect. Each of your essay’s individual arguments should use strong factual evidence and citations for support.

Citations Guide for Nursing Students

In the course of your research, take care to maintain efficient source notes on each specific idea or quote you incorporate into your essay. Keeping track of the supporting evidence you find, as you find it, makes it easier to complete citations later on. Detailed notes also help prevent plagiarism, the use of others’ words or ideas without proper credit. Plagiarism, even if unintentional, can result in failing grades and additional academic penalties.

American Psychological Association (APA) Style

Development of APA style, commonly used today for published journals and academic papers written in the social sciences, began in 1929. Because of its wide usage in public health and medicine publications, nursing students should familiarize themselves with this style and expect to encounter it regularly in their schooling. Source citations in APA style mimic those created for MLA, placed on a separate page at the end of the paper (titled “References”), with an emphasis first placed on the author(s) of a source, followed by the title, then publication or access information.

Doe, J. (2018). The Greatest Book. New York, NY: Pretend Publishing.

Chicago Manual of Style (CMS)

First published in 1906, the Chicago Manual of Style boasts a well-respected reputation among publishers and journalists. In addition to being commonly used as a citation style in the social sciences, the Chicago Manual of Style also includes several chapters concerning the formatting of book and journal manuscripts, giving it the nickname of the “editor’s bible.” The bibliography page formats entries in a similar way to MLA and APA, listing the author’s name, followed by publication details.

Doe, John. The Greatest Book. New York, NY: Pretend Publishing, 2018.

Modern Language Association (MLA) Format

MLA style first appeared as a brief style sheet published in 1951, which grew into the MLA Handbook, currently in use today. Of all the citation styles listed here, students typically understand MLA best due to its common usage in high school classrooms. Popular in the humanities and liberal arts, all college students can expect to utilize MLA style in papers written for general education classes. Citations on the final “Works Cited” page of an essay are straightforward and easy to interpret, with a prominent focus on the author of the source, followed by publication information.

Doe, John. The Greatest Book. Pretend Publishing, 2018.

Associated Press (AP) Style

The Associated Press created and released their first style handbook to the general public in the 1950s. Having surpassed the original goal of standardizing mass communication and news reports, most of today’s corporate public relations departments also adhere to AP style. The guiding principles of AP style include consistency, clarity, accuracy, and brevity. In a university setting, journalism and mass communication courses most frequently use this style. Unlike the other style methods in this list, AP style does not require a list of sources at the end of the written work. Instead, in-line citations appear within the text, typically in the form of phrases.

“My book is simply the greatest, hence the title,” said John Doe, author of the upcoming novel, The Greatest Book.

Which Writing Style Should Nursing Students Use?

Healthcare research articles and journals almost exclusively use APA as the standard for writing style and citations. Nursing students should expect to commonly use and encounter it in their studies and in the composition of their own papers. Possessing a foundational knowledge of each of the popular citation methods and style guides can still reap benefits, however, as general education professors may request the use of a non-APA style in their writing assignments.

Common Writing Mistakes Students Make

Active vs. Passive Voice

The “voice” of a sentence refers to its structure and how it affects a reader’s perception. Writers can construct sentences either in active or passive voice. In the active voice, the sentence’s subject completes an action, while in the passive voice, the subject receives the action. For example, compare “The dog caught the ball,” and “The ball was caught by the dog.” Generally the preferred method of academic writing, active voice provides a more concise and clear rendering of an idea. Learning to notice and convert passive voice constructions to active voice takes time. In general, it helps to focus on the subject of the sentence, determining how the sentence’s action relates to the subject. Many online resources exist to help writers better understand and master the use of active voice, including several in-depth pages on the Purdue OWL website.


In the same way that your GPS tells you when to turn right or a yield sign urges you to stop for traffic, the punctuation makes it possible for a reader to accurately interpret writing. Punctuation can also prove difficult to use properly, leading to writing mistakes. Errors frequently abound in comma usage, especially comma splices, where a comma insufficiently separates two independent clauses. Some writers also struggle with the usage of colons vs. semicolons, where the former signifies the beginning of a list, and the latter separates clauses. A third common punctuation error includes the addition of unneeded apostrophes, such as with plural nouns (“essay’s” vs. “essays”). Various online resources list these and other common mistakes to eliminate in your writing.


Grammar includes the rules which govern the structure and composition of phrases, clauses, and words in a sentence. However, grammar rules vary from one written language to another. In the English language, many words sound alike, or may even be spelled alike, but hold a different meaning. Common mistakes arise when using homophones, such as their/there/they’re, your/you’re, affect/effect, or peak/pique/peek.

Subject-verb agreement can get tricky in a lengthy sentence or in a sentence containing multiple phrases. Considered one of the most difficult languages to master, the nuances of written English can cause difficulty for even the biggest grammar enthusiasts. Study and practice remains the best way to tackle areas of grammar that personally challenge you. The Purdue OWL offers more than a dozen helpful reference pages, including information on the usage of articles, irregular verbs, and pronouns.

Writing Resources for Nursing Students

  • The Purdue OWL: One of the highest trafficked writing sources on the web, the Purdue OWL boasts extensive information on grammar and punctuation, in addition to featuring a nursing school writing guide.
  • Nrsng.com: Dedicated to “changing nursing education forever,” this blog site contains countless informative posts for nursing students. This site includes writing advice, such as “5 Steps to Writing a (kick ass) Nursing Care Plan (plus 5 examples).”
  • MNSU Guide: This reference touches on more than a dozen vital points of a scholarly essay. Although much of the information applies to essays in all subject areas, the authors focus on tailoring the advice to nursing school students.
  • allnurses: Made up of more than one million members, allnurses offers resources to professionals and students alike. In the forum section of the site, nursing students can request and receive advice on assignments, including essays.
  • Tutor.com: Although this site comes at a monetary cost, Tutor.com offers real-time collaborative assistance to college students with difficult writing assignments. Tutors assist with proofreading, tone, grammar, and brainstorming ideas.