Nursing studies

How to write the perfect academic essay

Writing essays for an undergraduate nursing course can be challenging, especially if you have been out of education for a while. Here are some top tips for writing an effective essay. 
perfect essay

Writing essays for an undergraduate nursing course can be challenging, especially if you have been out of education for a while. Here are some top tips for writing an effective essay

The starting point of any assignment is to understand the question asked of you, says University of Central Lancashire senior lecturer in pre-registration adult nursing Stephen Gowland-Mahon.

Go through the question thoroughly until you grasp what is required of you and when researching your essay make the library your friend, he says. This includes using online libraries and electronic databases specific to health, such as Medline and Cochrane.

Mr Gowland-Mahon says the main challenge when writing an academic essay is to separate your opinion from facts. We ask students to write in the third person so they

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Writing essays for an undergraduate nursing course can be challenging, especially if you have been out of education for a while. Here are some top tips for writing an effective essay


Go through the question thoroughly until you grasp what is required of you. Picture: iStock

The starting point of any assignment is to understand the question asked of you, says University of Central Lancashire senior lecturer in pre-registration adult nursing Stephen Gowland-Mahon. 

Go through the question thoroughly until you grasp what is required of you and when researching your essay ‘make the library your friend’, he says. This includes using online libraries and electronic databases specific to health, such as Medline and Cochrane.

Mr Gowland-Mahon says the main challenge when writing an academic essay is to separate your opinion from facts. ‘We ask students to write in the third person so they can distance themselves from the content and support factual statements with good quality citations and reference material.’

Take time to plan

A common mistake is writing in a ‘wordy’ way. ‘Avoid words like “hitherto” and “thus” and use simple, plain English,’ he says. 

When structuring essays, Mr Gowland-Mahon advises taking time to plan. This can be done using a grid, spider chart or a computer programme. But whatever you choose, ensure the reader understands the logical progression of the essay. 

‘Ideas shouldn’t leap from high to low like a rollercoaster,’ he says. ‘You need to walk the reader steadily through the subject, so ensure paragraphs flow logically by using linked sentences.’ 

You can also record yourself reading your essay out loud. Playing back how your thoughts and ideas sound will help you to improve the flow of the essays.

Bite-sized 

Crucial to this flow is the introduction, which sets the scene, and the conclusion, which sums up your findings. But you don’t have to write an essay from beginning to end.

‘Students often get stuck with their introduction so it can help to write the essay in bite-sized chunks,’ says Mr Gowland-Mahon. 

‘Create a central piece of work. How it takes shape will have an impact on your introduction and conclusion.’ 

How best to present your essay can be confusing, with so many options available, but universities usually provide academic guidelines when you start your course. Mr Gowland-Mahon believes the best academic essays are: ‘Written simply, substantiating points with good quality evidence.’

Top tips for essay writing

  • Write in third person to separate your opinion from facts.
  • Write in plain English.
  • Read your essay out loud to ensure it flows.
  • Don’t ‘cut and paste’ from the internet. This is plagiarism, a serious offence that can be detected by universities using software. 
  • Present essays clearly. Using a justified Arial 12 font makes it easier to read and mark.
  • Learn to use referencing tools appropriately and check that web links to references work.
  • When writing about emotive subjects, such as end of life care, provide strong clinical evidence as well as demonstrating compassion.

 


Kathy Oxtoby is a freelance journalist

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