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Planning and structuring articles for publication in a nursing journal

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A guide to planning and structuring articles for publication in a nursing journal, including how to write references and a precise abstract

Planning and structure

Aim for a well structured and clearly written article. To ensure your article flows in a logical manner spend time planning before you start writing.

Decide on a subject and be clear about the message you want to give readers. Collect all the relevant information for your article.

How your article is structured will depend on the type of article it is, whether research or reflection, literature review or comment. However, all articles need a beginning, middle and an end.

Create a draft structure, writing down in bullet-point form the main points of the article. Arrange the points in a logical order.

Articles should start with an abstract box of between 75 and 150 words, which gives a complete summary of the article. It should not be an introduction to what is covered but a concise summary of the main points, including your conclusion.

Tell readers what you have written and why it is important.

Main text

  • Keep the article logical, sequential and well organised. Make sure it has a clear direction and avoid repeating points.
  • Use headings to help organise the content and make the text easier to read. Headings for the main sections and any sub-headings should be short and meaningful.
  • Bullet points or boxes can be used to present lists that might otherwise clutter sentences or paragraphs. Three or four important points, symptoms or steps in a checklist might read easily in a sentence but more than that may be better listed using bullet points.
  • Remember that text is not always the best way to explain complex and detailed information. Sometimes information, including lists, may be better presented in a box, table or figure.
  • Have a look at copies of the journal in which you ant to publish to see how other authors have tackled this and feel free to seek advice from the editor. All boxes, tables or figures should be cited in the text and numbered clearly and in the order they appear in the text.
  • Consider using a flow chart to give a visual representation of a process that is difficult to explain. Statistics can also often be better presented in charts or graphs than in the text. Remember you are trying to help your reader make sense of the information.
  • Where possible and appropriate, your article should lead to implications or recommendations for nursing practice.

Bring together the main points from the text. Your conclusion should be stated.

Articles should be supported by relevant and up-to-date literature.

Illustrating the article
Articles can be illustrated with photographs or line drawings but they need to be of good quality. We use commercial picture libraries to source images but these often do not have pictures of rare conditions or procedures.

If you submit photographs, these need to be in jpeg format and 300dpi. Please be aware that pictures taken from the web are almost always of too poor a quality to be usable.

It is your responsibility to obtain permission to reproduce any photographs, diagrams, x-rays, charts and so on that you submit. For details, go to Author policies (link). We can commission photographers to take pictures but will rely on the co-operation of the author. We can also commission a clinical illustrator to draw anatomical figures or procedures.

Where we source photographs or commission illustrations to accompany your article, it is your responsibility to check the accuracy of these on proof.

Consent and confidentiality
Publication of personal information about a person requires the consent of that person. This includes photographs, case studies and other information and it is good practice to obtain consent even if the material is anonymised because it could cause embarrassment or distress. Particular care needs to be taken when publishing material and photographs of children, even with the parents’ permission, because this could cause distress in later life.

Refusal is always respected, no matter what the age of the child. Those who do consent should be offered the option of having their names included.

If you are planning to use photographs of a child, young person or other individual, please include a signed consent form when you submit your article. If the child is under the age of 16, the form should be signed by both the child and parent or guardian.

All evidence and practice and continuing professional development (CPD) articles should be supported by up-to-date literature that needs to be referenced comprehensively. If you are using a reference that is more than ten years old, you should consider whether there are more recent alternatives. Exceptions apply to seminal works. We rely on your integrity to supply accurate and complete references; it is impossible for us to verify all submitted references. Inaccurate referencing reflects badly on the author and the journal.

Please note: we use only primary references. Do not use ‘cited in’.

References in the text
Please ensure you use the Harvard (name and year) system for references in the text.

For example, ‘It has been suggested that nurses should examine their own relationship with patients (Brown 2004).’

For three or more authors, use the first author’s name followed by ‘et al’. For example, ‘As White et al (2004) argue…’

Note that ‘White et al’ is acceptable for White, Brown and Smith, but not for White and Brown, with just two names, which should be written as ‘White and Brown (2004)’.

When several references are cited to support a point, they should be listed in chronological order, from earliest to most recent; for example, ‘(White 2004, Brown 2005, Smith 2006)’.

If there are two or more references to the same author, the order should be chronological; for example, ‘(Brown 2006, 2007)’.

References in the reference list
Each reference to a journal article should include:

  • The author’s surname and initial(s). Include the surname and one initial only of all authors for references with one, two or three authors. For four or more authors, print the first three and add ‘et al’. Unlike references in the main text, separate the names of authors by using commas; do not use ‘and’.
  • The year of publication in round brackets.
  • The title of the article in full and in sentence case, capitalising only the first work and any proper nouns.
  • The name of the journal in full. The volume, issue number and first and last page numbers.

Mower S (2017) Bell’s palsy: excluding serious illness in urgent and emergency care settings. Emergency Nurse. 25, 1, 32-39.
Van den Heed K, Florquin M, Bruyneel L et al (2013) Effective strategies for nurse retention in acute hospitals: a mixed method study. International Journal of Nursing Studies. 50, 2, 185-194 Wilkinson S, Hayward R (2017) Band 5 nurses’ perceptions and experiences of professional development. Nursing Management. 24, 2, 30-37.

Use alphabetical order for references. If there are two or more references to the same author, use chronological order for these.

Each reference to a book should include:

  • The author’s surname and initial: use one initial only. Please indicate if the people cited are editors using the abbreviation (Eds).
  • The year of publication in round brackets.
  • The title of the book in title case, capitalising all major words and an ‘A’ after a colon.
  • The edition (if applicable); for example, ‘Second edition’.
  • The publisher.
  • The city of publication, and state if in the US.
  • If you are citing a chapter in a book, supply the author’s name, year of publication, title of the chapter, any editors’ names, title of the book, publisher and place of publication.

Gerrish K, Lacey A (2010) The Research Process in Nursing. Sixth edition. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.
Maslow A (1966) The Psychology of Science: A Reconnaissance. Harper and Row, New York NY.  
Nursing and Midwifery Council (2010) Standards for Pre-registration Nursing Education. NMC, London.
Rolph S, Walmsley J (2015) Oral history and new orthodoxies: narrative accounts in the history of learning disabilities. In Perks R, Thomson A (Eds) The Oral History Reader, Third edition.  Routledge, London.

Use alphabetical order for references. If there are two or more references to the same author, use chronological order.

Web references:
We prefer to include references to printed documents where possible. However, if you are referencing a page or document that is only available on the web please include author names, year of first publication, name of the document or the name of the appropriate web page, a full URL address (not just the home page) and the date on which you last accessed it.

Nursing and Midwifery Council (2016) Revalidation. Practice Hours. uk/what-you-need-to-do/practice-hours (Last accessed: 27 February 2017.)

Please note: references to Wikipedia articles are not accepted in our journals.

Short acknowledgements may be made at the end of articles. Authors are responsible for the appropriateness of the acknowledgement and for the spelling of names and correctness of titles of those acknowledged. Please put the job title first then the name.

Conflict of interest statement
Please disclose any potential financial or personal conflict of interest, for example an organisation that may have funded a study.

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