Writing a great article

Clarity and accessibility

Your article has a single purpose: to communicate.

Effective written communication takes practice. You may need to write several drafts before you feel your work is ready to submit, and even then the journal editor may still require further changes.

Maintaining clarity

As you write, your overarching aim is to be clear, and every paragraph, every sentence, every word must contribute to this goal. Any section that lacks clarity has to be redrafted or to go.

Think hard about your intended audience. Who will read your published article? Where are your readers likely to work? And what stage of their careers will they be at? They will have different levels of knowledge so some aspects of nursing practice may need to be explained, policies and procedures unpacked, specialist terms translated.

Don't show off

Do not try to sound clever. Remember, the aim is to communicate, not to show off or to appear scholarly. Complex ideas do not have to be expressed in complex language. 

Here are some tips to help you get your message across:

  • Keep sentences simple and concise; convoluted sentences are off-putting and annoying.
  • But look for rhythm in your writing and avoid strings of short sentences, because varying sentence length will make your article a better read. 
  • Short, direct words convey ideas and information quickly. 
  • Do not be afraid of simple language. Why use ‘persons’ if what you mean is ‘people’?
  • De-clutter. ‘In order to’, ‘In relation to’, ‘With regard to’: delete all such phrases and you will probably find the sentence retains its meaning. Examine every sentence for words that add nothing.
  • Use active rather than passive language. Active writing is usually clearer and more direct. Active: ‘The community nurse changed the dressing on the patient’s leg.’ Passive: ‘The dressing on the patient’s leg was changed by the community nurse.’
  • Avoid jargon and colloquialisms. RCNi journals have readers all over the world and your article must be as clear to them as to your colleagues locally. 
  • Respect and acknowledge the diversity of patients. Terminology conveys meaning and values in subtle ways so always reflect best practice and professional values in how you write: ‘older people’ rather than ‘elderly’; ‘patients with diabetes’ rather than ‘diabetics’; ‘children with disabilities’ rather than ‘disabled children’.
  • Be your own critical reader. Pay special attention to the kind of language you use. Has it been infiltrated by dull, empty phrases that filter down from directives, policy documents and guidance? ‘Impacted on’, ‘at this moment in time’, ‘cascade down’, ‘challenging’, ‘taken forward’, 'key stakeholders' – consider alternatives that will make your writing more dynamic and engaging and less bland and sterile.

For more specific guidance, look at the section on author guidelines.

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