Structuring your article
You have your idea, you know roughly what you want to say and you know your word count. What you need now is a plan; and the simplest plan is a beginning, a middle and an end.
Whether your article is 300 words or 3,000, it should start with a clear indication of its purpose. Build it with supporting evidence or argument and conclude in a way that encourages readers to pause, reflect and, ideally, consider how their nursing practice might be influenced by what you have written.
Building a framework
Different authors have different ways of building on this basic framework. And if you are writing a research article, you can use the usual headings to flesh out your plan: aim, method, results and so on.
But do not be fooled into thinking a shorter article requires less planning. If you are writing a comment piece and have, say, only 300 words to play with, it requires strict discipline to construct a logical and persuasive case within these limits.
Creating a first draft
Whatever type of article you are planning, jotting down some headings can help give the first draft a logical flow. These headings may be very broad, such as ‘Introduction’, ‘Main text’, ‘Conclusion’, but, with three or four bullet points under each heading, your article will quickly take shape.
It often helps to start with the main points in the conclusion that you want readers to take away with them, and then work backwards from there, so that you know where you are leading them. After all, we plan an unfamiliar journey by establishing the destination first and then mapping backwards. Here is an example:
Sheila wants to write a comment piece about what she perceives as unthinking ageism that she has witnessed in hospital settings. Her plan so far looks like this:
‘It often helps to start with the main points in the conclusion that you want readers to take away with them, and then work backwards from there, so that you know where you are leading them.’
- Aim: encourage reflection on how we interact with older patients.
- Why now.
- Why it matters.
- What is ageism?
- Ageism and the law and in health care.
- A recent incident in emergency care.
- Suggest practical interventions.
- What does improvement look like?
- What is required to achieve it?
- Individual and collective responsibilities.
A second version of Sheila’s plan includes more detail under each of the bullet points. For example:
- Suggest practical interventions: raising awareness; teaching sessions; poster campaign; informal lunchtime discussions; what matters to older people.
The planning process takes time but will serve you well. It will clarify your thinking and help you to write an article that has a logical flow and a well defined purpose.
It also helps you to write to length because you can attribute so many words to different sections.
When you are ready to write the article, work especially hard on the introduction. Rewrite it until you are certain it has the power to engage and draw in your audience. If your first few sentences are dense and difficult to comprehend, readers are more likely to give up reading.
For more specific guidance, look at the section on author guidelines.