Getting Started – The Planning Phase
The key to success when writing a nursing essay is the detail applied when planning the piece. It is essential to create a clear and robust essay structure, taking into account all of the learning outcomes expected of the finished piece.
As well as understanding the essay title it is also important to become fully acquainted with the learning outcomes which are included as standard with all essays, as these form a pivotal part of the students overall understanding of what is required of them when submitting their work.
Most importantly in the planning phase it is advisable to return to the course tutor or module leader if there is any doubt as to what is expected of the essay, although feasible to do so, clarifying important queries once the essay is underway may well be too late as it may result in a significant content or structural change to hard work already carried out.
A well planned essay will consider the following:
- Clarity as so what is being asked of the essay – is the title clear?
- Having a full understanding of the style of work required i.e. reflective account, literature review and so on.
- Brainstorm – this is an easy yet helpful way of deciding on key content. Write headings of key points to include then start to build upon these.
- Where is the word count weighted – there is often an allocation of the percentage of marks which will be gained from each segment such as introduction, discussion and conclusion, be clear about this in the plan.
- Where is information for content to be accessed? A literature search should be carried out as early as possible.
- How much time is available to complete the work? Make a plan of time usage and stick to it, never leave writing until the last minute as it will certainly detract from the quality of the finished piece.
To obtain a good mark, students are expected to provide a robust and strong introduction to the essay, this indicates to the marker that the student fully understands what is expected of them, and also gives an indication of the content to follow in the discussion. When referring in the introduction what will be included in the essay, it is crucial that these intentions are followed through and the content included reflects this, and if detail is not guaranteed to appear in the text then it is advisable to keep information brief in the introduction.
Always consider that the contents of the introduction can always be altered once the main body of the essay is complete, that way it ensures that the intended content is referred to appropriately in the introduction.
The marker will expect to see references used from the offset however in the introduction these can be kept to a minimum and used purely to support the key features and the subject the essay is intended to focus on.
This is the student’s platform to exhibit their knowledge of the subject they are writing about. Having undertaking a thorough essay plan the content itself will have been clarified, the more complex undertaking will be to source and correctly apply theories within the discussion that give weight and credence to the level of understanding of the subject the student is required to write about.
The discussion needs to be broad and relatively unbiased (unless it is specifically required to emphasise one side of an argument), providing the marker with well-rounded and up-to-date knowledge of the subject, which indicates that the student has read widely around the subject matter, and has subsequently acquired a good understanding of this.
The discussion forms the bulk of a standard essay and is where the student must include all of the relevant points they intend to include in the essay. It is within the discussion that the student must display the evidence collected to address the question or proposed topic for discussion.
It is essential at this stage of the essay not to present new information, or bring in additional threads to the discussion. The conclusion is intended to be a segment whereby the student is able to offer informed opinions about the information, facts and arguments provided within the discussion. It is here that information can be validated or challenged, and commonly, where appropriate, recommendations for future practice are made allowing the student to apply theories which have been born from the discussion. As with the introduction a conclusion is required to have a strong impact and leave the marker with no doubt as to whether the original question has been answered sufficiently.
In the UK the ‘Harvard System’ is most commonly used as the academic referencing style of choice. Although for many first-time essay writers understanding referencing can be tantamount to learning a new language, once a solid grasp of the style is obtained it can then be comfortably applied to essays. It is important that students acknowledge that the use of referencing is extremely influential to a pass or fail therefore accuracy is essential to further enhance the over all mark. The purpose of referencing is that the student is able to illustrate a wide research of the chosen topic, and in doing so is able to trace where information has been obtained by means of providing a clear and concise reference list.
It is important to understand that all universities adopt subtle variations in marking systems and as such it is the student’s responsibility to familiarise themselves with their place of study and what is expected of them. Providing strong attention and detail is applied to the planning, structure, information (argument), presentation and referencing of the essay then a student can expect to obtain a pass. The ‘pass’ grade attained will depend on what degree the learning outcomes have been met and fortunately students are able to establish a good understanding of the expectations of the marker by familiarising themselves with the provided ‘marking criteria,’ relating to the academic level they are working towards.