Evaluating an Academic Writing Program for Nursing Students Who Have English as a Second Language

Article excerpt


Academic writing skills are essential to the successful completion of preregistration nursing programs, yet the development of such skills is a challenge for many nursing students, particularly those who speak English as a second language (ESL). It is vital to develop and evaluate strategies that can support academic writing skills for ESL nursing students. This qualitative study evaluated a four-day academic writing intervention strategy designed to support ESL first-year nursing students. Data from the program showed two major areas of difficulty for participants relating to academic writing: problems understanding course content in English, and problems expressing their understanding of that content in English. The participants noted a key benefit of this program was the provision of individual feedback. Programs such as this intervention successfully meet the demands of ESL nursing students, although ongoing support is also needed.

Keywords: nurse education; academic writing; academic style; English as a second language; teaching evaluation; nursing


Academic writing skills

It is evident from the literature that students of all backgrounds can find it difficult to develop the necessary academic writing skills to successfully navigate their university studies. Bennett (2009, p. 44) notes that there are certain conventions and formalities associated with academic writing, in that 'English Academic Discourse is a clearly defined entity distinguished by a series of identifiable characteristics, and that there is a broad consensus as to its general principles, methods of textual construction, and the kinds of grammatical and lexical features to be used'. The expected characteristics include clear, concise, convincing and well-structured writing (Bennett, 2009).

Academic writing skills are essential to the successful completion of preregistration nursing programs, yet the development of such skills is a challenge for students of nursing (Jackson, 2009; Knowles & McGloin, 2007; Whitehead, 2002). Effective academic writing places 'complex higher-order analytical demands' on students (Whitehead, 2002, p. 502) and requires not only a certain level of knowledge and comprehension but also the ability to critically analyse and integrate ideas, as well as appropriately draw on and reference the literature (Knowles & McGloin, 2007).

While academic writing is integral not only to the successful completion of nursing studies but also other aspects of undergraduate nurse education, such as clinical teaching and learning, a literature search reveals that relatively little research into academic writing in nursing has been undertaken. In a phenomenological study reporting the academic writing experiences of a group of undergraduate nursing students, Whitehead (2002) found that students were impaired by a lack of support and resources to develop the necessary writing skills, many had little previous experience upon which to draw, and the pressure of meeting rigorous and inflexible academic writing formats possibly stifled the development of creative and original work (similarly, Diekelmann & Ironside, 1998). Unlike the taken-for-granted assumption that the development of academic writing skills automatically ensues from simply being exposed to academic reading and the academic environment, Whitehead's findings suggest that the process is anything but automatic. Instead, even Englishspeaking students struggle in their attempts to gain the necessary skills, and remain anxious, uncertain, and daunted at the prospect of producing future written assignments (Whitehead, 2002).

Academic writing skills for ESL nursing students

Academic writing is a requirement that all students, regardless of language background, must accomplish. Yet students who are linguistically diverse and speak English as a second language (ESL) have the added challenge of achieving this in a different language. …