The Writing of Nurse Managers: A Neglected Area of Professional Communication Research

By Spears, Lee A. | Business Communication Quarterly, March 1996 | Go to article overview
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The Writing of Nurse Managers: A Neglected Area of Professional Communication Research

Spears, Lee A., Business Communication Quarterly

Nurse managers are an important group of professionals, directly affecting health care and numbering approximately 297,300 in the United States, according to a 1994 survey (Harvey Research Organization, Inc.). Writing is a crucial career activity for managers in most fields, including nursing. Scores of articles in nursing journals concern the writing of nurse managers, and the topic is treated in most writing handbooks for nurses and nursing students (for example, Ceccio & Ceccio, 1982; Gandolpho & Romano, 1984; Kolin & Kolin, 1980).

However, our discipline's contribution to the practice and teaching of nurse management writing has been restricted, partly because the topic has received little attention in professional communication research. One notable exception is Daughtermann's chapter "Negotiating Meaning in a Hospital Discourse Community" in Writing in the Workplace (1993), which describes the negotiations of a group of nurses, some of them managers, collaborating on a writing and revision project at their hospital.

In The Journal of Business Communication, Amsbary and Staples (1991) demonstrated that overall communication between nurses and top hospital executives was enhanced by a program called "Management by Wandering Around." Hildebrandt (1976), in the Bulletin of the Association for Business Communication, examined five medical journals, four of them in nursing, describing teaching methodologies that could be used by the Bulletin's readers. No articles on nurse managers' writing have appeared in JBC or Management Communication Quarterly since these journals' inceptions or in the Bulletin of the Association for Business Communication (now the Business Communication Quarterly). In technical communication journals, only a few articles have dealt with the writing of nurses (who are not necessarily managers). For instance, some of the client records in mental health hospitals described by Reynolds and Mair (1989) are written by psychiatric nurses. A later publication by Kesseling (1993) explains how the writing of physicians and nurses working in trauma centers reflects their different roles.

Besides enriching our research, more information on the writing of nurse managers would help professional communication instructors bring valuable career skills to nursing students and practicing nurse managers. This article describes the importance and types of nurse managers' writing. It presents the perceptions of 54 nurse managers regarding their undergraduate writing preparation and the link between writing proficiency and professional power in a management area composed mainly of women. Finally, it suggests ways in which training in professional writing could benefit nurse managers.


To support the information I had gathered from secondary research in nursing textbooks and journals, I reviewed 114 documents written by nurse managers in 13 health-care institutions and conducted interviews with 54 nurse managers and 13 nurse educators from seven Bachelor of Science of Nursing programs. My resources were limited, but I wanted a wide geographical sampling. Therefore, I obtained the manager interviewees by writing a letter to the editor of Nursing Management - one of the most widely read journals in its specialty - requesting letters from managers willing to talk with a researcher about their workplace writing. Data from eight respondents were not used because some of them had left nursing management more than a year before, because some held degrees in business rather than in nursing, and because I wanted to avoid overrepresentation of one geographical area or facility. (For example, I received three calls from nurse managers in the same hospital, but interviewed only one of them.)

In interviews lasting from 20 minutes to an hour, I asked each manager seven open-ended questions:

1. How much time do you spend writing? (I defined "writing" as the whole composing process from deciding what to say through revising.

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The Writing of Nurse Managers: A Neglected Area of Professional Communication Research


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