Nursing Students' Reading and English Aptitudes and Their Relationship to Discipline-Specific Formal Writing Ability: A Descriptive Correlational Study

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT Formal writing assignments are commonly used in nursing education to develop students' critical thinking skills, as well as to enhance their communication abilities. However, writing apprehension is a common phenomenon among nursing students. It has been suggested that reading and English aptitudes are related to formal writing ability, yet neither the reading nor the English aptitudes of undergraduate nursing students have been described in the literature, and the relationships that reading and English aptitude have with formal writing ability have not been explored. The purpose of this descriptive correlational study was to describe writing apprehension and to assess the relationships among reading and English aptitude and discipline-specific formal writing ability among undergraduate nursing students. The study sample consisted of 146 sophomores from one baccalaureate nursing program. The results indicated that both reading and English aptitude were related to students' formal writing ability.

Key Words Reading Aptitude--English Aptitude--Undergraduate Nursing Students--Discipline-Specific Writing--Writing Apprehension

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WRITING ASSIGNMENTS ARE COMMONLY USED IN NURSING EDUCATION TO DEVELOP STUDENTS' CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS AND ENHANCE THEIR COMMUNICATION ABILITIES (COWLES, STRICKLAND, & RODGERS, 2001). Clinical documentation and nursing care plans, journaling, anecdotal notes, and formal writing are just a few of the writing formats that are important and useful in professional nursing (Newton, 2008; Rooda & Nardi, 1999). Nevertheless, the very thought of writing can be frightening for many nursing students, and writing apprehension is a common phenomenon (Schmidt, 2004).

It has been suggested that reading and English aptitude are related to formal writing ability (Mason & Graham, 2008; Rachal, Daigle, & Rachal, 2007). However, neither reading nor English aptitude has been described in the nursing literature, and the relationships that reading and English aptitude have with discipline-specific formal writing ability have not been explored. The threefold purpose of this article is to: a) discuss writing apprehension, b) describe undergraduate nursing students' reading and English aptitudes, and c) explore the relationships between reading and English aptitude and discipline-specific formal writing ability in a population of undergraduate nursing students.

Literature Review College-educated students, regardless of their background or major, should be critical thinkers (Graft & Birkenstein, 2008), and writing assignments are commonly used to develop students' problem-solving skills and enhance their critical thinking abilities (Cowles et al., 2001; Rooda & Nardi, 1999). Unfortunately, over the past decade, literacy rates among American college students have declined (United States Department of Education [USDE], 2006), and many undergraduates experience a phenomenon known as writing apprehension, or the psychological trait of avoiding writing that will be evaluated (Daly & Miller, 1975). "Evidence of this fear is not only present in students' final written products, but also in students' attitudes, behaviors, and capacity for learning" (Schmidt, 2004, p. 467). Broussard (1997) described writing apprehension in nursing students as a negative response to writing formal papers. According to Schmidt, nursing students who experience writing apprehension view the act of writing and the evaluation of that writing as punitive. These students tend to have difficulty with the mechanics of writing and formulating ideas regarding what to write about.

Writing apprehension can affect academic and career choices; students tend to select a college major and/or career based on the perceived writing requirements in that particular discipline (Schmidt, 2004). Apprehensive writers also write very little outside the classroom, lack writing role models, and score lower on standardized tests (Schmidt). …