Technical writing is a skill that is different than other forms of college and professional writing, as it relies heavily on writing in concise, clear terms, synthesizing complex concepts and processes and explaining them to a specific audience. As a nursing student, you might apply this skill in your education through coursework, clinical experience, internship or preparation for licensing exams. Understanding the specifics of technical writing can be valuable in helping you excel in your specific field of study and meeting career goals.
Technical writing is the ability to describe or explain complicated concepts or processes in understandable terms. It relies on knowing your purpose, your audience and how much knowledge readers may have on the topic. For example, if you are writing about dispensing medication to patients, you need to know whether your audience would be a patient, a doctor, a nursing peer or other medical personnel. Your approach for each of those proposed audiences would be different.
Statistician Edward Tufte's seven-plus-or-minus-two rule for organizing information theorizes that the human mind is capable of processing five to nine pieces of information at a time. Following that, the best way to present information is in brief sentences and paragraphs, referred to as "chunking" information. Keep language simple and clear, yet direct and specific. Short paragraphs help break up text visually and provide white space on the page.
Technical writing requires well-thought out explanations of complex ideas and procedures and uses the third-person or second-person perspective but never the first-person perspective. It is not opinion-oriented. It expresses technical concepts or step-by-step processes so that the steps taken and the outcome of each are clear to the reader, such as, "Take this action. Then, this happens."
In coursework, technical writing skills apply to documenting procedures based on concepts learned through study. In an anatomy course, you might write a paper about how the heart affects the circulatory system. In a psychology course, you might describe a specific mental condition in technical terms and the treatment of it.
Hands-on training in the clinical portion of your education means taking blood pressure, drawing blood samples and completing other mandatory nursing duties. Technical writing skills apply to documenting these crucial clinical procedures for future reference.
Nursing internships in any capacity will expose you to many procedures related to general medical practices but also to specific approaches to patient care, office procedures and patient follow-up practices. As office practices vary among medical environments, you will apply technical writing skills when you capture your notes logically for future reference and understanding.
Specific research in nursing study and "writing across the curriculum" shows that writing content and procedures helps nursing students internalize major content, which can help them prepare for licensing exams. The theory is that writing concepts reinforces them in the learner.
Technical writing skills can help set you apart from others in the nursing profession. You might write steps for a patient's spouse to treat a medical condition at home. Or you might research and write a report about a new medical procedure for a doctor or manager. Another use might be writing a procedure for a colleague on dispensing patient medication.
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