Assessing Scientific Writing from Concept to Implementation in a Graduate Curriculum

Wednesday, 24 July 2013: 9:10 AM

Shirley D. Evers-Manly, PhD, MSN, BSN, RN
School of Nursing, Charles R. Drew University, Los Angeles, CA
Bruce Smith, MA, ELS, Instructor
UCSF, San Francisco, CA

Learning Objective 1: „X To perform a writing assessment that enables classification of studentsˇ¦ proficiency in scientific writing and interpret findings to promptly refer students to appropriate interventions;

Learning Objective 2: „X The learner will be able to implement an effective scientific writing program that engages the adult nursing learner.

Purpose: Historically, nursing school admissions requirements have incorporated an assumption that students arrive on campus proficient in scientific writing. However, once engaged in coursework, many students find that scientific writing is challenging, requiring unaccustomed degrees of accuracy, clarity, and concision and replete with unfamiliar conventions. Meanwhile, professors may feel overwhelmed by excessive time consumed in accommodating to student writing deficiencies. Consequently, nursing educators have two needs: first, the need for a reliable diagnostic instrument that effectively assesses writing proficiency and identifies students who need intervention, and second, interventions that effectively improve students’ writing proficiency.

Methods: From 2010 through 2012, UCSF School of Nursing (SON) developed a series of scientific writing diagnostic tools that were administered to 559 graduate students.


In the 2010 assessment, master’s students wrote compositions that were subsequently evaluated for basic writing errors; 87% of compositions were determined to be substandard for successful engagement in graduate study, and composition scores indicated that 49% of student–authors were in need of intervention. In the 2011 assessment, students completed a 40-question (multiple-choice) test on APA Style and edited three paragraphs adapted from nursing journal articles; the paragraphs contained 113 errors. The mean score on the APA Style test was 60% correct; the mean score on the paragraph editing test was only 19% correct. The editing test was a stronger indicator of student writing proficiency than was the multiple-choice test. In the 2012 assessment, students identified errors in two paragraphs adapted from nursing journal articles; the paragraphs contained 60 errors. Mean correct scores were, for master’s students, 22%; for MEPN students, 29%; and for PhD students, 24%.


In 2010, SON implemented a comprehensive writing program. The program included consultation with an academic coordinator, a 44-hour comprehensive instructional program, peer editing service, and training in stress management. Writing proficiency improved by 30% post-intervention.