This is part two of twin posts on midwifery essay writing help. Part one, which is on getting the motivation to start writing, can be found here.
When it comes to essays, most midwives and nurses know their subject with passionate depth.
I would suggest after you've done a few days reading around the subject of your essay and compiling a few resources, you spend more time than you probably think is necessary on structure. Most students will start writing with the speed of a startled greyhound. But I think you should spend far more time thinking and planning.
Before you write, you should have the skeleton outline of your essay on paper or in a word document. You should know roughly what you are going to conclude.
Successful students know exactly what they're going to write before they write it. The way intelligent students go wrong usually is starting to write hoping clarity will come along. They then get their pros and cons, arguments and defenses mixed up, and can't see the wood from the trees. They spend hours and hours writing and deleting text. Then they get intimidated and procrastinate, and often run out of time!
Does this sound like you? Well don't worry, I'm going to give you a magical formula.
I suggest you use the following format to group your ideas and make your skeleton essay. Well actually, I don't Aristotle does, this is his 'argumentative form', and he knows what he's talking about (via teacher Ray Salazar's blog):
Introduction: What inspired my argumentative response?
Background: What preceded my argument and / or what needs to be clarified?
Confirmation: What supports my argument?
Refutation: What challenges my argument?
Conclusion: What are the benefits of accepting my argument?
Writing your midwifery essay:
Say you have a 3000 word essay to write. An example of an essay set from my training is 'Implications of culture and language barriers in informed decision-making for Down’s syndrome screening'. I was busy and left it to the last minute.
1. I had about a week to write my midwifery essay.
I first of all researched the topic in the library, and made a note of all the sources and key ideas I liked on a piece of paper. This took about 6 hours in total. I knew I wouldn't be able to read everything so I just looked at the important sources (Cochrane, local hospital guidelines, a new book on the subject, and a few journals from places like the British Medical Journal, Midwifery Today and MIDIRS).
2. I then went on to think about my conclusion.
This took about 15 minutes of thinking and scribbling.
I knew I wanted to conclude that women and babies from ethnic minorities have higher rates of mortality and morbidity, which is obviously awful. I wanted to make the point that Downs screening is a complex part of their care. We have to speak their language (or get it translated!), know their culture, know their religion, and be able to get true informed consent.
By getting this information, we are practising midwifery at its best and this should translate well to other areas of their care. Although it's expensive and time consuming, we should aim for excellence by using language line, learning and reading about cultures, and giving empathetic antenatal care. This will let women from ethnic minorities or with a language barrier have choice to screen for Downs syndrome if they wish. Getting screening services right will probably act as a springboard for good midwifery care in the rest of their childbearing as well.
3. I went on to list my ideas under all of the headings in Aristotle's argumentative form.
This took about an hour, and I did it in a word document, shuffling the arguments around like doing a jigsaw, until everything felt like it was in the right place. You can see the basic notes I made here.
I also assigned roughly how many words I wanted in each section.
4. I wrote the essay.
By this time my main job was filling in the gaps. As I wrote, arguments started to become clearer and I drew in more sources and more interesting ideas. This took about a morning's work - maybe 4 hours.
5. I left it alone for 24 hours.
To let it settle and to give me time to think.
6. I proof read it, and made sure my reference list was perfect.
Making sure your spelling and grammar are spot on is an easy way to pick up marks. Referencing seems really complicated but is actually very simple. It is again an easy way to get marks. At this point there wasn't much to do. I polished a few sentences, but that was about it.
7. I handed it in and went to the pub!
Some people will have their own way of writing essays and that's absolutely fine. If you already have a method that works then excellent. However if you're getting stuck, it's usually because you don't have a structure and you've failed to plan (and therefore planned to fail). Don't worry, we've all been there, and if you're reading this, you're motivated and clever enough to write fantastic, high scoring essays 🙂
This method doesn't work quite so well for writing reviews of presentations you've given, or doing reflections, which are integral part of most nursing and midwifery courses. But you usually have a set structure to do these different types of essays in any case.
Having the structure of your essay will make it much easier and less intimidating for you to write. It will take you less time overall. It will also help you be really clear for your reader if you use Aristotle's tried and tested Argumentative Form to write your essay.
The odds are because you've spent so much more time thinking before you write anything, your essay will also contain more original ideas and interesting sources and concepts. This is because as you struggle less with working out where to write things in your essay, your creativity will be free to address the topic in hand.
Making sure you have excellent structure will overall mean you have access to much higher grades, and access to much more time in the pub, which is something midwifery and nursing students need!
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