Nurses who enroll in graduate school after 10 to 20 years in clinical practice may face a learning curve when it comes to academic writing, says Penni Watts, Director of UAB’s Clinical Simulation & Training in the School of Nursing’s Learning Resources Center. Watts understands this learning curve because she is also a doctoral student working on a dissertation proposal.

“I am sure that I learned to write over the years, but never at such a level related to academic or scientific writing,” explains Watts, who was more accustomed to jotting notes on charts or entering text into databases. “For example, I used to think that when I write for research purposes, it should be perfect the first time. I didn’t know how to edit and make it better.”

That’s why she recently came to the UAB Graduate School Professional Development Program to take elective courses in academic writing. This Spring, to meet the needs of nursing students like Watts, the Graduate School will launch an online section of its most popular writing course, GRD 727 QN, Writing and Reviewing Research, for nursing students only.

 “We have seen a gradual increase in graduate nursing students taking our academic writing courses,” says Dr. Jeffrey A. Engler, Associated Dean of the UAB Graduate School. “We created this online course for them after discussions with nursing faculty about the writing demands faced by students pursuing a doctorate and doctor of nursing practice (DNP). “

Engler says the Professional Development Program has also seen increases in writing courses by students in the fields of public health and education. “In many professional schools today, the ability to write is viewed as a leadership skill. We agree, and we see it as part of our overall mission of helping graduate students become prominent scholars and societal leaders.”

Taught by author and editor, Dr. Jan Jenner, the 10-week online writing course will run from Jan 25, 2011, through Monday April 4.  It’s a 3-credit hour, pass-no pass elective tailored to nursing students who are writing scholarly review papers, article critiques, and journal articles, explains Jenner, who has taught biology and writing, and won awards for her teaching at New York University (NYU).

“I think nurses like Penni Watts are learning that writing is a natural extension of what they do every day,” says Jenner. “Whether they are writing a policy paper, a public health campaign, or patient educational materials, they are still caring for patients.”

In GRD 727 QN, students will work on real writing projects, engage in critical thinking about research, and give and receive peer review, she explains. “In the process, they become part of UAB’s professional writing community. This is the kind of experience that empowers them to succeed in graduate school and beyond.”

Watts, who has taken two academic writing courses from the Graduate School, recommends the program. “I really appreciate the useful new tools and techniques. For example, I had never heard of a freewrite, which encourages you to write daily. I have always been a binge writer, but I am trying to convert. Recently, I wrote a journal article after freewriting while waiting for an eye appointment. It’s been accepted for publication. It was great to see how I could boost my productivity by trying one simple new strategy.”

To register for GRD 727 QN, go to BlazerNet. Questions? Contact the Graduate School’s Jennifer Greer at For more information about other academic writing courses offered through the Professional Development Program, click here.