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    Writing Competencies: Whose Responsibility Is It?

    Posted by sharonb on Jul 2, 2012 3:00:36 AM

    Over the past two decades, one of the oft repeated complaints  from colleagues is that our students don't know how to write. Here are some explanations I've heard.

    • They never learned how to diagram sentences in middle school.
    • They text, and use text abbreviations like OMG, LOL and R U 4 REAL?
    • They email and never had pen pals.
    • They go to movies and never read.
    • They never had to do book reports.
    • They don't want to learn how to write better.

    Did you notice anything about this list? It's all about them. They this, they that.

    What about us? Do any of these sound familiar?

    • I'm not an English teacher.
    • I don't have time to teach them grammar.
    • I haven't got the patience.
    • I can't deal with ESL students.
    • I have to get promoted.
    • I don't have the time.

    This sounds like us versus them. How about some other views? What do our accrediting and certifying bodies say? Here are three (3) important organizations' positions:

    The American Association of College Nursing The Essentials of Master’s Education in Nursing (p. 12) states:

    "Essential 2 – Assume a leadership role in effectively implementing patient safety and quality improvement initiatives within the context of the interprofessional team using effective communication (scholarly writing, speaking, and group interaction) skills."

    The Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education Fall 2013 CAHME Criteria for Accreditation (p. 5) states:

    "III.A.3 The program curriculum will develop students’ competencies in communications and interpersonal effectiveness."

    The Association for University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA) Criteria for Undergraduate Program Certification states (p. 3):

    "The program must require a prerequisite course of study that ensures that the student has the following minimum competencies: a. Communication (written and oral)..."

    What's a busy instructor to do? Here are some tried and true methods I have used you can apply to your courses.

    • Make communication competencies a requirement to graduate from a program and to earn a passing grade in a course. Just like us, students pay attention to what they are assessed on. Let them know at the start of the course that writing is a critical competency. Here's an example of what to use as a measurable objective in a syllabus:

    "Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to demonstrate effective written, verbal and interpersonal proficiencies in application of course materials."

    • Provide a clear rubric that delineates and measures outcomes related to writing expectations linked to grades. There are a number of rubrics; I happen to like the created by my colleague, Dr. Sharon Glennen (Buchbinder, Cox & Casciani, 2012, p. 373).
    • Offer writing tips on a regular basis. I post writing tips in my announcements board in my online classes. One of my favorites is about avoiding the use of passive voice. Many students are unaware that you can use Word to examine their papers for Readability (go to Review and click on Spelling and Grammar, be sure Grammar is clicked). At the end, Word will give you statistics on your work’s grade level for readers. Most newspapers aim for a 4th Grade reading level and most college textbooks are around the 12th grade reading level. Under Readability, you will also see Passive. That refers to percentage of sentences that have passive voice. Passive voice impacts readability and clarity of communication. This is just one of my favorite writing tips; I'm betting you have your own.
    • Throughout the course, reiterate the importance of communication competencies work in the real world, i.e., ask your students if they want to get and keep a job. Many employers have told me they will not hire someone if he or she cannot write well. I don't know any students who don't want to obtain a job upon graduation, do you?
    • Refer students to writing labs, tutors and writing software for assistance. Most colleges and universities have writing support services available for their students. In our online graduate programs, we have Smarthinking, which provides live academic help for students. The tutors review essays and coach the students in grammar and organization. They do not do the work for the student. Another excellent resource I like to use for my own work is the Autocrit Editing Wizard, available at This software will analyze a submission for overused words, sentence variation, clichés  and redundancies, repeated words and phrases, and readability, among other things. Fees range from free for 400 words per submission (3 per day) to $117 for 100,000 words per submission with unlimited submissions.

    Writing is a skill. It can be learned, practiced and improved upon. We can coach, encourage, assess and refer for assistance. As instructors, we are responsible for developing students’ competencies in effective communications. It's not us versus them. We're in this together.

    Sharon B. Buchbinder, RN, PhD

    PS: This post has 3% passive voice sentences. In fiction, I aim for 0%; in non-fiction, I aim for 5%. Sometimes you have to "kill your darlings."

    Sharon Buchbinder is Professor and Program Coordinator for the MS in Healthcare Management at Stevenson University in the Graduate and Professional School and former chair of the Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA). She is also the author of two books from Jones & Bartlett: Introduction to Health Care Management and Career Opportunities in Health Care Management.

    Here are some references if you are interested in this topic.

    The American Association of College Nursing. (2011, November). The Essentials of Master’s Education in Nursing. Retrieved from

    Association for University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA). Criteria for undergraduate program certification. Retrieved from

    Buchbinder, Sharon B., Cox, Donna M & Casciani, S.J. (2012). Healthcare management case study guidelines. In Buchbinder, Sharon B. & Shanks, N. (Eds). Introduction to health care management, 2nd Ed. Boston , MA: Jones & Bartlett, 2012, p 373.

    Palmer, W. (2008, September 25). Writing rules, misapplied: kill your darlings. Retrieved from

    Strunk, W. & White, E.B. (1999). Elements of style.  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Company.

    The Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education. (n.d.).  Fall 2013 CAHME criteria for accreditation. Retrieved from

    Truss, L. (2006 ). Eats, shoots & leaves: the zero tolerance approach to punctuation. New York, NY: Gotham.

    Topics: administration, Author, Health Administration, health care management, health professionals, Sharon B. Buchbinder, writing competencies

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