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Writing for Publication: Faculty Development Initiative Using Social Learning Theory

Sanderson, Bonnie K. PhD, RN; Carter, Matt PhD; Schuessler, Jenny B. DSN, RN

doi: 10.1097/NNE.0b013e318262eae9
Feature Articles

Demonstrating scholarly competency is an expectation for nurse faculty. However, there is hesitancy among some faculty to fully engage in scholarly activities. To strengthen a school of nursing’s culture of scholarship, a faculty development writing initiative based on Social Learning Theory was implemented. The authors discuss this initiative to facilitate writing for publication productivity among faculty and the successful outcomes.

Author Affiliations: Associate Professor (Dr Sanderson), Associate Dean and Professor (Dr Schuessler), School of Nursing; Instructor (Dr Carter), English Department, College of Liberal Arts, Auburn University, Alabama.

Financial gift support was received from Johnson & Johnson Foundation that made this faculty development project possible.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Correspondence: Dr Sanderson, School of Nursing, Auburn University 142 Miller Hall, Auburn, AL 36849 (

The challenges of meeting demands for scholarly productivity, coupled with classroom and clinical instruction requirements, place many nursing faculty in a time-balancing dilemma. As members of the academic community, the role of nurse faculty has evolved from a primary focus on teaching to the need to be fully engaged in multifaceted roles that also include service and scholarly productivity.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing describes a full range of scholarship in the discipline of nursing that support the values of a profession committed to both social relevance and scientific knowledge advancement.1 Scholarship encompasses a variety of pathways that are not limited to the scholarship of discovery (generating new knowledge), but also includes the scholarship of integration (synthesis of knowledge and understanding), scholarship of application (science or theory translated to practice), and scholarship of teaching (effective teaching).2,3 Regardless of the role focus, writing and publishing in peer-reviewed journals are expectations for nurse faculty, and success is measured by their ability to integrate scholarship with all aspects of the aforementioned roles. To meet these expectations, nurse faculty need to build their knowledge, skills, and self-confidence to fully integrate scholarship within their professional role.

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Perceptions About Scholarship

Despite the increasing importance of scholarly activities for career advancement and demonstrating scholarly competency among faculty in university settings, overall academic publication remains low.4 This is especially noted among nurses where there is hesitancy to fully engage in scholarly activities because of a variety of barriers that include time-constraint pressures, lack of confidence in writing skills, and limited resource support.4 In a report describing nurses’ satisfaction in their various academic roles, faculty indicated high satisfaction with their relationships with students, colleagues, and administrators in their educator role, but was least satisfied with scholarly productivity.5 In the academic setting, nurses often perceive a strong identity with their role as teacher, yet they are more reluctant to view themselves as scholars and may even approach that role with resistance.

Heinrich et al5 reported that nurses often confuse the lack of scholarly skills with lack of ability, and this may lead to the “scholar-imposter syndrome” or feelings of intellectual fraudulence. This imposter syndrome may also be associated with any of the multiple roles nurse educators are expected to fulfill depending on their background and previous experiences. Feelings of inadequacy are not uncommon among nurses transitioning into new roles when they assume additional or new responsibilities.6 Thus, an experienced clinical nurse assuming an instructor role may experience a “teacher-imposter syndrome,” and a nurse reentering a clinical setting after years of nondirect clinical responsibilities may even experience a “clinician-imposter syndrome.” A supportive faculty environment recognizes and values the diverse backgrounds and experiences of nurse educators while providing mentoring and learning opportunities to strengthen the “weakest link” of role development, whether it relates to clinical instruction, classroom teaching, or engaging in scholarship.

Writing and going through the processes necessary to publish academic papers are time consuming and emotionally complex. Scholarly activities may be perceived as taking away from the “real work” of teaching that demands immediate attention such as class preparation, instructing, grading papers, student advising, and relevant committee responsibilities. Despite the emphasis on publishing scholarly papers for academic and professional survival, avoidance behaviors are common among academic professionals, including nurse educators. Boice7 described writing as high-priority activity with low behavioral follow-through. Current demands and expectations for nurse educators include a balance of research and scholarship while maintaining excellence in teaching.3 Creating educational environments that enhance the culture of scholarship is necessary in preparing nurse educators to meet their expectations of their multifaceted roles.8

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Interventions to Increase Scholarship Productivity

A systematic review of interventions aimed to increase academic publications reported 3 types of interventions: writing courses, writing support groups, and writing coaches.9 Limitations to the studies reviewed included small sample sizes, lack of experimental designs, and potential publication bias, but the interventions led to some increase in publication rates. Writing courses offered in short-term formats were perceived as beneficial in increasing knowledge. Professional coaching and mentoring were perceived more beneficial in increasing writing confidence, skills, and collaborative teamwork over a longer term.9

There are examples of interventions within schools of nursing (SONs) designed to increase publication productivity among faculty. A multifaceted intervention that included both a structured writing course plus a monthly peer-support writing group was implemented to increase scholarly productivity.10 The sample size was small (n = 8), but the participants did increase publication rates and provided some insightful qualitative comments. They reported that the best aspect of the writing course was specific “how to” knowledge of writing a manuscript, but there were varied responses to the practical writing sessions in group format. Some preferred the group setting, whereas others preferred writing alone. Some were highly favorable of the positive personal relationships, peer support, and motivation received, whereas others perceived it less helpful because of the complexity of scheduling, different stages of writing among members, and preferred writing alone. It was clear that one approach did not meet the needs of all participants, and flexibility to accommodate different approaches is necessary.10

Providing group support for scholarly writing was established after nurse faculty attended a multidisciplinary professional development workshop on scholarly writing.11 The groups developed resources, such as tips in selecting journals to submit manuscripts, peer-review sessions, and documenting writing productivity. The writing group’s success showed an increase in not only manuscripts submitted and accepted, but also grants submitted, which is another level of scholarly productivity.12 Faculty publication output was also improved with the use of a writing coach in another report.13 Another SON created a community of scholars to not only improve active engagement in scholarship among individual nurse educators, but also to effect a change in the culture of scholarship within the institution.8

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An Initiative Using Social Learning Theory

To increase publication productivity in writing for publication, a nurse faculty development initiative that integrated Social Learning Theory (SLT) principles14 was developed. The short-term goals were to provide structured education and support through the services of a writing coach over an 8-month period. A longer-term goal was to establish an infrastructure to support sustainable scholarly productivity. Outcomes were evaluated by tracking the number of publications submitted and published during, and the year following, the initiative. A survey was administered at the end of the 8-month to assess faculty perceptions of the benefits received and solicit suggestions for longer-term support needs. Institutional review board approval was received through the university for this project.

The SON is located in a major southeastern university and enrolls approximately 120 nursing students per year at the collegiate junior level in the baccalaureate degree program and 20 to 30 in the master’s degree program. The SON has approximately 16 full- or part-time faculty members (tenure- and non–tenure-track positions), with the majority being doctorally prepared. Although the tenure-track positions carry higher scholarship expectations, clinical-track faculty are also expected to have a scholarly program. All faculty members are actively involved in classroom teaching, clinical instruction, and service/outreach activities.

Leadership from the SON invited representatives from the university’s professional development and learning center to explore opportunities to help meet faculty development needs in writing for publication. Through collaboration with the learning center, the SON submitted a proposal to a foundation and was awarded a professional development grant to enhance writing and publication skills among nurse faculty. The university’s learning center facilitated interdisciplinary networking to help identify a writing coach. An instructor in the author’s College of Liberal Arts was invited to serve as writing coach for the yearlong initiative. He was an excellent fit with nursing faculty as he had writing and publishing experience in his academic role and was previously an RN. At the same time, a new faculty member had an interdisciplinary background of research experience in health behavior and a record of academic publications. Because sustainability of scholarly productivity following the initiative was a priority, she assumed a leadership role with the writing coach to help plan and implement the activities, evaluate the effectiveness, and guide follow-up plans for continued support for scholarly activities once funding ceased.

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SLT and Writing

Given that writing for scholarly publication is a behavior, building self-confidence through increased knowledge and skills in a peer-supportive environment is a strategy for successful behavior change. Social Learning Theory explains human behavior in terms of a 3-way, dynamic, reciprocal theory in which personal factors, environmental influences, and behavior continually interact. A basic premise of SLT is that people learn not only through their own experiences, but also by observing the actions of others and the results of those actions. Table 1 illustrates components of SLT that were integrated into the educational and support activities of the faculty-development initiative. Specific constructs of SLT are italicized within the following narrative description of the initiative.

Table 1

Table 1

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The environment is as important as the person in behavior change because the change is bidirectional (reciprocal determinism). The initiative was developed using approaches previously reported8-13 to facilitate writing that included large-group sessions for educational content, small-group sessions for facilitated peer-review feedback, and individual consultation for specific feedback. The kickoff session was held at the beginning of a fall semester with 15 of 16 nursing faculty (94%) attending. The writing coach described the proposed plan and encouraged faculty members to identify at least 1 goal related to writing for publication this semester. Many had manuscripts in various stages of development or had previously submitted manuscripts with rejection decisions. A goal for each faculty member was to choose 1 manuscript to focus on and set a goal to complete and submit for publication, or revise and resubmit for publication. Personal regulation of goal-directed behavior (self-control) is important in goal setting and self-monitoring of progress toward the goals.

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Roles of the Writing Coaches

Learning requires both information and skill-building experiences to influence changes in behavior (behavioral capability). Collaborative efforts of the 2 writing coaches, one as a short-term external consultant and the other as an internal faculty member, were important to fulfill both the short- and long-term goals. The external writing coach developed the educational and discussion topics that were necessary to build writing skills that included how to access relevant writing and publishing resources. The complementary role of having an internal SON writing coach provided an opportunity to build sustainability of the writing project goals. She was onsite and able to provide timely feedback on written drafts and share specific examples of her work and experiences with the writing and publishing process (observational learning, role model). She was also able to help focus on future plans to promote sustainability of scholarly writing by incorporating behavioral change strategies within the knowledge-based content.

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Group Sessions

Attitudes and beliefs are based on observing others similar to self, and role models are needed to emulate (observational learning). The writing coaches held monthly informational large-group sessions for all faculty members. Discussion topics included establishing a writing habit, identifying and addressing barriers to writing, journal selection, the editorial review process, and responding to reviewers’ responses. Learning ways to handle personal reactions to critical responses and being better prepared to respond to reviewers in a logical, objective approach are important in moving forward (emotional coping responses). A librarian was invited to provide an overview of efficient literature search strategies. There was also a concentrated effort to connect faculty to a campus-wide writing workshop that was offered through the university’s learning center.

In addition to the informational content, the group sessions reinforced the importance of scholarship within the nurse educator role and tangible resource support available within the university as well as accessing relevant literature and online support resources. At the end of each semester, individuals were asked to summarize their progress and set new goals for the next semester. Creating a supportive environment (reciprocal determinism), building knowledge and skills in achievable steps (behavioral capability, self-efficacy), setting measurable goals, and self-monitoring progress toward goals (self-control) are behavioral change strategies within SLT.14

Small-group sessions were conducted through a combination of face-to-face meetings and through informal e-mail correspondence between meetings. The small-group sessions were facilitated by the writing coaches to help guide peer-mentoring on individual writing projects and provide individual feedback. This allowed for both peer support (observational learning) and guided support from the writing coaches (behavioral capability, reinforcement). It also provided a mechanism to monitor progress on goals (self-control). Small-group sessions have been reported to allow members to negotiate the stages of the writing process and also provide external motivation and group accountability and increase energy for scholarship through discussion.8-10 Although emotional support (reinforcement) may be an important component that a small writing group offers, increased self-confidence (self-efficacy) and positive attitudes toward writing are benefits supported by SLT.

The group sessions met with mixed responses. Generally, faculty felt the meetings were too frequent and time consuming, especially if they were primarily lecture-type format. Interestingly, this mirrors comments provided in a similar intervention,10 where members perceive the benefits of group sessions differently. Most participants valued the informal sessions with more hands-on critiquing of each other’s work within small groups or with one-on-one feedback from the writing coaches. Informal approaches may be helpful, but there is a potential that they are perceived as “less important” than structured meeting times. Clear expectations and timelines for writing goals must be specified if a less structured format is adopted. Accountability in scholarly productivity should be integrated as a clearly defined expectation, regardless of the approach.

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Outcomes: Publications and Survey Results


Specific and measurable goals were set by individual faculty members with an aggregate total for the SON at the beginning of the initiative. The SON goal was 8 submissions in the 8-month time period of the initiative. This goal was exceeded with a total of 12 manuscripts submitted for review in peer-review journals over that time period: 8 were accepted (67%), and 4 (33%) were in the review process. This accomplishment demonstrated a substantial improvement in scholarly productivity at the SON compared with previous years. When a manuscript received an “acceptance” notification, an immediate e-mail blast to faculty members was circulated by the writing coach to share the good news. Reinforcement through recognition is an important concept in SLT.14 Each semester, the manuscript tracking log was updated with manuscripts in progress, submitted for review, and decisions for publication. This provided a means to evaluate progress toward goals as well as identify potential needs for additional support among individual faculty members.

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Survey Results

At the conclusion of the initiative, a brief survey was developed and administered by the writing coaches to help assess faculty members’ perceptions about the benefits received and seek open-ended responses for future development needs. The survey response rate was 14 (87%) of 16, with overall positive remarks about the initiative. Because self-efficacy is a major construct in SLT, a question was included to categorize their perceived level of confidence in writing before and after the initiative. Table 2 illustrates the proportion of responses to this question. There was a notable increase in respondents reporting “confident” and “somewhat confident” in their writing ability when compared with before the initiative. Although the small sample limits the ability to be conclusive on the effectiveness of the initiative, the movement to more responders indicating higher confidence levels is encouraging.

Table 2

Table 2

Anecdotal comments from faculty included the following: “Colleagues and I had a data-based manuscript that had been rejected 3 times, and we really felt the work needed to be disseminated and decided to try one more time” and “With help from the small-group sessions and writing coach feedback, the article was accepted with NO revisions.” Another comment was “this project gave me the support, expert help, and confidence to write and publish.” Other faculty members indicated that the initiative helped them prioritize their goals for scholarly writing with defined timelines, directed guidance for individual writing, and provided group motivational support. Another benefit expressed was having individual and group support immediately available to address reviewers’ comments because this often is a humbling experience.

Overall, there were strong recommendations to continue the focus on faculty development in writing with several suggestions to expand the current model: (1) maintain a writing coach in the SON to help build sustainability in scholarly productivity; (2) provide additional support in data management and statistical analyses to expedite the publication of more data-based manuscripts; (3) expand scholarly development in grant-writing skills to increase expertise in writing proposals for extramural funding for research, teaching, or outreach projects; and (4) schedule more protected time within faculty assignments to engage in scholarly activities.

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During the year following the funded initiative, the SON restructured the research committee to encompass writing for publication within the research committee responsibilities and is currently known as the research/scholarship committee. The internal SON writing coach was appointed chair of this committee and helps facilitate committee support to continue the SON focus on writing for publication. Although formal group sessions no longer occurred, faculty members continue their efforts on collaborative writing projects. During the year following the initiative, sustainability of scholarly productivity by the SON appears positive, with an additional 10 manuscripts accepted and 7 in review or in revision. Tracking of scholarly activities that include both publications and grant applications is included in committee reports, and faculty accomplishments continue to be highlighted.

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Lessons Learned

The initiative in this SON taught several valuable lessons that may be helpful to others when developing support programs aimed to enhance scholarly writing. Nurse faculty are aware of the professional responsibility in disseminating knowledge through professional writing, and there are excellent resources available to provide guidance.16,17 However, although knowledge is necessary, it does not necessarily change behavior. Through application of SLT behavior change principles, the following considerations may enhance the success and sustainability of writing for publication among nursing faculty:

  1. Create a supportive environment that facilitates and recognizes individual efforts and accomplishments in scholarly activities.
  2. Provide opportunities for learning that include both content information and skill-building experiences in incremental steps.
  3. Encourage goal setting and self-monitoring of progress in writing for publication. This is important for both individuals and the school as a whole.
  4. Integrate small and consistent steps toward scholarly achievement within routine faculty responsibilities.
  5. Prepare for setbacks and have a plan and infrastructure to confront obstacles to scholarly activities.
  6. Recognize and celebrate success in scholarly activities.
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The rapidly changing healthcare environment creates challenges for nurse educators to fulfill professional expectations at multiple levels.15 As scholars, nurse educators have the opportunity to develop and evaluate innovative practice patterns, whether it is in the clinical, community, or classroom setting. A spirit of inquiry, critical reflection, and shared experiences are common among nurse educators and need to be expressed through skillful writing and publishing. Facilitating scholarly skills among nurse educators is a worthy investment.

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