1. Kennedy, Maureen Shawn MA, RN, FAAN
  2. Barnsteiner, Jane PhD, RN, FAAN


Requiring students to submit poor papers doesn't serve anyone well.


Article Content

August is the hazy month when things slow down. It's also a planning month-for most faculty, a time to prepare for the incoming class. So it seems like the perfect time to reach out to nursing faculty and ask them to consider a change in their curriculum-namely, to rethink the requirement that students submit a project report or clinical review paper for publication as part of the course.

Figure. Maureen Shaw... - Click to enlarge in new window Maureen Shawn Kennedy
Figure. Jane Barnste... - Click to enlarge in new window Jane Barnsteiner

Well-executed and well-written quality improvement (QI) projects make for excellent articles in clinical practice journals and we welcome them. Similarly, a comprehensive and well-synthesized clinical review can help inform busy clinicians on current approaches to care and implications for practice. However, we've seen too many papers-later found to be part of course requirements-that are based on poorly planned and executed projects, aren't on topics relevant to clinicians, or don't report outcomes. Likewise, we receive many clinical reviews that are poorly sourced and too long, and filled with basic information practicing nurses don't need. Students sometimes send us the exact paper they wrote for their course, complete with a course number and faculty name. Clearly, these students didn't follow our author guidelines or are simply unaware of them.


A recent manuscript submitted by a faculty-graduate student writing team highlights another issue: faculty knowingly encouraging students to submit articles that are unpublishable. The paper described a QI project the student developed and implemented on one unit. As is AJN's procedure, we sent the paper to four peer reviewers. AJN's nurse editors then discussed the reviews and decided to reject the paper (it lacked details on implementation, evaluation, assignment of patients to study groups, and the resulting change, among other issues). We sent our decision, along with detailed comments, to the corresponding author (the faculty member), who responded that he knew the paper would be rejected because of its many flaws, but wanted the student to submit anyway for the experience.


We've also received query letters for which there was no intent to actually submit a paper-the course simply required students to go through the process of submitting a query and then to hand in the editor's response. In some instances, students requested a response from the editor by a certain date to meet a course deadline.


Like many peer-reviewed journals, we rely on the generosity of our content experts, who take the time to critically review papers. They receive no payment and we try to limit the number of reviews to three or four a year. Poorly written student papers, which often arrive en masse at the end of the semester, overload our submission system and take up editor and reviewer time. While we screen out and reject the obviously unacceptable manuscripts, we still send many for review, as flaws may not be apparent until the papers are critically read.


The International Academy of Nursing Editors (INANE) addressed this problem after editors voiced frustration over being inundated with poorly written student papers. Findings from an INANE survey of nursing journal editors resulted in a white paper on the issues identified, among them a failure to follow author guidelines, inappropriate and outdated references, little synthesis of results, and failure to respond to revisions. Additionally, the survey found unethical and unprofessional behavior by both faculty and students and that faculty often lack education about publishing. We encourage faculty to view the white paper, which contains a compendium of resources to aid them in mentoring students in writing, available at no cost at For more resources, faculty and students can go to AJN's website, under Collections, and see our step-by-step series on "Writing for Publication" ( and on "Systematic Reviews" (


We applaud faculty efforts to develop students' scholarly writing skills and to guide them in the publication process. But this needs to be done in a way that does not cause editors and reviewers unknowingly and without consent to become part of schools' course requirements and utilize limited journal resources.