Do Police Officers and Nurses Have to Know How to Write?

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We often think that top-floor executives or professional writers are the only people who have to write on the job, right? Wrong. Ask any nurse or police officer if he or she has to write when the job requires it and you're going to get a resounding YES. On the job, nurses have to write letters to grieving relatives, notes to doctors, and reports that might be needed if a nurse or a hospital has to defend an action in court. Sometimes nurses have to pen the unusual and the unexpected.

One nurse told me, "One time I got punched by a family member and had to describe it in a report." Many colleges have specific instructions for nurses and the need to write. The Purdue Online Writing Lab website, for example, has an entire section devoted to courses and study plans for student nurses:

"The field of nursing requires a great deal of swift, accurate writing. You will need to fill out reports and charts correctly, completely, and record your interactions with doctors and patients fairly. In addition, you must always be prepared to defend the information you record. Be objective, be precise, and remember your critical audience."

Before a nurse can enter the nursing corps, he or she must complete a training course, and many schools require applicants to write an essay on why they should be admitted. That's not an easy thing to do unless you know what writing an essay is all about. Here's what a survey of legitimate websites had to say about the entrance essay:

"After taking all the required academics toward a nursing degree, candidates for nursing school are required to write a nursing school admissions essay. This essay, while short, may be one of the most important essays a would-be nurse will ever write. Along with several standardized tests, the essay helps determine whether a nursing school candidate makes it into nursing school or not. Writing a nursing school entrance essay isn't difficult if you plan carefully and know what to include and how to make you stand out from the rest of the candidates. One mistake in a short essay will make you look sloppy, which is not desirable in a nurse. Attention to detail is key in the final presentation."

There's More to it Than Guns and Guts

Police officers, too, have to write-including day-to-day reports that they often have to write sitting in patrol cars, typing on a laptop. There are occasions, however, when officers are required to write a complete report without the aid of helping-hand software. Chris Livingston, a retired police officer and precinct manager for a major metropolitan police force in Georgia, sees evidence that students going into law enforcement must also learn old-fashioned report writing, ensuring that they are accurate and complete. Here's what he had to say:

"A lot of new officers today look to automated report writing programs, but when they have to actually write a report much of the fundamentals of good writing are missing, I mean everything from punctuation to verb tenses to point of view-all the grammatical elements of plain, coherent writing. I had to send back maybe thirty percent of those reports because they were so poorly written. Remember, not only does a report have to be correct, the content and its presentation have to be on the money. Those reports get scrutinized by attorneys working on capital crimes, and they look very closely for written evidence that can be used in court. If a report is poorly done, the arresting officer can get into a lot of trouble."

For decades, law enforcement trainees have watched cop and robber TV shows that show cops chasing, wrestling, cuffing, and interrogating suspects-plus a few gunfights thrown in. In other words, Hollywood's version of police work. However, those same shows don't show cops and detectives sitting down after each incident to write reports. It's not as exciting as the chase, but in real life reports are a vital follow-up to any police action. Men and women who have their eyes set on state or federal law enforcement agencies can look forward to the same requirement. The FBI, for example, has their own crime reporting handbook, devoted entirely to the who, what, when, where, why, and how of writing reports.

Nurse... Police officer. Either way, the person who knows how to write clear, coherent-and correct-reports will be in a prime position not only to pass any entrance requirements that require good writing skills, but they will also be able to display those same skills on the job itself, where, as we know, good writing pays off.