Everyone should publish their dissertation or capstone project. Dissemination of knowledge is the final step in any research or evidence-based project. Not to mention that you’ve spent months or perhaps years working on it and sharing the knowledge you’ve gained is rewarding as well as important.
Unfortunately, most nursing programs don’t teach you how to turn your work into a publishable manuscript. You certainly can’t submit your entire paper as it was written; first of all it is far too long. But even if it wasn’t, dissertations and capstone projects are written with a completely different purpose than a manuscript for publication. You write the first to demonstrate what you know to professors and others who will determine if you meet the criteria for a particular degree. You write the second to share what you know with others who can put it to use to ultimately improve their practice and enhance patient care. In addition, dissertations usually run well over 100 pages and though capstone projects are shorter, they still exceed the required length.
So, the first thing you have to do is cut, cut, cut. You have to cut all the information that you included to convince your professors you qualify for the degree you’re working on but will be of no use to journal readers. And you have to cut the length down to meet journals’ author guidelines. Most journals want manuscripts that are around 4000 to 6000 words – about 16 to 24 double-spaced pages.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help figure out what to cut and what to include.
What is the purpose of this paper? (Notice I wrote paper, not study or project.) Write the purpose down in big letters and keep it in your line of sight while you’re working on your manuscript. Anything that doesn’t speak to that purpose, cut.
What background information do readers need to understand why this study/project was necessary and its results are important? This applies to your literature review section. Do not paste this into your manuscript. Here is where you have to rewrite. Synthesize the literature clearly and succinctly for the reader. Choose the most representative and important studies to describe in more detail and be sure to include conflicting reports. Don’t skew what you include to support any bias you may have.
What do readers need to know to feel confident in my findings? You want to include enough information about your methodology so that readers can make a critical judgment about the robustness of your findings. This does not include detailed historical or other background information on theoretical frameworks, methodological approaches, and statistical methods. You do want to describe what theoretical framework, methodological approach, and statistical method you used, but the reader doesn’t need a lesson in why and how.
What do readers need to know to replicate this project or apply its findings in their practice setting? Make sure you include enough information but cut extraneous stuff. For example, if you used Dillman’s method to survey the staff you should state that but you do not include a treatise on Dillman and survey methods in general.
Make sure you follow the author guidelines posted on the website of the journal you are going to submit to. Most follow ICJME guidelines for research papers or SQUIRE guidelines for quality improvement projects, so familiarize yourself with them before starting your manuscript.
One final thought, do not talk about this being your capstone or dissertation, that is not appropriate in a scholarly publication. We once received a submission where the author stated she didn’t include a final phase of the project because she ran out of time, graduating before she got to it.
Needless to say, we rejected that manuscript.
So pull out that paper and start rewriting – you’ve got important knowledge to share. Good luck!