Online Course

Eureka! Science Writing for General Audiences

September 13 - October 17

Level Intermediate

Gain writing and research skills—everything from general literary techniques to interviewing and fact-checking—that will help you craft engaging nonfiction about scientific discovery, research, and policy.

Additional Information

In this class, you’ll take a close look at the writing and research skills needed to craft engaging nonfiction about scientific discovery, research, and policy, and practice them over the course of five weeks. You’ll discuss how literary elements such as scene, character development, and narrative can bring scientific topics alive for general readers, as well as how to document research and interviews to prepare for the fact-checking process. You will complete one essay, and will also be given optional short exercises that can later be incorporated into longer pieces. You will also discuss how to identify and query markets for science-based nonfiction and receive personal feedback on your work from the instructor and peers.

How it works:

Each week provides:

  • writing prompts and/or assignments
  • discussions of assigned readings and other general writing topics with peers and the instructor
  • written lectures and a selection of readings

Some weeks also include:

  • opportunities to submit a full-length essay or essays for instructor and/or peer review (up to 3,500 words)

To create a better classroom experience for all, you are expected to participate weekly in class discussions to receive instructor feedback on your work.

Course Schedule

Week 1: The hows and whys of great writing about science

In this first week, you’ll look at the current landscape of science writing opportunities and discuss the need for exciting, accurate writing about scientific research and discovery. You’ll look at examples of writing that seeks to be (or has proven to be) policy-changing. You’ll also discuss some practicalities, such as ways of recording and note-keeping that can make the fact-checking process go more smoothly. You will have an optional writing exercise of up to 500 words. 

Week 2: Scenes and characters: finding a way into the story

What if you weren’t there when the eureka moment happened? What if the eureka moment is months or years away? This week you will look at how to bring research alive on the page—even if it seems static in the lab—by learning note-taking and interviewing techniques that will help with writing three-dimensional actors and putting them into realistic spaces. You will write a draft of part of your essay (up to 750 words) and submit it to the instructor. Optionally, this exercise can also be shared with classmates for peer reviews. 

Week 3: Lights, camera, action! Finding scenes within research

This week you will put yourself in the shoes of a brand new science writer (regardless of your scientific expertise) and hit the metaphorical pavement. You will talk about how to find newsworthy stories about research and track down experts who can help. You'll address questions such as how to ask for an interview if you haven’t sold the story yet, when to write the story first and when to pitch first, and how to be sure your sources are reliable. You will also look at how to find scenes within your work, to get those characters and settings to interact, while maintaining factual accuracy. You will also talk about the pitfalls (and occasional practicalities) of re-creating scenes, speculation, compression, conflation, and compositing. You will have an optional writing exercise of up to 500 words.

Week 4: The beginning, middle, and end: finding an arc

Scientific research is often a very long-term, on-going process. Discoveries and findings are announced intermittently and often with inconclusive or anti-climactic results. How can you find an engaging story within such an unpredictable process? How can you craft relatable stories about inanimate objects, non-human organisms, complex policies, or scientific theory? You will discuss techniques for making large stories small enough to reach a non-expert reader and connecting those small stories back to your larger concepts. You will write an essay of up to 3,500 words that incorporates exercises from the first two weeks (or new writing based on skills practiced during the exercises) and submit it to the instructor.You may also submit work to your classmates for peer review.

Week 5: Finding markets

During this final week, you’ll discuss how to find markets for science-based nonfiction. Which literary publications foster science and nature writing? Which popular markets publish literary coverage from the science frontiers? You will discuss how to query editors and how the revision and fact-checking process works once your piece or project is accepted for publication. You will have an optional writing exercise.

View Complete Syllabus

Course Instructor

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Please Note

It is not uncommon for classes to fill up before the end of early registration, particularly in the last few days before the deadline. If you know for certain that you wish to take a particular class, we recommend registering early. If you'd like to be added to a waitlist for a sold-out class, please email our director of education, Sharla Yates, at [email protected].

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Creative Nonfiction’s online writing classes have helped more than 3,000 writers tell their stories better.

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The assignments were rich and challenging and the feedback, led by the instructor was excellent.

Linda S Gibson

Education FAQs

  • How do I find my course archive?

    All course work is saved in Wet.Ink. When the course closes, you can find the archive by logging in to your account, and choosing “Past Classes.” Archives include course content (lectures, readings, writing prompts, etc.), your posts and writing submissions, and any feedback given on your writing. The course archive will not include your classmates’ writing submissions.

  • What do the course levels mean?

    FUNDAMENTALS—open to all levels.
    Our fundamentals courses are designed for those who are new to writing or new to creative nonfiction, as well as those who could benefit from a back-to-basics review on how to effectively and intentionally use elements of the writer’s craft.

    INTERMEDIATE—prerequisites suggested. 
    Our intermediate courses are designed for writers who have some experience either in the genre or CNF’s courses. Past course participation is not required, but we do recommend starting with one of our fundamentals courses, especially Foundations of Creative Nonfiction.

    ADVANCED—prerequisites for enrollment. 
    Our advanced courses are for writers who have completed two previous online courses (not including self-guided courses) with Creative Nonfiction (one must be an intermediate level course).

  • What makes CNF’s online courses different from other online programs?

    Some online programs work on a “synchronous” model, which requires you to be online at an assigned time each week. The asynchronous model used in our classes means that you do not have to be online at any particular time of day, and can approach the class assignments at your own pace throughout the week based on your schedule. While some optional events, such as class video conferences, do take place at a specific time, the majority of class activities can be completed according to your schedule.

    Intimate Classes
    Classes are small—limited to 14 students per section—which means you’ll receive individual attention and feedback on your work.

    Experienced Instructors
    Good writing instructors not only need to be skilled writers, but also need to have experience in teaching what they know to others. That’s why all of our instructors are professional writers with extensive teaching experience.

    Substantial and Meaningful Writing Assignments
    Many online writing programs ask you to complete short writing exercises each week, and only near the end of the class are you invited to write a single essay or chapter. At Creative Nonfiction, we recognize the value of exercises, but also believe that completing an essay or chapter is the best way for developing writers to really explore how all the elements of creative nonfiction work together. Writing complete pieces also leaves you with a sense of accomplishment and with work that you can share when the class is completed. For this reason, in our classes you are invited to submit longer essays multiple times during a course. See course syllabus for more information.

    Sense of Connection
    We realize that it is difficult to find one’s writing community—which is why we now offer every new student membership to a Community Page where you can meet with other CNF students, during and after class.

  • What day and time is my online course?

    Our courses run asynchronously; meaning, you will NOT need to be online at any particular time. Assignments for CNF classes are given on a weekly basis; you should submit each assignment by a given deadline, but in most classes you will have at least an entire week to complete the assignment. We realize that our students live in many different areas and have different work schedules, so classes are designed to be flexible. Courses feature one live conference session, which does require that you be online at a particular time; however, participation in this session is completely optional, and instructors make an effort to offer times that can accommodate most students. This is scheduled by the instructor after class begins.If you are not able to participate in the live conference you will still be able to view a recording of it during the remaining weeks of the class. Please note that there are no video conferences in boot camp courses.

  • When do you offer courses? How long are they?

    Our terms include 5- and 10-week courses and run in fall (September-December), winter (January-March), and spring (April-June). In summer (July-August), we offer only 5-week courses.