Online Course

Foundations of Creative Nonfiction: Writing with Research

September 13 - November 21

Level Fundamentals

Your introduction to the genre. Explore the techniques for gathering information and build literary skills to turn bare facts into compelling narratives.

Additional Information

This ten-week online class will introduce you to the fundamentals of creative nonfiction, exploring both the techniques used to gather information and the literary skills needed to turn bare facts into compelling narratives. You will learn the basics of interviewing, immersion, research, and other reporting skills; write three different types of essays; and receive feedback from your instructor and peers.

Course Schedule

Week 1: What is Creative Nonfiction? 

We'll discuss the basic questions that define the genre: What qualifies as creative nonfiction? How closely must a writer be tied to the "truth" of what he or she is reporting? How do we add a personal side to a factual story?

Week 2: Research Techniques for Memoir

We'll discuss ways how to resolve conflicting accounts of past events, how to balance emotion with storytelling, and other basics of memoir writing. You may choose to complete a writing exercise to practice these skills.

Week 3: Writing Memoir/Personal Essays

You will spend the week writing about events from your life. We will discuss some of the writing tools commonly used in personal essays, such as dialogue. You may submit your essays to both the instructor and a group of classmates for review.

Week 4: Research Techniques for Interviewing

We'll begin looking at two new types of essays--immersion essays and profiles. The lecture will discuss the basics of interviewing: how to get a subject to agree to be interviewed, types of questions to use, legal considerations, and other related subjects.

Week 5: Research Techniques for Immersion

This week is devoted to what author Gay Talese refers to as “the art of hanging out”—immersing oneself in a situation or culture in order to write about it. We will discuss effective note-taking, strategies for informal interviews, how to become a keen observer, and other aspects of the immersion experience. You may choose to complete a writing exercise to practice these skills.

Week 6: Writing the Immersion or Profile Essay

Students who focus on immersion will choose an immersion experience, take notes on that experience, and use those notes to write an essay. Those writing profiles will choose a subject and conduct an interview to use as the basis for a story. In the class we will discuss sensory description and figurative language, as well as as other literary techniques used in these types of essays. You will submit your essay to the instructor.

Week 7: Characterization and Ethics

We will discuss how to characterize real people in a way that makes them intriguing to a reader, and will consider some of the ethical questions involved in intensive interviewing and writing about strangers. You will also learn about using detail to convey personality, and may choose to complete a writing exercise to practice these skills.

Week 8: Research Techniques for the “Fact-Heavy” Essay

Some essays incorporate more concrete factual information than others, and in this week we’ll discuss ways to find those facts. You will learn about some of the more unusual published sources for information, methods for pairing facts with personal information, fact-checking, and more. You may choose to complete a writing exercise to practice these skills.

Week 9: Writing the “Fact-Heavy” Essay

For this essay you will choose a topic, conduct research, and write an essay that combines factual information with a personal angle. Our writing discussion will focus on strategies for gracefully blending factual information into a piece of creative writing. You may submit your essay to both the instructor and a group of classmates for review.

Week 10: Revision

We'll discuss various aspects of the revision process, including ways for writers to identify their own trouble spots and strategies for radically restructuring an essay during revision.

View Complete Syllabus

Course Instructor

Course Registration


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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].

Hear from our Students

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

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Thank you so much for rekindling my interest in writing.

Kimberly Ross

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.