Course Syllabus

Foundations of Creative Nonfiction: Writing with Research

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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.

How it works: 

Each week provides:

  • 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:

  • writing exercises and/or prompts
  • opportunities to submit a full-length essay for instructor and/or peer review (up to 2,500 words and typically in weeks 3, 6, and 9)
  • optional video conferences that are open to all students in Week 2 (and which will be available afterwards as a recording for those who cannot participate)

Aside from the live conference, there is no need to be online at any particular time of day.
To create a better classroom experience for all, you are expected to participate weekly in class discussions to receive instructor feedback on your work.



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.